U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is taking steps to reduce its case backlog and improve processing times, officials said at an online event this week.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related funding and staffing issues have exacerbated the backlog across categories. At the end of FY 2021, more than 8 million cases were pending before USCIS, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. At a webinar marking the one-year anniversary of White House executive orders on immigration, USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said reducing the backlog is one of the agency’s top priorities.

“It doesn’t matter what benefit we are talking about or what you applied for, every single applicant who seeks a benefit from USCIS is entitled to a timely decision,” Jaddou said.

Officials said USCIS is taking the following steps:

  • Hiring additional staff and recruiting proactively for positions that become open.
  • Moving work between offices to align workload with the agency’s capacity.
  • Trying to reduce requests for evidence (RFEs) by making it clearer ahead of time what evidence is required.
  • Reusing previously submitted biometrics when possible to eliminate the need for applicants to make an in-person appearance.
  • Issuing employment authorization documents (EADs) that are valid for two years instead of one for certain applicants with pending adjustment of status applications.
  • Shifting toward an “assessment-based” methodology for determining which applicants must be interviewed.

Background: USCIS officials touched on a wide range of other topics during the webinar, including policy updates, efforts to improve the country’s asylum process, the status of service center operations and plans to expand online filing. The full webinar is available here.

The State Department has also grappled with processing delays and staffing shortages. In a recent Q&A with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs said it is increasing staff but that delays will likely persist for some time. The full Q&A is available here.

BAL Analysis: USCIS continues to work through a backlog that has slowed processing times and affected the issuance of green cards, employment authorization documents, advance parole and other immigration benefits. Some of the measures USCIS is taking, e.g., reusing biometrics or waiving in-person interviews, are only available in certain circumstances. Petitioners and applicants should work closely with BAL on case-specific questions. BAL will continue to monitor delays at USCIS and will provide updates on important developments.

This alert has been provided by BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

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