USCIS Announces New Plans to Speed Up Visa Processing

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced major plans to ease the struggles of all U.S. work permit visa holders, applicants, and petitioners. The three major plans for U.S. work visa applicants are:

  1. Agency-wide backlog reduction.
  2. Expand premium processing to additional form types.
  3. Improve timely access to employment authorization documents.

The uncertainty in visa status caused by the backlogs and delays by the USCIS has a tremendous impact on the lives of the immigrant population and U.S. businesses. 

In the effort to cut the massive immigration backlog by the Biden Administration, USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou acknowledged in a statement, “Every application we adjudicate represents the hopes and dreams of immigrants and their families, as well as their critical immediate needs such as financial stability and humanitarian protection.” 

“USCIS remains committed to delivering timely and fair decisions to all we serve,” she added.

In this article, we will break down each goal, how USCIS plans to achieve them, and what it means for the beneficiaries.

Agency-Wide Visa Processing Backlog Reduction

To tackle the mounting caseloads, USCIS will be relying on operational efficiency by using a new benchmarking system with internal cycle time goals that will set internal metrics that will guide the agency on the backlog reduction efforts and visa decision-making processes.

What Is an Internal Cycle Time for Visa Processing by USCIS? 

The federal agency uses a metric called “cycle times” to monitor the number of pending cases in the agency’s workload and the amount of time the agency takes to process a particular form. 

The cycle times give the USICS a holistic picture of how many pending caseloads there are, and helps them identify bottlenecks in the system to reduce processing times. As the cycle times reduce, so should the backlogs. The new cycle time goals of USCIS include: 

  • Two months for I-129 forms (Petitions for Nonimmigrant Workers)
  • Three months for forms I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization)
  • I-131 (Advance Parole)
  • I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status)
  • Six months for forms I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)
  • I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker)
USCIS Announces New Plans to Speed Up Visa Processing

Source: USCIS

To reduce the processing times, USCIS will increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to achieve these new goals by the end of FY 2023.

Expanding Premium Visa Processing Services

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that expands premium processing under the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act in conjunction with the agency-wide effort to reduce visa processing delays.

Understanding the Final Rule of DHS 

Premium processing is an expedited visa processing service that is currently only to applicants and petitioners filing for certain employment-based immigrant visa petitioners such as employment-based green card requests and H1B, Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

This final rule expands the categories of eligible forms for premium processing services, including the following forms: 

  • Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization 
  • Additional classifications under Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers

USCIS plans to begin to implement expanded premium processing availability of Form I-539, Form I-765, and Form I-140 in the fiscal year 2022 for EB-1 and EB-2 petitioners through a phased approach for Multinational Executives, Managers,  and National Interest Waivers. 

The premium processing filing fees for these additional forms will be $1,500 to $2,500. 

When Will the Final Rule Related to Expanding Premium Visa Processing Become Effective? 

The final rule to expand premium processing is effective on May 31, 2022. The availability of premium processing for newly designated immigration benefit requests will be announced by the USCIS under DHS premium processing regulations.

What Is the Relationship Between the Department of Homeland Security And  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services?

The United States Department of Homeland Security is the U.S. federal executive department responsible for public security, including customs, border, and immigration enforcement, among other security-related responsibilities such as cybersecurity and antiterrorism work.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for the administration of immigration benefits exclusively.

Expanding premium processing does not solve the backlog issues of USCIS. However, it will provide the agency with some revenue that the agency needs to increase manpower and invest in technology to ultimately reduce the existing delays in the processing timeframe.

What Are the Revised Fees and Timeframes Under the Temporary Final Rule?

Form I-140 for EB-1 immigrant classification as a multinational executive or manager OR EB-2 immigrant classification as a member of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional ability seeking a national interest waiver (NIW). 

  • Fee: $2,500
  • Timeframe: 45 days

Form I-539 for a change of status to F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1, or M-2 nonimmigrant status OR a change of status to or extension of stay in E-1, E-2, E-3, H-4, L-2, O-3, P-4, or R-2 nonimmigrant status.

  • Fee: $1,750
  • Timeframe: 30 days

Form I-765 for employment authorization.

  • Fee: $1,500
  • Timeframe: 30 days

Improve Timely Access to Employment Authorization Documents

USCIS received a temporary final rule from DHS on March 24, 2022, named “Temporary Increase of the Automatic Extension Period of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants.”

The agency has already begun streamlining Employment Authorization Document (EAD) processes and providing some expedited renewals for special workers such as healthcare and childcare. 

USCIS plans to build on this progress to ensure that individuals do not experience gaps in employment authorization through the temporary final rule.

In conclusion, visa processing delays have been the top grievance between applicants and petitioners. COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages had further crippled the USCIS with additional backlogs. 

With the new plans, the agency’s efforts to reduce the processing time by introducing new internal benchmarking systems, expanding premium processing, and improving access to EAD are favorable to individuals, employers, and attorneys that interact with the legal immigration system. 

However, plans and rules are only as good as their implementation process. While we believe it is in the right direction, we will continue to monitor if they make good on the new plans.