USCIS has released processing times for the applications they process. Information is not available for cases pending at the Potomac Service Center. Receipt numbers that begin with the letter string YSC are at the Potomac Service Center. These processing times are as of June 30, 2016. Here are some points of note:
- O and P visa processing times have been shortened.
- H-1B processing time has been reduced.
- VAWA applications are at 5 months.
- Employment Cards are still taking over 3 months for the most part.
- U Visa processing is stuck.
- Most EB-1 and EB-2 petitions are around 4 months at the Texas Service Center, but they are taking more time at the Nebraska Service Center. The National Interest Waiver is taking nearly 9 months in Nebraska.
- Fiance and many family-based petitions are taking 5 months for processing.
- An application to remove conditions on permanent residence is taking 10 months for processing.
USCIS Ombudsman Report for 2016
Government agencies have an Ombudsman who issues reports to Congress and liaises between consumers and the agency to resolve problems. The USCIS Ombudsman released its report for 2016 at the end of June. Important issues for attorneys, individuals, and employers have been visa RFEs and visa delays, Employment Authorization Document application delays, fee waivers, the EB-5 program, and processing times in general. The Ombudsman’s report is over 100 pages. Here are some highlights:
- The Ombudsman noted the excessive number of Employment Authorization Document applications that are taking over 90 days to adjudicate, despite a regulation that states it must take place within 90 days. One seventh of the Ombudsman’s caseload related to delayed EAD applications. The Ombudsman writes:
“Thousands of EAD applicants and their employers continue to be negatively impacted by the agency’s failure to timely adjudicate Form I-765. The proposed regulatory changes will not improve processing times absent allocation of significant resources to meet processing times goals. The Ombudsman continues to highlight EAD issues as a systemic issue, and will monitor and engage the agency as long as this matter remains unresolved.”
- USCIS has a proposal to eliminate the 90 day adjudication requirement and replace that with an automatic 180 day extension of the employment card’s validity upon a timely filing. That proposal has not been implemented. The Ombudsman repeated that it has made multiple efforts and recommendations to rectify EAD issues over the past 8 years.
- H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B RFE rates have decreased from the previous year. This has been monitored for years because of high RFE rates. There are also discrepancies in RFE rates between the Vermont and California Service Centers. Those discrepancies persist.
- O-1 and P-1 visa petitions are receiving high rates of RFEs (49% and 65%).
- There is mixed data as to whether the Service Centers issue RFEs toward the end of the premium processing 15 day period as a delaying tactic.
- Processing times for Naturalization applications are highly variable by USCIS Field Office. Times range from 4 months to 9 months.
- Processing times for Permanent Residence applications are highly variable by USCIS Field Office. Times range from less than 4 months to over 10 months.
A light at the end of the delayed processing tunnel?
It has been a year since the processing times for H-1B cases jumped from an approximate of 2 months to 7 and 8 months. The delays are not just a matter of inconvenience. They have meaningful effects on people’s lives and businesses. A 240 day extension of employment kicks in if an extension of status is filed before the expiration of the previous visa, but there are possible ramifications for renewing Driver’s Licenses and college tuition, among other practical things. The long delays constructively forced businesses and applicants to pay the $1,225 premium processing fee.
Recently many H-1B cases were transferred to the Nebraska Service Center. Our office recently had an H-1B extension case decided in 7 weeks. That seems to signal a return to normal processing times.
Unfortunately, many other kinds of cases are struggling with lengthy delays. Employment Authorization Document applications are not being adjudicated within 90 days, despite regulations that instruct adjudication within 90 days. This is also in spite of case transfers to other service centers. O and P visas are supposed to be adjudicated within two weeks. The Vermont Service Center is hovering at 2.5 months. U visas have finally started to move forward, but the adjudication of those cases has been at a standstill for a year.
Organizations Demand U Visa Applications Speed Up
U Visa processing times have stalled for a year. Since June 2015, U visa applications have essentially not been adjudicated. Congress has mandated 10,000 U visas are available per year. That means once 10,000 U visas are granted, the other approvable U visas are waitlisted and backlogged. USCIS has a practice of placing U visa candidates on a wait list, so at least they can obtain an employment card while waiting for U visa approval.
The U visa is partly a humanitarian safe haven for immigration. It allows an applicant to overcome many grounds to inadmissibility, though a waiver can be required. The U visa is a grant of legal nonimmigrant status to someone who has been the victim of a qualifying crime. It requires certification from a government agency, such as the police department that handled the crime. The applicant must have also been willing to or actually have helped in the prosecution of the perpetrator. There is the potential for adjustment to Permanent Residence for U visa applicants and their derivative family members.
USCIS has had some dismal processing times recently affecting all swathes of the immigration spectrum. H-1B and L-1 processing times have been abnormally lengthy. This has caused issues for employees with driver’s licenses, college tuition, and travel. It has caused employers to pay the $1,225 premium processing fee for occasions that should not require it. U visa applications are at a standstill. Employment authorization applications are taking triple the amount of time that they mandated to take for first time asylum applications, and they are pushing against their regulatory period for all other types of applications. Green Card applications through employment-based petitions are beyond processing times. O and P visa petitions are 5xs beyond normal processing of two weeks. If you look at processing times for the service centers, you will see that they are well beyond their stated goals for processing times. USCIS has blamed the slow processing on a lack of resources, as evidenced in its proposed comment for increasing filing fees by 21%.
How the Proposed Fee Increase Hurts Employers
If you are an employer that files immigration petitions, especially H-1B and L-1 petitions, you might have noticed that there was an additional fee levied upon certain employers on file H-1B and L-1 petitions. That was in December. DHS is proposing to increase its filing fees for all of its petitions by a weighted average of 21%. These are what the proposed fees are likely to look like:
E, H, L, O, P, Q, R Petitions – $325 becomes $460
Immigration Petition Fee – $580 becomes $700
Premium Processing Fee – $1225 still, but USCIS would like an increase
USCIS has maintained its fees since 2010. The primary reason for increasing the fees, DHS claims, is that current fees are not generating enough revenue to fund their operations.
The timing of the fee increase seems particularly unfortunate. USCIS is well-behind their stated goals in adjudicating many of the aforementioned petitions. Change and extension of status petitions are taking over 6 months for H and L petitions. O and P petitions are usually adjudicated within two weeks. They are currently approaching three months. Because the timing of adjudication is lengthy, it is causing problems for many employers and employees. Premium processing requests are being foisted because of issues with driver’s licenses, among others. A 240 day extension for employment authorization goes into effect once the employee hits her final day of work authorization on her visa. The extension only goes into effect if the extension is timely filed. The lengthy adjudications have been problematic for months.
The Administrative Procedures Act gives 60 days for comments. July 5, 2016 is the final day to comment. The link to comment is here.