Recent data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) present a bleaker insight into the agency’s notorious lapses in case processing.
A report on USCIS statistics published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association last January 30, 2019, revealed the critical levels of case processing delays under the Trump administration. It was reported that the USCIS’s “overall average case processing time” increased by 19 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2018 alone, with grave repercussions not just to U.S. businesses, but also to families and vulnerable individuals. It was also disclosed by a USCIS spokesperson that the volume of cases received by the agency plays an integral role in the delays. He reiterated, “the truth is that, while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing.”
However, this statement runs contrary to an earlier statement released by the agency where they revealed that the overall USCIS application rates were far from “higher” in FY 2018 compared to the previous year. In fact, there was approximately 13% decrease in the total volume of cases in 2018 from 2017 or about more than a million fewer cases and a record low in the past four fiscal years. The takeaway is clear: case processing delays rose by a wide margin in FY 2018, even as application rates fell substantially.
This revelation supports the theory that the USCIS policies under the Trump administration are so misguided and inefficient thereby affecting the case processing and resulted in a backlog of huge proportions. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has admitted flaws in their own policies to Congress, that these policies have, in fact, also been the reason for these backlogs. Last month, Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to USCIS Director Francis Cissna asking USCIS to identify “all policies introduced under the current administration that have contributed to the USCIS case backlog” and to “provide all analyses performed by the agency on how these policies impact processing times.” Congress asked for specific data about the drawbacks on processing time caused by the administration’s processes of “extreme vetting,” of its in-person interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants as well as many relatives of asylees and refugees, and of its rescission of longstanding guidance that directed adjudicators to give deference to certain prior case determinations. The Members of the House of Representatives also asked for an explanation of how USCIS “intend[s] to reduce and ultimately eliminate processing delays, while ensuring fairness and quality of adjudications, and without passing the costs of the agency’s inefficiencies onto the applicants and petitioners experiencing hardship due to USCIS’s crisis-level delays.”
Without a doubt, Congress and the public deserve to get immediate responses to these questions. USCIS processing delays will go from bad to worse as time goes by. After the publication of AILA’s analysis—which looked into the nationwide USCIS processing time data from fiscal years 2014 through 2018—the USCIS revealed that, through the first quarter of FY 2019, its “overall average case processing time” as calculated by AILA had continued to lengthen. For instance, the nationwide average processing time for employment-based green card applications (Form I-485) increased by 11% during that quarter, from an average of 11 months at the end of FY 2018 to 12.2 months through December 31, 2018. Delays continued to be even more obvious for special immigrant petitions (Form I-360). Through these petitions, domestic abuse survivors—among other individuals seeking humanitarian relief—can obtain lasting protection and legal immigration status. At the end of FY 2018, USCIS was processing I-360s in an average of 13.5 months. As of December 31, 2018, that average had risen to delays up to 16.8 months—representing an increase of almost 25% in just three months’ time and an overall increase of 350% since the end of FY 2016. The more these cases are delayed, the riskier it gets for the survivors who face further abuse, violence, and torture.
USCIS dodges the issue on delays by putting more focus on application rates, even if these are already declining, during media interviews. This puts a more unwanted spotlight on the agency’s gross failure to address operational challenges. These delays affect varied strata of society: individuals who are victims of violence, families struggling to put food on the table and roof over their heads, the American businesses that cannot operate optimally due to lack of workers. They all deserve better from the USCIS whose mandate is to administer the immigration and naturalization system. While it is also tasked to safeguard national security, it is also in charge of eliminating immigration case backlogs and improving efficiency. With the way things are going, it seems that the USCIS still has a lot to cover and has to do so fast.
If you or someone you know is in need of an experienced immigration lawyer in North Carolina or Tustin, California, please do not hesitate to call us at Diener Law – Abogados. We understand immigration problems and will work to find the solution that is best for you.