By:  Richard Hanus, Esq.

Published July 12, 2021

Whether because of the pandemic or the previous administration’s lowered prioritization of many aspects of our legal immigration system, record setting delays in immigration processes have been many and far reaching.  The two agencies most responsible for processing immigration benefits are the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/CIS) and the U.S. Department of State.  The delays plaguing these agencies have wreaked havoc, both financially and emotionally, on the lives and households of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of foreign national applicants.  In particular, for applicants in the U.S., it’s delays in processing Employment Authorization and Advance Parole (international) Travel documents (EAD/AP) that are hitting applicants and their families the hardest. Other impacted applicants include family members separated by oceans and looking to be reunited in the U.S. but waiting on U.S. consular post processing of immigrant visas.

The backlogs are caused by budget shake ups and reduced staffing in both agencies, although practically all aspects of the processes at hand are funded by user filing fees, and not taxpayers.  The following are the types of delays hitting immigration applicants the hardest:

1)     I-130 visa petitions for overseas spouses and young children of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident petitioners:  The process usually commences with the U.S. petitioning family member filing an I-130 visa petition with a DHS/CIS Service Center in the U.S.  Processing of this petition now takes anywhere from a few months to more than a year.  Following I-130 visa petition approval though, the parties face another sizeable wait, and that’s for the U.S. Department of State to request and review documents to support the immigrant visa process and thereafter the overseas U.S. consular posts scheduling of an interview.

Similar scenarios and delayed processes await overseas fiancés of U.S. citizens as well as parents of over 21 year old U.S. citizens.  With the pandemic shutting down and then later, curtailing operations at U.S. embassies and consulates across the globe in the past year, the queues immigrant visa applicants are forced to wait in have lengthened exponentially.  The long separation these folks face as a result of these delays are both maddening and heart wrenching.

2)     I-485 applicants in the U.S. awaiting processing of Employment Authorization and Advance Parole (allowing for international travel) Documents:  I-485 applicants for lawful permanent resident status (green card) undergo all processing in the U.S. and by law are eligible to be issued the interim benefits of an EAD/AP while awaiting I-485 processing and review.  The EAD/AP serves a hugely important purpose as it allows pending green card applicants an opportunity for lawful employment and international travel while awaiting a decision on their green card applications.   

Up until the past 18 months, an I-485 applicant for Adjustment of Status – whether based on the I-130 petition of a family member, e.g. a U.S. citizen spouse, OR an employer’s I-140 petition – would face an approximately 90 day wait to be issued an EAD/AP while awaiting the processing of their I-485 application.  This processing time has almost tripled, making the availability of the EAD/AP in many cases practically useless, as the review of their underlying I-485 Application for Adjustment of status may take only 9- 12 months in total.  Similar to the hardships faced as a result of immigrant visa processing delays, the delays in initial EAD/AP issuance present substantial financial and emotional strains for applicants and their households, hamstringing applicant ability to earn a living and make international trips.

There is hope on the horizon with a new DHS/CIS Director taking office and intent on implementing strategies for reducing these unprecedented delays and overall, making DHS/CIS function more efficiently in all aspects of its operations.  In the meantime, applicants are left to advocate for themselves.  This includes conventional means, such as agency inquiries with DHS/CIS customer service or through a congressional office, and unconventional approaches, such as federal litigation to compel completion and a decision for a paid-for process.

PUBLISHED July 12, 2021– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2021, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois