In just one year, the backlog of applications submitted to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has doubled. The slowing processing times continue to cause undue anxiety and hinder an individual’s ability to plan for the future effectively.
The unfortunate processing delays are at a record-high and serve as bricks in building an “invisible wall” to restrict immigration in the United States. According to USCIS data, the average case processing time has increased by 46 percent for all application types since fiscal year (FY) 2016. From FY 2017 to 2018 there was a 17 percent decrease in the number of new applications, yet processing time rose by 19 percent.
For example, the application to register permanent residence or adjust status used to take around eight months to process and now takes over eleven months. The processing time for the application for naturalization (N-400) has also increased from eight months to over ten months. Lastly, it takes an upward of four months, when it used to be three, for work authorization applications to be processed.
There have been a host of arbitrary measures that are contributing to the growing wait times. One such measure is a rule requiring in-person interviews for every single person seeking an employment-based green card. Many cases are at an utter standstill as immigration courts grapple with the effects of the government shutdown that contributed further to the backlog.
The growing delays in processing and application backlogs have very real consequences for the people waiting to begin work, struggling to make ends meet in the meantime. Crisis-level delays mean people cannot get out of refugee camps or reunite with their families. There is also an economic effect as U.S. businesses fall behind while they wait for employee petitions to be approved.
In 2002, the USCIS was created as a customer service agency to provide immigration benefits. The top priorities for the agency were to eliminate and prevent application backlogs. Now, 17 years later, USCIS operates as an enforcement agency that plays a crucial role in carrying out the Trump administration’s agenda to curb legal immigration.
The goal of USCIS is still to provide service to its customers in a reasonable and timely fashion. Congress must step in to oversee positive changes that will help expedite the process for people stuck in legal limbo. Transparency and oversight are key to a fair and well-functioning immigration system.