One of the first questions I get asked by clients is when their case will come to an end. I usually say that that’s the million dollar question. And that is because of the recent backlogs and delays in processing times the USCIS has been experiencing. The whole process can feel like a traffic jam.
Many times, applicants who are adjusting their status would like to leave the U.S. for a short period of time and would like to know when they will be able to do so. Other applicants need their work permits issued or student visas approved in order to advance their careers, achieve their goals and care for their families.
I am always mindful of the urgency in all my clients requests but, unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to expedite immigration processes. Unless your case qualifies for premium processing services (for more information: https://www.uscis.gov/i-907), you are stuck with USCIS processing times. Of course, the sooner you submit your application, the sooner you will get a final determination. And the more accurate the information and evidence you provide is, the less likely you are to receive an RFE - Request For Evidence which halts the processing of your case until the new or additional documentation is received by the USCIS service center.
However, there are things you can do to make sure you are following the status of your case closely and stay a few steps ahead.
Online Case Status: make sure to check your case status online regularly. This tool provides you with information regarding the current status of your case starting the day the receipt notice is issued. In order to check your case status, you will need your case number.
E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance - form G-1145: my preferred method to check the status of cases with the USCIS is signing up for text messages. The moment your case gets accepted by the USCIS and is given a case number, you will receive a text message. All it takes is filing form G-1145 together with your paperwork. This form is available here: https://www.uscis.gov/g-1145.
Case Inquiry or e-Request: if you believe your case is taking too long, or your online case status shows that the post office recently returned a notification sent by mail, or you have not received a document that should have been delivered already, you can file a case inquiry or e-request online. You can only have one pending request at a time so make sure to save your inquiry number and keep checking your email (including spam folder) to make sure you receive an electronic copy of the document you’re missing. This service is also available for accommodation requests for interviews and to correct typographic errors in forms already submitted.
Online fee calculator: one of the main causes of processing delays and rejections is incorrect filing fees. The USCIS outright rejects any applications submitted with the incorrect filing fees. Available since 2019, the USCIS online fee calculator (available here https://www.uscis.gov/feecalculator) allows users to check how much to pay in filing fees depending on the form being filed, the number of applicants and co-applicants, and age of the applicant, among other factors.
Call the USCIS Customer Service: you can call USCIS’ toll free number at any time to speak to a USCIS representative by dialing 1 (800) 375-5283. However, the wait time is usually several hours long (yes, hours!) and it is not always easy to get through the initial menu and actually speak to a human being rather than the automated system.
Create a USCIS Online Account: although not yet the preferred method for many, having an online USCIS account makes responding to RFEs a lot easier and faster. It is also a great way to follow up on your ase developments and receive electronic copies of notices. Unfortunately, only a few forms are available for complete online filing but more forms are being added every year which will make things a lot easier for clients and attorneys alike.
Alerts and updates: you can sign up for alerts and updates here: https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts. Although these alerts and updates are not specific to your case, they help you avoid the struggles the USCIS is currently facing and how backlogs are being managed.
Processing Times: to check the current processing times for different forms at USCIS services centers in the US or the National Visa Center, you can go here: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. Of course, these processing times are estimates and may vary depending on each case, but it gives an idea of how long cases are currently taking.
Notification of change of address - form AR-11: changing your address without contacting the USCIS can cause huge delays in your case. Your case can be closed or deemed abandoned if the USCIS sends a request for additional evidence to your old address and you end up missing the deadline because you never got the request at your new address. This happens quite often and the burden is on you to let the immigration services know of your address change. So if you move or your address changes, make sure to file form AR-11 as soon as possible. You can easily file this form online here: https://www.uscis.gov/ar-11.
USCIS Response to COVID-19
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the ongoing pandemic has caused huge delays in USCIS processing times. According to the 2021 Annual Report issued by the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, the current delays are being caused by several factors such as pandemic-related office closures, reduced customer service functions and staffing, and record level applications. As of June 2020, USCIS field offices started to gradually reopen but at limited capacity and offering reduced services. By October 2020, USCIS field offices were offering services at 50% capacity only at the time. Service centers and field offices are currently operating at 70% capacity at best. The result is a total of approximately seven million pending applications as of March, 2021.
The main response to the current delays is the increase in online services offered via individual online USCIS accounts. The goal, as expected, is to allow applications to be processed online from beginning to end and for a greater variety of digital adjudication. In addition, the Homeland Security funding proposal for 2022 has seen an increase of $346.7 million compared to the 2021 fiscal year. The funding bill was approved on July 13, 2021 by the House Appropriations Committee on a 33-24 vote. Hopefully, this will translate into speedier processes in the upcoming months.
Are we there yet?
The best way to expedite your process is by talking to an experienced attorney that can guide you through the hoops of USCIS filing requirements. At SKV, our experience comes from helping our clients in all their requests while keeping up-to-date on the latest changes from new forms available to changes in fees and deadlines.
If you have any questions concerning your specific case and would like to know how to avoid any delays in your process, or you have an ongoing case that is taking too long, contact us today at 385-344-4030 or email us at email@example.com. Our first consultation is free of charge.