Half a Million Cases and Counting
It is being reported that there are over half a million pending cases in the federal immigration courts. The number has grown by over 200,000 over the past five years, which is attributed to the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border. CBS DFW writes:
Cases of newly arrived immigrants facing deportation have been made a priority, but the backlog still means that many immigrants are likely to face years long delays before a judge makes a final decision on their cases. And while people are waiting to go before a judge, their case could dramatically change, for good or bad.
A spokesperson for the courts reported that there have been 34 immigration judges hired since the beginning of the year and that there are plans to hire an additional 100 judges. A pending budget proposal would allow for a total of 399 immigration court judges.
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%.
USCIS Processing Times
Processing times have been released for USCIS applications. They are updated as of February 29, 2016. These are available for the service centers. Applications that are processed through the local field offices are not available in these updates. H-1B extensions are still taking an excruciatingly long time. Vermont is backed up to July 20, 2015. California is backed up to September 18, 2015. They are pretty much demanding that premium processing is needed for a timely decision. U visa applications are badly backed up. Employment authorization applications are also taking a long time. That is why there have been so many transfers to different service centers. Notably, there are still not available processing times for applications that are pending at the Potomac Service Center in Arlington, Virginia. Many Family-Based petitions, DACA, and Employment Authorization applications are being processed at the Potomac Service Center, which is designated as YSC in the receipt notice.
Highlights from a Recent SCOPS Teleconference
Periodically, Service Center Operations Directorate has a teleconference or meeting with AILA to inquire upon important issues relating to USCIS petitions and applications. Here are some highlights from the teleconference with SCOPS earlier this month.
H-1B change of status and extension of status applications continue to take a frustratingly long time and there is little action on USCIS’ behalf to mitigate that problem. Their best advice is to file as early as possible.
If the petitioner files a Power of Attorney and includes it with the petition, the attorney can sign the forms for the petitioner on an employment-based petition.
Green Cards will not contain a hyphen. They will put a space instead, i.e. Smith Diaz instead of Smith-Diaz.
Both the Texas Service Centers and Nebraska Service Centers will follow Matter of H-V-P. This is an important AAO decision for National Interest Waiver cases.
USCIS confirmed that they adjudicate cases FIFO – First in First Out.
USCIS is actively processing U visa cases.