Information Overload: A Ride on the Roller Coaster of USCIS Processing Times


As many of our AILA members and their clients know, the U.S. immigration system can be like an amusement park: thrills, horrors, and scary twists and turns. One particular ride that has a number of these twists, turns, loops, and unknown drops is the roller coaster of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing times. So get in, make sure the bar is lowered and adjusted properly, and keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. Here we go!

As we begin our leisurely climb, let me give you a little insight into the roller coaster of USCIS processing times. Over the past several years, USCIS has adjusted the information it displays publicly regarding its processing times, how it calculates this information, and the mechanism by which clients can follow up. In a May 2022 press release, USCIS announced changes to its processing times page, saying they have simplified how the information is viewed and improved transparency in how it is calculated. The page, available publicly here, allows customers to check the processing times in which 80% of similar cases are judged based on the form type, category, and which USCIS field office or service center is located. In addition to this page, USCIS offers several additional pages with processing time data, including a Historical Processing Times page showing the median processing time (50 hours).th percentile) by form type and myProgress pages for applicants which the agency says provide a “customized” processing time based on “similar case types.”

As USCIS continues its efforts to reduce its crisis-level processing delays, transparency and accessibility for people whose cases have been pending for a long time remains of paramount importance. One of the main challenges for all agency clients, including immigration lawyers, is estimating how long it will take the agency to process an application or petition and the time when they will be able to follow up if the case falls outside of the agency’s posted deadlines. processing time. The agency’s efforts to provide more information are admirable, but the numerous presentations and calculations provided can be confusing and the tracking process particularly frustrating.

As we near the top of our hill, let’s goConsider the example of a category c(9) work authorization application for applicants whose status has been awaiting adjustment at the Vermont Service Center for 12 months. When we select the appropriate request type, category and service center on the processing times page, it shows that 80% of similar cases were processed within 11.5 months. As our car finally reaches the top, we scroll down to the “When can I ask questions about my file” section and enter our receipt date, October 3, 2022. Even if the file falls outside the deadline treatment indicated, the agency insists that allowing investigations only after a case exceeds the time needed for 93 percent of cases to go to trial. According to the site, this means we can’t apply to the agency until November 21, 2023 – and forget it!

But there’s more than just these roller coasters. A review of the website reveals a few additional twists and turns that can leave a lawyer and their clients feeling dizzy. THE USCIS Historical Processing Times Page contains median processing times for certain form types. This is the time needed to judge 50% of cases. On this page, it appears that the median processing time for ac(9) EAD is only 5.5 months, which is in stark contrast to the “real-time” processing times page and causes further confusion. Statistics provided by the agency paint a similar picture, also using median processing times for the form types included.

Our walk ends with a visit to USCIS’ newest addition, the myProgress page. This page is intended, for limited types of forms, to provide a more “personalized” processing time to candidates. Although it offers personalized processing time estimates, these times cannot be relied upon for inquiries when they have elapsed, and once they have elapsed without a decision, the page may sometimes simply state that the processing of the case “is taking longer than expected” and to consult the file processing times page. Even if an applicant has a “custom” time limit of, say, three months for their EAD, investigations are only permitted when the case exceeds the aforementioned 93rd percentile period. Adding even more complications, attorneys do not have access to the myProgress page, which can lead to significant confusion and frustration when a client is assigned a completely different processing time than the attorney. It all adds up to a final, thrilling drop that splits our car in two before a final loop plunges lawyer and client into respective darkness.

As we disembark and reflect on our experience, it is important to once again recognize the agency’s efforts to provide information on its processing times. AILA appreciates the agency’s transparency efforts as it continues to work to address its significant backlog and processing delays. However, the agency can and should do a better job of calculating and displaying the processing time spread in an organized manner and allowing for a more reasonable follow-up process than imposing no contact before the time required to complete 93%. similar requests. types of forms.

Last month comments submitted to USCIS on its processing times pages. These comments included recommendations for the agency to report processing times by the 25thth50thand 75th percentile for each form type, to allow follow-up after a case remains pending beyond the time limit associated with 75th percentile and, importantly, update processing time calculations to take into account current and future caseloads rather than just past case completion data. These are reasonable and achievable goals for the agency that will reduce confusion and improve the overall customer experience.

It’s time for USCIS to replace this roller coaster with a smoother, simpler journey, both for clients seeking to understand the status of their cases and for the attorneys representing them.

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