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Immigration status can be life-changing, so even brief delays can be painful. Unfortunately, lengthy processing times have become increasingly common – largely thanks to the pandemic and Trump Administration policies which continue to make themselves felt today.

The two main explanations for delayed processing times are:

1) lack of visa availability (i.e., quotas on visas imposed by law) and

2) delays within the immigration agencies.

Our team of New Orleans immigration lawyers at Pelton + Balducci can help you understand and navigate the reasons for delay where possible

Immigration Visa Quotas

The limited number of available visas is one of the main reasons immigration cases can take so long. The United States imposes numeric quotas on certain types of visas.

In the case of “immigrant visas” (i.e., permanent residency), there are quotas established by law. The allocation of these visas among the different types of employment-based and family-based categories is extremely complicated. In addition, the INA places limits on how many immigrants can come to the U.S. from any one country.

Since there are high levels of immigration from China, India, Philippines, and Mexico, wait times for citizens of these countries are often longer than those of other countries.

There is a wide variety of “nonimmigrant visas” (those for temporary stays in the U.S.), some of which also impose quotas. For example:

  • H-1B visas are for individuals in so-called “specialty occupations”, which are occupations that require specialized knowledge and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. With certain exceptions, the INA allows only 65,000 H-1B visas each fiscal year (plus an additional 20,000 visas for individuals with a master’s degree or higher). Since the number of H-1B visa applicants generally exceeds the number of visas, USCIS chooses who gets to apply for an H-1B through a lottery. If you are not selected in the fiscal year you applied, you have to reapply through the lottery in the following year. Therefore, it can take many years for applicants to finally get their H-1Bs.
  • U visas are available to victims of certain crimes (including domestic violence, sexual assault, felonious assault, and trafficking). They cap at 10,000 per year. However, there is no cap for the original U visa applicant’s family members. Unlike the H-1B lottery system, petitioners for U status get placed in a very long line. Currently USCIS is not publishing wait times for U visas; however, it’s common for these cases to take five years. “T visas”, which are specifically for certain trafficking victims, also have an annual quota, but this has not been reached. Therefore wait times are significantly less than those for U visas.

U.S. Policies and External Factors

Internal agency challenges and policies can also be a source of delay, as are external events such as natural disasters and the pandemic. For example, applicants living in the jurisdiction of the New Orleans USCIS Field Office saw their processing times skyrocket after office operations were disrupted by Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes impacting the region. The current pandemic delays have clearly been more widespread.

Three executive departments handle immigration cases. 

The following departments handle immigration:

  • Department of Homeland Security, which includes the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) department
  • Department of Justice, which includes immigration courts
  • Department of State, which includes consulates and handles visa applications outside the United States

As delays have increased dramatically thanks to Trump and COVID-19, the responsiveness of the agencies to individuals seeking answers about their cases has declined precipitously, with the agencies shrugging their shoulders at websites containing erroneous information and contractors that provide wrong information – or no information at all – through their inquiry services.

Immigration case delays at USCIS

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that USCIS’ pending caseload has increased 85% in recent years, due in part to policy changes, longer forms, staffing issues and COVID-19 delays. The policy changes and longer forms were largely a part of the “extreme vetting” implemented by the Trump Administration policies that aimed to shut down immigration.

COVID-19 greatly increased immigration case review time. Suspension of in-person services and insufficient staffing levels created delays that are still being felt. In addition, USCIS did allow more time to respond to certain agency requests, acknowledging that the pandemic had complicated life for everyone.

The GAO recommended increased staffing, enhanced customer services and looking for other efficiencies. USCIS has taken steps to address and mitigate these backlogs, but a lot remains to be done as many wait for their cases to be adjudicated.

Immigration case delays at DOJ

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is overrun by a backlog of more than 1.7 million cases. Some of these cases have built up due to COVID-19 delays and indiscriminate enforcement.

Though the Biden administration has made changes to reduce the backlog, such as hiring more judges and exercising prosecutorial discretion, cases are often delayed in excess of three years, when in the past they would have taken a little over three months.

Immigration case delays at State Department

Like the USCIS and DOJ, the State Department is also experiencing COVID-19 delays. The consulates and U.S.-based offices faced closures during much of the pandemic.

Again, the Trump administration enacted large budget cuts to visa services, which only increased wait times for visa applicants at the State Department. For many months, there were no in-person interviews as consular posts around the world due to the pandemic, and some have only recently started interviewing applicants again.

Contact Pelton + Balducci Louisiana Immigration Lawyers Today

Unfortunately, delays are a routine part of the immigration process and working with a large government bureaucracy. What’s more, online information can be unreliable, even those published by the government – including consulate processing times, USCIS processing times, and information provided by those agencies’ inquiry services.

However, you don’t have to sit idle while the government struggles to process your request. New Orleans immigration lawyers Pelton + Balducci can help you understand and navigate these delays whenever it is possible. Let our Louisiana team help you make this great land your permanent home as soon as possible. Contact us for a consultation today.

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