USCIS’s own policies are contributing in part to the dramatic slowdown of case processing times that affect millions of individuals, families, and businesses throughout the country, Jason Boyd, policy counsel with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Government Relations department, writes in Think Immigration. 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.
The response from USCIS reveals that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the agency’s overall volume of delayed application and petitions, or “gross backlog”, reached 5,691,836 cases—a figure which marks a twenty-nine percent increase since FY 2016 and sixty-nine percent since FY2014. “Crucially, this inventory rose from FY2017 to FY2018 despite a substantial decline in application rates and an uptick in budget during that period,” Boyd writes. “The agency had more resources with which to process fewer incoming cases, yet its gross backlog still grew.”
Overall the USCIS response shows that the agency is undermining their mandate to efficiently process applications and petitions for immigration benefits, Boyd claims. Of central concern is data regarding “USCIS completions per hour,” a metric for case processing which has decreased for seventy-nine percent of immigration benefit types from FY2014 to FY2018 and for eight-one percent of immigration benefit types from FY2016 to FY2018. For example, from FY2016 to FY2018, the case completion rate for I-129 petitions decreased from .97 cases per hour to .64—a thirty-four percent drop.
USCIS cited the “increasing complexity and length of forms” and “increased security checks,” as reasons for the delays and backlogs, and conceded that their own requirement for in-person interviews for employment-based Green Card applicants and for relatives of asylees and refugees seeking family reunification “are reducing the completions per hour because of the additional time required for interviews, which is contributing to increased cycle times and the backlog.” The agency’s letter and data is “eye-opening but ultimately insufficient,” Boyd writes. “The public needs a full assessment from USCIS—as well as from the independent Government Accountability Office—of how current and proposed USCIS measures have impacted, and will impact, completion rates, processing times, and the backlog.”