The process of legally entering or residing in the U.S. is just that—a process. As with many processes, the length of time it takes depends on a number of factors. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees applicants and approves their forms.
In a perfect world, USCIS could communicate exactly how long each document review takes. Those entering or adjusting would be able to plan their lives accordingly without any confusion or ambiguity. Unfortunately, case processing times change fairly often and vary significantly based on specific case details.
USCIS case processing times are fluid and inconsistent as a result of an ever-changing world climate. With a limited number of employees and only so much time in a day, USCIS has a threshold of work that they cannot exceed.
For a long time, USCIS received criticism for inaccuracies in its processing time estimates. Immigration benefit applications were taking much longer to process than was being outwardly advertised. USCIS attempted to remedy these issues by creating a new methodology for estimating USCIS timelines.
The new methodology involves providing the range of time it takes USCIS to handle a majority of their cases. The first number in the range will be the amount of time it takes to handle 50% of their cases and the second number will be the time it takes to complete 93% of their cases.
While the new process may provide a more realistic picture of how long applications could take, it often produces extremely broad ranges which don’t help employers or employees judge when applicants will be able to travel internationally or begin working. As a result, USCIS receives many inquiries about different case statuses; this in turn slows down processing times even more.
In recent years, all USCIS case wait times have increased as a result of the coronavirus pandemic which swept the globe. Travel restrictions complicated outstanding applications, new applicants were barred from travel for extended periods of time, and USCIS was not operating at full capacity.
The process became slower as the number of applicants rapidly increased. The U.S. had vaccines and an infrastructure to try and contain the disease from spreading. Some other countries had no protections, leading residents to seek refuge in America.
Even though restrictions are waning and many aspects of life are returning to a more regular form, USCIS has a backlog built up that will not be easily managed. Understanding who is processing your case and how to check it can help put your mind at ease during these uncertain times.
USCIS is primarily responsible for handling almost all immigration forms that must be submitted. When attempting to check your case status or USCIS wait time, you must take information from your receipt notice. Depending on the USCIS office in charge of your application, it may be relatively easy to check your case status.
For employment-based applications, family-based I-485 forms, N-400 forms, or N-600 forms filed through the National Benefits Center, you can check the usual processing times for your local field office.
The estimation will typically include the following information:
If you have not yet submitted an application and are simply researching how long it may take to process your case, we have gathered some of the average times for more popular documents in the section below.
To estimate your USCIS case processing time, it’s helpful to look at decision trends from past years. Taking into account the USCIS processing times from 2021 and prior, we can get a better idea of how long wait times typically last.
When studying the USCIS historic processing times data, it’s important to remember that USCIS uses fiscal years instead of calendar years to keep track of its decisions. This period runs from October 1 until September 30 of the following year. Fiscal year 2020 began in October of 2019 and went until the end of September 2020.
Below are some of the trends shown in USCIS green card wait times over the last couple of years.
While many of these numbers and differences may seem small, remember that we are talking about entire months for which people must put their life on hold. We are also discussing averages, which means it is likely that some cases will take a great deal longer than the statistics recorded by USCIS.
Lawful permanent residents who are attempting to become U.S. citizens must fill out an N-400, Application for Naturalization form. This is a very important and extensive document that makes up a large portion of the naturalization process.
Due to an increased number of naturalization applicants and the backlogs caused by coronavirus travel restrictions, the wait time for N-400 forms has increased from 7.9 months in 2017 to 11.5 months in 2021 and 2022.
While this wait time will hopefully begin decreasing as the country recovers from the effects of COVID-19, it will likely take at least a few years to handle the backlog. This can drastically change the plans of naturalization applicants.
The immigration case timeline depends on the specific application, but it’s good to keep an eye on the “receipt date for case inquiry” when checking your USCIS processing times. Understanding this date can help you see if your wait time is exceeding normal expectations.
If your application is being processed for longer than the anticipated waiting period, you will want to submit a service request through USCIS to ensure that your case was not forgotten or overlooked. Hire a knowledgable immigration attorney to provide legal services throughout this process.
USCIS is in charge of your immigration application, petition, or request—but that does not mean you should not hire additional counsel. USCIS handles a large number of cases yearly and often gets distracted or places less emphasis on certain applications.
One of the best ways to minimize delays is by talking to an experienced immigration lawyer who understands USCIS language and regulations. A lawyer can also help you apply for premium processing.
Especially if English is not your first language, you may have a difficult time filling out forms or checking on the status of your application. Working with our team allows you to focus all your energy on gathering the necessary documents. We will tell you precisely what you need to do to increase your chances of submitting a successful application.
Call today or fill out our online form for a consultation to contact an experienced immigration attorney who will increase your chances of receiving a favorable USCIS decision.