By Anayat Durrani
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revealed new efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens to the overall legal immigration system. USCIS plans to put in place new agency-wide backlog reduction goals, expand premium processing to additional form types, and work to improve timely access to employment authorization documents.
“This new policy will provide better insight on the internal processing times at US Citizenship & Immigration Services, as it relates to filing of specific EB-5 related forms, including the initial, direct investment petitions I-526, as well as those who are removing the conditions through the Form I-824 on one’s initial permanent residency term – a period referred to as conditional lawful permanent resident status,” says Raymond G. Lahoud, Member, Norris McLaughlin, P.A. Chair, Immigration Practice Group.
The agency cited the pandemic and resource constraints resulting from the Trump administration, as contributing to a greater number of pending cases and increased processing times. The USCIS is working to reduce caseloads and processing times, and ensure fair and efficient services available to applicants and petitioners.
“This announcement seems to be in line with the efforts of the Biden Administration to reduce the processing times for various applications which is well received,” says Roy Carrasquillo, managing shareholder and leader of CLG’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Services and Compliance practice group.
USCIS aims to improve EB-5 backlog
USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said, in a statement, that USCIS is committed to delivering timely and fair services. She said each application the agency adjudicates “represents the hopes and dreams of immigrants and their families, as well as their critical immediate needs such as financial stability and humanitarian protection.”
To address their pending caseload, the agency said it is establishing new internal cycle time goals, which are internal metrics that guide the backlog reduction efforts of the USCIS workforce and affect the length of time it takes the agency to process cases. The agency stated that once cycle times improve, processing times will also, and applicants and petitioners will receive quicker decisions on their cases. The agency says it will increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to meet these goals by the end of FY 2023. For example, the new cycle time goal for I-526 is six months, whereas currently adjudication takes 47 to 71 months or up to six years, according to the USCIS website.
“USCIS is now providing what are known as “cycle times,” which gauges the USCIS’ progress, or lack thereof, on reducing backlogs and processing times. When compared to processing times, filing dates, and the like, one can better measure adjudication of a filed petition or application,” says Lahoud.
Carrasquillo says he hopes to see those processing times for I-526 petitions go down in the coming months.
“USCIS mentions that they would expand staffing and improve technology, but without the necessary funding to be allocated by Congress, these goals would be only dreams,” says Carrasquillo. “Nonetheless, we are hopeful that these efforts would result in some reduction to current processing times which would be welcomed by current petitioners.”
Aligning premium processing regs
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that aligns premium processing regulations with the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act. The rule codifies premium processing fees and adjudication timeframes provided by Congress, according to the press release.
Premium processing is an expedited adjudication service for petitioners filing a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and to certain employment-based immigrant visa petitioners filing a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. This final rule expands the categories of forms eligible for premium processing services and will now include Form I-539, Application to Extend/Chance Nonimmigrant Status; Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; and additional classifications under Form I-140. Plans for premium processing of EB-5 petitions has so far not been announced.
“We would love to see the premium processing expanded to I-526 petitions in the future, which could then really help investors who must wait years to have their I-526 petitions evaluated by USCIS,” says Carrasquillo.
Lahoud says one form that premium processing will apply to is the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document.
“This is applicable to those who are adjusting status in the United States based on an already approved EB-5 petition, and, while awaiting the adjudication of the adjustment of status application, the applicant is able to secure temporary employment authorization,” says Lahoud. “This is beneficial for individuals in that stage of the EB-5 process—adjusting status in the United States—as it will limit any employment downtime.”
Goals to improve EAD docs
USCIS will also improve access to employment authorization documents. The USCIS will follow the congressional requirement that the expansion of premium processing not cause a rise in processing times for regular immigration benefit requests.
The press statement said that the USCIS is continuing to make progress toward a temporary final rule, which allows expedited work authorization renewals for healthcare and childcare workers, and also extended validity timeframes for certain EADs. The goal of the final rule seeks to ensure individuals that are eligible won’t lose their work authorization status while their applications are pending.