Immigration Processing Delays and Possible Solutions
June 10, 2004

Whether you are a U.S. citizen filing immigration paperwork on behalf of an overseas spouse or parent, or you are an applicant for permanent residence awaiting processing in the U.S., no doubt, you have become familiar with the extensive processing delays plaguing many aspects of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (“CIS”, formerly INS) operations. For individuals residing in the Chicago area or Midwestern U.S., the CIS’ Nebraska Service Center may be the source of the problem. Or for some other applicants nationwide, the newly created National Benefits Center in Missouri may play a role in delaying the processing of certain types of applications that are channeled through there.

Why the delays? In general, one can point to manpower shortages, budget shortcomings, outsourcing to independent contractors, and the re-direction of current agency staff to implement post 9/11 security measures. Whatever the cause, those impacted are frustrated and anxious. Below are some typical scenarios where these delays play themselves out, and some suggestions for addressing the issue:

  1. Applicants for Adjustment of Status and Employment Authorization. For those foreign nationals who are in the U.S. and are eligible to undergo all permanent resident processing here, an I-485 “adjustment of status” application is filed with a local CIS office (family based) or CIS Service Center (employment based). Usually, the adjustment of status application is accompanied by an application for employment authorization (I-765), since all pending adjustment of status applicants are eligible to receive an employment authorization document.Family based applicants who file their paperwork with CIS Chicago and many other local CIS offices are having the initial processing of their filings take place through the National Benefits Center in Missouri. That is, the local CIS offices will immediately upon receipt, forward all paperwork to the NBC, and within several weeks, the NBC will generate receipt notices as well as biometric appointment letters. Unfortunately, as of late, it has been taking as long as 6 months for applicants to receive their employment authorization documents.Similar delays in the processing of employment authorization documents are being faced by employment based adjustment of status applicants who file their paperwork with one of the 4 regional service centers, such CIS Nebraska – although with a bit less frequency.

    Solution: Pursuant to CIS regulations, applicants for employment authorization as outlined above are eligible to proceed directly to their local CIS office, such as CIS Chicago, to receive an “interim” employment authorization document if their I-765 applications have been pending for more than 90 days. As long as evidence of fee payment is presented when appearing for the interim card, the applicant will face no additional charge and the card is usually issued the same day.

  2. Immigrant petitions by U.S. citizens for overseas spouses, children/step children (under 21) and parents. For those U.S. citizens residing in the Chicago area, or any region of the U.S. under the jurisdiction of CIS’ Nebraska Service Center, who have filed I-130 Alien Relative Petitions for these classes of overseas loved ones – who importantly, are not subject to numerical quotas – enormous processing delays have likely gotten in the way of many family reunions in the U.S. That is because the processing of I-130, Alien Relative Petitions at CIS Nebraska has pretty much come to a standstill. At the current pace, an I-130 for a relative in one the above categories will not even get reviewed by an officer at CIS Nebraska for close to 1 ½ years. From there, count on an additional 6 months for the overseas consular post to finally schedule the interview.Solution: For those U.S. citizens filing for their spouses (and sometimes children/step children), the K-3/K-4 visa is the answer. Although a second petition filing (I-129F – with supporting documents, including proof of a pending I-130) with a separate CIS office will be required, it can lead to visa issuance in approximately 4-6 months. Following entry into the U.S. on such a visa, the overseas spouse (and sometimes child) is eligible to continue their permanent residence processing in the U.S.

For U.S. citizens awaiting the processing of I-130 petitions on behalf of their overseas parents, unfortunately no K-3/K-4 visa option is available. However, some overseas consular posts will entertain an in-person I-130 filing and process an immigrant visa within a matter of weeks, as long as the U.S. citizen is merely present at the U.S. consular post. Other U.S. consular posts, however, will only entertain such filings by U.S. citizens if the U.S. citizen is actually residing in that foreign country. The same rule usually applies for petitions on behalf of spouses and children as well. Information regarding such U.S. consular post I-130 processing can usually be obtained by visiting the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country in question.

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