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How long does it actually take USCIS to adjudicate a petition?

By November 30, 2022Immigration
A man standing in front of a clock

For anyone who has applied for an immigration benefit from the U.S. government – a visa, a work permit, or permission to travel, for example – the government’s extensive delays are apparent.

For example, currently U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimates on its website that an applicant should expect to wait 17 months for travel authorization (Form I-131), 17.5 months for a work permit (Form I-765), and a whopping 52.5 months for USCIS to adjudicate an I-526 petition for an investor visa (sometimes called the “millionaire’s green card”).

How does USCIS calculate the estimated processing times?

When the government is challenged on these delays – for example, when we sue USCIS on behalf of our clients – one of the first things USCIS points to in order to justify its extensive delays are these published processing times. The “estimated processing time” that USCIS publishes on its website is actually the amount of time USCIS needed to complete 80% of the cases that were adjudicated in the past six months. For example, if USCIS completed 100 Form I-526 petitions in the past six months, and they completed 80 of those petitions within 52.5 months, then the published processing time would show 52.5 months.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also provides on its website an “inquiry date,” which they describe as “the earliest date you can submit questions” about your application to USCIS. The inquiry date is the difference between the amount of time USCIS needed to process 93% of the cases that were adjudicated in the past six months, and the amount of time the applicant has waited. In other words, according to USCIS, an applicant would need to wait the period USCIS requires to process 93% of cases before the applicant can even submit a question to the agency about what is taking them so long.

To take an example, an applicant who filed their I-526 petition three years ago is informed through their inquiry date that they must wait an additional 2.5 years before even submitting an inquiry to USCIS.

But how long does it actually take USCIS to process a given petition or application?

One of the benefits of litigating against USCIS is that there is a lot of information and data freely available about the agency and its programs. In 2019, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to adjust the filing fees that USCIS charges to adjudicate applications, DHS disclosed, among other things, exactly how long it takes for USCIS to adjudicate a whole variety of petitions.

The results are startling. To list a few examples that we mentioned earlier in this post, it takes USCIS (on average):

  • 8.65 hours to review an I-526 petition for an immigrant investor
  • 15 minutes to adjudicate an application for travel authorization (I-131)
  • 12 minutes to decide an application for work authorization (I-765)

With these actual figures in mind, it is extremely difficult to interpret the extensive delays at USCIS as anything but unreasonable.

What can be done to address these unreasonable delays?

Many are learning that one option in the face of these extensive delays is to sue the government by filing a mandamus action in federal court. We regularly assist clients with pursuing this option, which is frequently effective at moving a delayed application forward.

To learn more about whether a mandamus action might be a good option for your situation, please see our earlier post here, and please feel free to contact us to discuss further.

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