U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is notorious for their long wait times, leaving many people in limbo while awaiting a decision on their immigration application. But after years of inaction, USCIS may finally attempt to do something about it.
USCIS is beginning to transfer cases out of its busiest offices to even out the processing times across the country. Transferred cases will go to USCIS offices that have more manageable workloads. Immigrants who have applied for a green card or U.S. citizenship may see their wait times drop—so long as they filed their paperwork with one of the overburdened offices.
Cities with large immigrant populations—such as Saint Paul, Minnesota, where people wait up to two years for a decision on their citizenship applications—might see the biggest positive impact. Immigrants in Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas could also experience reduced wait times as cases move out of their busy offices.
It’s unclear whether this will make a noticeable dent in the massive application backlog. The backlog includes not only green card and naturalization cases, but applications for asylum seekers, U.S. citizens’ family members, students, and workers. Wait times across the board are soaring under President Trump, as burdensome new policies effectively grind the process to a halt.
Roughly 25 percent of all USCIS applications in the backlog will be affected by this change. Reducing green card and naturalization applications will hopefully free up time to process others, such as asylum applications.
“This will help restore balance to workloads across USCIS field offices with the overall goal of reducing processing times and providing improved service delivery,” USCIS says.
There are concerns with USCIS’ new plan, however. Cities with low wait times—like Cleveland, Ohio, where wait times are typically less than six months—may experience an increase as cases are placed on their docket.
Transferring cases out of big cities will likely force applicants to travel much further for their mandatory USCIS interviews, too. This could place a burden on those who struggle to find the time or money to make multiple trips.
Even when close to home, the agency’s mandatory interviews are difficult for some immigrants. If a person forgets or provides incomplete information on any number of documents, the USCIS officer may not be able to give a decision that day. This could extend the entire process by weeks or months before the case is reopened. This becomes even more burdensome when the USCIS office is far away. Some people also bring interpreters to their interviews. This means both the applicant and interpreter would need to travel to complete the interview process.
The agency says it will take applicants’ travel time into consideration when determining which cases to transfer. But it may be out of reach for some.
Though this may not be a sustainable solution, USCIS’ plan to ease the workload of overwhelmed offices should help in the interim. For those who have been waiting years, it will hopefully provide much-needed relief.