As reported in the Wall Street Journal on September 23, data and analysis from the Census Bureau and the Pew Hispanic Research Center show that immigration slowed last year to about one-half the levels experienced from 2000-2007. Analysts theorized that the reduction was primarily due to the economic downturn and more aggressive immigration enforcement. Still, there has been a large influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal, over the past decade and what remains is a backlog of immigration applications waiting to be processed. As many at all stages of the legal immigration process can tell you, the process can take a very long time. Based on recent information, one can expect the delays will continue for the foreseeable future.

DHS estimates there were 171 million nonimmigrant (tourists, H-1B workers, etc.) admissions to the U.S. in 2007. In addition, over 1 million persons were admitted as lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) and over 660,000 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens. The number of green card admissions decreased by 17% from 2006. However, DHS indicated the reduction was primarily due to processing issues at USCIS rather than a decrease in demand. The number of green card applications filed and pending both increased during 2007. Likewise, the number of processed naturalization cases decreased while the number of pending naturalization applications increased from 470,000 to 1,130,000 during 2007.

Against these daunting numbers, here are some processing updates on the various stages of the legal immigration process:

  • PERM – as reported in theAugust 2008 issue of the Immigration eAuthority, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) had initiated a significant number of audits of PERM labor certifications, the first step for many in the employment-based green card process. However, there have been reports that the DOL has begun processing PERM cases that had been selected for audit and remained pending at the Atlanta PERM Center. The DOL announced on September 17 that it was releasing for processing all cases filed prior to August 29, 2008, that were awaiting an audit solely based upon its attorney “consideration rule” involving the improper involvement of attorneys in the PERM recruitment process. Hopefully, processing times for PERM cases will decrease and the original goal of 45-60 day processing will be reached once the current backlog is reduced.
  • Green cards – by statute, employment-based green cards are subject to an annual numerical limitation. As the demand for green cards far exceeds the allocation, the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin projects green card availability and sets a processing cut-off date for each employment-based green card category on a monthly basis. A foreign national’s priority date (his or her place in line as determined by the initiation of the first step of the green card process) must be current (i.e., at or before the cut-off date) for the foreign national to be able to file the final green card step (the adjustment of status application) and receive approval of his or her green card application. Based on a high number of pending cases, the cut-off dates for the EB-2 and EB-3 categories actually moved backwards in the October VISA Bulletin. Absent an increase in the overall allocation, many employment-based green card applicants can anticipate continued delays.
  • Naturalization – USCIS recently issued a press release stating that the agency has reduced its estimate for naturalization processing times to 10 to 12 months. In part, this is due to allocating more resources to completing required FBI background checks. The number of naturalization applications filed during 2007 nearly doubled from the previous year to 1.4 million contributing to delays. At least this is one area in legal immigration where the delays are being reduced.

Note: This article was published in the September 2008 issue of the Immigration eAuthority.