Delays in US immigration system reach critical levels – Congress demands explanations

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The US Congress recently opened a Senate discussion about delays in the process of immigration to the United States. In January this year, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) analyzed data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) itself and revealed delays at critical levels in the processing of immigration petitions in the country.

On February 2, more than 83 Democratic Party MPs sent a letter to USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna, raising concerns about the impact that delays have on families, vulnerable populations and US businesses.

Marketa Lindt, president of AILA, states that analysis of USCIS data revealed that the agency’s average processing time grew 46% from 2016 to 2018 and 91% from 2014 to 2018. Still according to Lindt, what is causing this scenario are the new USCIS policies, such as the need for personal interviews for job-based Green Card applicants.

Louanni Cesário, a senior lawyer at Drummond Advisors specializing in business immigration, says delays restrict the ability of US companies to hire and retain key workers, plan operations and remain globally competitive. “This hurts business and also the inflow of investment in the US. It is not beneficial for either party,” she concludes.

USCIS management, through a note posted on its official website (uscis.gov), justified the delays citing the increase in the number of petitions, new requirements and policies, and the presidential election: “There has been an extraordinary and growing demand for our services in recent years, and the number of adjudications that we completed increased between fiscal year (FY) 2017 and 2018. In FY 2018, we adjudicated more than 8 million applications and petitions, up by 9 percent since FY 2017, and 30 percent over the past five fiscal years. In FY 2018, we completed the most naturalizations since FY 2013, a 5-year high in new oaths of citizenship.”

The note goes on: “Although many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, the most significant drivers of the current backlog include: receipt increases, especially during the presidential election and before the implementation of a final fee rule in 2016; statutory changes; new programs and policies; court-ordered continuation of accepting renewal requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); added security requirements; and insufficient staffing levels and facilities.”

The agency also reiterated that it is continually working and launching a series of initiatives aimed at reducing delays: “(…) As part of our agency’s commitment to efficiently and fairly adjudicating all requests, we have launched a series of initiatives to reduce the net backlog. We have already begun to implement meaningful reforms, hire additional staff, and expand facilities to ensure our ability to keep pace with extraordinary demand for services.”