Processing Time

One of the worst parts about the immigration system is all the waiting. It is not uncommon for clients to check USCIS processing times daily. Fortunately, USCIS is pilot testing what they hope to be a more accurate processing time calculation. The forms in the pilot phase are a sampling of forms used in family-based and employment-based immigration, citizenship, green cards, and nonimmigrants.

How is USCIS Changing Processing Time Calculations

USCIS recently announced that for 14 forms they will adjust their calculations for processing times and the way they are presented.

Instead of using the complete historical data of the form’s processing time, USCIS will now base its analysis on the previous month’s completed cases. USCIS is hoping this change will lead to more accurate times.

Forms in Processing Time Pilot Calculations

The following forms are included in the processing time pilot calculations:

New Ranges Shown for Processing Times

When you visit the USCIS Processing Times tool, you will now see a time range for the forms above. The first number in the range represents the time it takes to complete the median number—50 percent—of cases the prior month. The second number in the range is the time it’s taken to process 93 percent of the prior month’s cases.

In the example below, USCIS took 4.5 months to process 50 percent of I-90 forms last month and 10.5 months to process 93 percent.

USCIS will update the processing times every month.

What Happens to Forms Not in Pilot Testing?

USCIS will continue to use its original calculations for forms not in the pilot phase. However, even for these forms, you will see a change in presentation. USCIS is extending the limit to 130 percent of the actual processing time. So don’t be alarmed if you check for I-130 processing times and it just got longer; it just means that USCIS is giving itself more leeway in processing these forms.

Why Did USCIS Extend the Processing Time Limit on Non-Pilot Forms?

In their announcement of the calculation changes, USCIS doesn’t explain why they changed their non-pilot forms. However, one reason is to allow USCIS more time to process forms before applicants submit inquiries asking why their forms have taken more than the posted processing time.

If you were not aware, you can contact USCIS and submit an “Outside normal processing time” service request if your case is taken longer than the processing time states. For all forms, USCIS publishes a date under the column that says “Receipt date for a case inquiry.” If the receipt date on your I-797 is before that published date, you can contact USCIS through an “Outside normal processing time” service request.

For example, currently, the I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, receipt date for a case inquiry is October 3, 2020. If your I-797 receipt date is before October 3, 2020, you can contact USCIS to seek an answer for the delay.

With the limit now at 130 percent of the actual processing time, USCIS will reduce some of those service request submissions.

Will Processing Times Shorten?

This USCIS news won’t necessarily shorten processing times as it will just be more accurate.

However, recent changes will hopefully shorten processing times overall.

Public Charge Rule Reversal Will Lead to Faster Processing

With the rollercoaster ride of court rulings and government orders behind us, the public charge rule changes introduced by the Trump Administration are gone. This rule had introduced a new form and more stringent criteria for petitioners. With the elimination of those changes, expect cases to be processed faster as it eliminates a lot of work for USCIS.

Expect Green Card Renewal Processing Times to Be Faster

USCIS recently announced that officers would be allowed to return the way they used to process green card renewals before the Trump Administration. Processing times for green card renewals were relatively quick due to USCIS officers’ ability to refer to previous determinations from other officers on a person’s prior renewals barring any red flags. When the Trump Administration took over, they required USCIS officers to spend more time reviewing renewals looking for potential issues that could cause a denial. This extended green card renewal processing times. With USCIS’ reversal, we hope for processing times to shorten to what they were before Trump took office.

Asylum Petition Processing Times May Shorten with Elimination of Blank Space Rejection

In 2019, USCIS implemented a policy that denied asylum applications if there were blank spaces on Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. Denials would even occur in sections left blank that were neither required nor relevant to the specific asylum case.

On April 1, 2021, USCIS announced that it has ended that policy and will revert to the rejection criteria that existed before that criteria’s establishment. This should increase processing time now that the rejection criteria have become less stringent. However, please be aware that blank spaces on required sections on the I-589, not responding to required questions, or not submitting required evidence will result in denials and delays.

COVID-19 Decrease Will Increase USCIS Work

With COVID-19 cases decreasing nationwide and vaccines increasing, we can expect an increase in cases being processed by USCIS. This will lead to shortened processing times. However, being that this is the first pandemic in 100 years and not being completely over, future spikes in cases or variants can later increase processing times.

So while there is hope, it’s important to take as much advantage of decreases in cases, which can lead to shorter processing times.

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