USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) is notorious for its slow processing times for green card applications and family and employment-related visas, causing some applicants to wait months or even years for a final decision. Many factors play into how long your immigration case will be processed, such as an annual quota cap, your country of origin, and even your last name. If the application requires a background check, common last names such as Kim, Patel, Lee, Nguyen, or Hernandez, for example, are sometimes subjected to longer processing times.
Due to COVID-19, the already overburdened USCIS immigration system has seen standard processing times extend even further. According to USCIS, 2.5 million cases were backlogged at the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, the backlogged cases have grown to more than 8 million due to staffing issues, changes in forms and policies, pandemic-related officer closures, and the inability to process many applications electronically.
USCIS understands that in some cases, situations may change for applicants that make it difficult to wait for the standard processing time. If this applies to you, here are six options you can pursue to request a faster application decision.
1. Submit an expedited request
One of the first things you can do to speed up your immigration case is to ask the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an expedited request. However, you must be able to prove you have a compelling reason to make such a request. According to USCIS, to be eligible to file for an expedited request, you must have supporting documentation that proves:
- Severe financial loss to a company or person – Provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
- Timely file the benefit request, or
- Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;
- Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons – Urgent humanitarian reasons are subjective, and USCIS does not have an official definition for what is considered an urgent case. However, if you can prove a critical humanitarian situation through substantive evidence, USCIS may approve your expedited request. Examples could include an outbreak of war, critical illness, or a dire financial situation.
- A nonprofit organization – (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States.
- U.S. government interests – If your application impacts U.S. national interests, government interests, or public safety in some way, USCIS is very likely to approve your expedited case request. U.S. government agencies or government entities, such as the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security, are responsible for making expedited processing requests on your behalf. The U.S. government must prove that a delay in processing your application is detrimental to a national interest situation or threatens national security interests in some way or another.
- Clear USCIS error – There are times when USCIS makes an error while processing an immigration application. In the event of a USCIS mistake causing you to lose time in status, USCIS will be more likely to approve an expedited request. Clear documentation must be provided to show that USCIS made a mistake. Critical mistakes could include things like using incorrect dates that cut short the validity period for your status or incorrect entry date.
USCIS reviews expedited requests on a case-by-case basis and has sole discretion to grant or deny a request. Approved requests are rare, and you can only file a request after receiving a receipt notice from a standard processing time filing.
Common reasons that expedited requests are denied include:
- Your case is eligible for premium processing, for example, if you’re applying for an H-1B visa.
- Your application or request was filed outside of the standard processing window.
- A request that shows you filed an Employment Authorization Document EAD as a student or with any other visa type and wish to use it for status or other benefits.
- Failure to provide any compelling evidence or documentation to support your request.
To make an expedited request, call the USCIS contact center. After the automated option to hear your case status, select the option to expedite your request. Next, request a Tier I or Tier II officer when speaking to an agent. When connected, explain your situation and the reason for your expedited request. The officer will collect your contact information and provide you with an expedited service request number which will allow you to track your case. Within 1-2 weeks, you should receive an email from USCIS asking for documentation and evidence of your situation. A decision email should be sent within a week after submitting your evidence.
2. Premium Processing
Premium processing only applies for certain employment-based visas and is not available for a family-based visa. Premium processing provides expedited processing for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
Premium processing guarantees processing within 15 calendar days, or the premium processing fee will be refunded. The current fee for this service is between $1440-$2500 for Form I-907 or $1440-$1500 for Form I-129. USCIS will not approve premium processing without a compelling reason, such as a family emergency, military deployment, or a medical procedure.
The 15 day premium processing period begins after USCIS receives Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing. During that time, they will issue their decision. If you receive a request for additional evidence or a notice of intent to deny, a new 15 calendar day period will begin after your response.
3. Members of Congress
Members of Congress can contact federal agencies on behalf of their constituents. Although they won’t be able to reverse or change any decisions, they can help put a spotlight on a specific issue, which may highlight any delays or red tape. When contacting your representative, you will be asked to explain your situation and provide the same supporting documents that you would send to USCIS to expedite your case.
Congressional Liaison Specialists from USCIS work directly with Congress on your expedited request. However, even if someone from Congress takes up your expedited request, it is still up to USCIS’s description to approve your request.
Created under the Homeland Security Act, The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) can offer assistance in expediting your case and help in situations where you cannot get support from USCIS. USCIS ombudsman case assistance is provided at no charge.
According to USCIS, CIS Ombudsman “is dedicated to improving the quality of citizenship and immigration services delivered to the public by providing individual case assistance, identifying systemic issues, and making recommendations to improve the administration of immigration benefits by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).”
The CIS Ombudsman’s Office cannot intervene with USCIS on your behalf if your case is still within processing times or if the USCIS has denied your expedite request. In addition, they do not have the authority to adjudicate a case or alter a USCIS decision unless the decision is based on a USCIS error or misapplication of the law.
5. Process reshuffling
In 2020, USCIS began transferring I-130 petitions and I-485 green card applications to service centers with shorter wait times to streamline its processes. As a result, your immigration case might be handled more quickly without any effort on your part. The impact of the reshuffle will depend on where you initially filed your papers and the processing times at the service center where your case will now be handled.
Cases affected by the reshuffling include:
- I-130 petitions filed by U.S. citizens on behalf of immediate family members at the Nebraska Service Center;
- I-130 petitions filed by green cardholders on behalf of their spouse or children with the California Service Center; or
- I-485 green card applications filed with the Vermont Service Center.
It’s important to note that if your case has been transferred, you must file any premium processing requests, including a copy of your receipt notice with the service center handling your request. However, if your case has been transferred to a service center with a longer than average processing time, USCIS says you will not face a longer wait.
6. Hire a lawyer
Many applicants attempt to file their petitions in an effort to save money. However, this increases their chances of being rejected or delayed. The immigration process is not always straightforward and requires an expert to help navigate the various shortcuts, exceptions, and policy changes. A reputable immigration attorney understands the rules and regulations of your case, and they are informed of any updates that could potentially affect your petition.
Handling your case on your own could lead to errors in paperwork, incomplete documents, or incorrect filings, resulting in unnecessary delays. By hiring a reputable immigration lawyer, you can rest assured you are working with a professional who will implement proven strategies to handle your case quickly and efficiently.
Requests to expedite an immigration case are often denied, especially during a time of excessive backlogs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a human behind every USCIS decision. To stand out and have a greater chance at approval, your situation needs to be moving and compelling enough to appeal to their emotions and backed by substantial documentation and evidence to support your claim. Remember, the USCIS officer may have heard hundreds of requests from people in similar situations. Of course, it also helps to have a support system of expert immigration lawyers by your side to ensure your reason for a request is sound.
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