In January 2022, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released statistics concerning the past several years of immigration green card applications and approvals that illustrate unresolved issues in the system.
According to their report, as of January 2020, the USCIS had a backlog of 2.5 million green card application cases due to an “unanticipated increase in the overall volume of petition/application filings after the 2016 presidential election,” the implementation of the 2016 fee rule, and growing complexity in administrative work to process the applications and perform required security checks. The USCIS was simply under-resourced to evaluate and complete the applications within reasonable timeframes.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, then-President Donald Trump issued a halt on the issuance of green cards until the end of 2020 in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. On December 31, Trump extended those orders until March 31, 2021. As a result, most immigrant visas were blocked in 2020, and it’s estimated that as many as 120,000 family-based preference visas (just one category of visas) were pended. Employment-based visas were limited to only those considered a benefit to the national interest, such as health care professionals, and those who “won” the diversity lottery were backlogged.
From 2016 through the end of the first quarter of 2020, the USCIS approved approximately 240,000 green cards each quarter. Once the new COVID restrictions took effect, that number dropped to 79,000 and 130,000 respectively.
After President Biden took office, he signed an Executive Order to lift the restrictions, proclaiming that the limitation on legal immigration “does not advance the interests of the United States.” In 2021, the USCIS scurried to process green card applications, but despite closing about 80% of the cases received that year, the backlog grew to 8 million applications.
On March 28, 2022, USCIS announced three strategies to increase processing efficiencies and reduce the administrative burdens of the legal immigration system. Those programs include:
- Establishing new internal goals for processing times,
- Expanding premium processing availability of specific forms, and
- Increasing the access to and availability of employment authorization documents (EADs).
Immigration green card attorneys should begin to see an improvement in processing times from the USCIS offices. Their proposed goals are as follows:
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