Earlier this year in February, eighty-six members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) that demanded accountability for the agency’s increasingly lengthy processing delays. Now, USCIS is looking to transfer cases out of overburdened offices to even out processing times across the country. The strategy, however, will only apply to applications for permanent residency (green cards) and applications for naturalization (citizenship). Currently, applicants in cities such as St. Paul and Miami wait up to two years to become citizens. As a result of the intended case transfer, it is possible that green card and naturalization applicants could see shorter wait times in some of the nation’s busiest cities, but it is likely that immigrants in other places, such as Cleveland and Providence, could see the process lengthen, according to an analysis by Boundless Immigration, a company that guides immigration applicants through the process.
The Cato Institute reports that since 1991, when the current immigration quotas went into effect, the time spent waiting to apply for a green card “has doubled for applicants immigrating through the family-sponsored and employment-based quota categories—from an average of 2 years and 10 months to 5 years and 8 months.” Indeed, about twenty-five percent of the 5.6 million immigration cases in the backlog are those with pending green card or naturalization applications. This includes, among others, the spouses of US citizens, scientists and professors, and the children of refugees.
The distribution of application workload is, at first glance, an effective first step in attempting to lower wait times. USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins said in a statement that this tactic “will help restore balance to workloads across USCIS field offices with the overall goal of reducing processing times and providing improved service delivery.” However, critics argue that the transfer of caseloads to less-burdened field offices will also mean that some applicants will have to travel farther to appear for mandatory interviews. Abigail Hauslohner writes in The Washington Post that this change could arguably “disadvantage those without the time and money to make the trips.”
Critics also argue that because USCIS operates “primarily on the revenue of application fees”, it should be able to keep pace with the demand. Indeed, skeptics fail to believe that the backlog will decline. Regarding backlog and wait times, Doug Rand, co-founder and president of Boundless Immigration reported that USCIS is “not on track to reduce any of that.”