USCIS Delays in Your Immigration Case

Why Is My Immigration Case Taking So Long?

Unfortunately, USCIS delays are common.  Maybe you sent an immigration application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) years ago, but never got a decision. Now you wonder if something went wrong.

Why is it taking so long?

Sometimes, nothing is wrong, and you simply need patience.  Bear in mind that the government’s immigration case backlog and processing times are unusually high.

But other times, something does go wrong, and you need to fix the delay.  Below we look at reasons for USCIS case delays and how to fix them.

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Reasons for Delays in Your Immigration Case

Many things can cause USCIS case delays.  Let’s look at a few:

USCIS needs more information or documents

Delays happen when USCIS is missing information or documents. 

For example, if you’ve filed a visa petition (Form I-130) as a parent of a U.S citizen and didn’t include proof of your relationship, then USCIS may need a birth certificate or marriage certificate.  Or, if you filed a work permit application (Form I-765), then USCIS may want for more proof of how you qualify for one.  Or perhaps you filed for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and USCIS wants to know more about some old criminal charges against you. 

Sometimes forms are missing.  For example, green card applicants often forget to include an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) or a Declaration of Self-Sufficiency (I-944).  Without these, your case could get stuck.  

Sometimes information is missing.  For example, applicants often leave blanks answers to important questions. If you leave a portion blanks, expect USCIS to send you a request for evidence.

The case is complex or there are serious legal issues

USCIS delays can also happen when a case is complex or unusual.  In hard cases, the reviewing officer has to get guidance from their supervisors or from lawyers at their agency. Or sometimes one officer passes the case to an officer that has more experience or knowledge.  When a case is transferred official because it is hard, you can expect a case delay.

When is a case complicated?  Several factors can complicate an immigration case:

  • you have multiple entries to and exits from the U.S.
  • you were in deportation proceedings at one point
  • you have criminal arrests and convictions
  • you have negative immigration history, like lying to immigration officers 

In any complicated case, expect your immigration application to touch multiple hands, as immigration officials try to figure out what to do with your case.  If this happens, your immigration case processing time will be slower than normal.

USCIS misplaced your file or it’s stuck on someone’s desk

Sometimes a file makes its way to a USCIS official and gets buried in a pile.  Worse still, multiple USCIS officials may look at your case and the file gets lost.  If you suspect this has happened, then you need to act immediately. 

What should you do if you there’s a delay at USCIS?  Below are a few suggestions.

Fixing Delays in Your Immigration Case

If your immigration case is delayed, you’re probably confused about what steps to take next to fix the problem and speed up processing.  Below is some guidance. 

Contacting USCIS

  • The first step is to check your case status online.  To do this you’ll need your receipt number, which can be found at the top left corner of the form I-797 that USCIS sent you when you filed your case.   Enter this number on the case status page in the space provided to see if there is any information about the delay. 
  • If there there is nothing helpful when you check the case status, you should next complete an online inquiry with USCIS.  In order to do this, you’ll need the I-797 receipt number (found at the top left corner), the form type (found at the top right corner) and information about the parties involved.   After you submit an online request, you will receive a letter or email telling you that your case inquiry has been received and that you need to wait for a period of time.
  • If after the period passes and there is no answer, you can call the USCIS hotline at 1-800-375-5283.  Follow the prompts and have the receipt I-797 ready.  Note, the person who filed the form has to make the phone call or be present on the phone call.  Otherwise, USCIS will not assist you.
  • If all these fail, then consider contacting the USCIS ombudsman.  This is an official appointed to help resolve customer complaints with USCIS.  The process for requesting case assistance through the ombudsman is online.   Keep in mind that the ombudsman is not meant to be the first step you take, the ombudsman will only assist you if you’ve already made an effort to use the USCIS system to resolve the issue.

Contacting an Immigration Lawyer

Sometimes it’s useful to get assistance from an  immigration lawyer. An immigration lawyer does not have a magic wand to resolve any case delay, but he or she may have a few extra tools that you may not.    You want to find an experienced immigration lawyer, however. 

Most experienced immigration lawyers are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  AILA lawyers have set up special methods to communicate with immigration officials at every immigration agency, including USCIS.  In some parts of the country, AILA lawyers can communicate directly with local and national USCIS officers through email or phone, and can help resolve a case that is significantly delayed.

An immigration lawyer can also help you to file a lawsuit against the government agency that has delayed your case far longer than necessary.  This is called a petition for writ of mandamus, which is a lawsuit asking a court to make USCIS do something required by law like issue decisions on cases for green cards or citizenship.  

A lawsuit against the government is a last resort as it’s generally very expensive.   It’s always best to try less expensive options first like the ones outlined above.

Keep in mind that fixing delays may depend on which form you filed

Fixing a delay in your immigration case can depend on which form you filed.  (Be sure to read up on how to check your case status for I-130s, I-485s, I-589s, and I-765s.)

If you are experiencing a delay in processing of a family-based green card petition  (Form I-130), then the forms are usually processed first at a USCIS service center before they are sent to a local field office.  Use the steps above to try to locate the case and then decide what to do.  

If you filed an application for citizenship or naturalization on Form N-400  then the process for fixing delays is slightly different.  You may have a few more options.  To start, immigration officials are required by law to give you a decision on your application within 120 days of your interview.  If they do not, you should write a certified letter to your local field office requesting a response.  If nothing happens, then you should consider contacting an immigration attorney. 

The point is that each case is different, each form is processed differently, and the way to avoid and fix delays is to be patient and address issues on a case-by-case basis.

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