Immigration Agency’s Green Card Goals Unrealistic, Watchdog Says (1)

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By Laura D. Francis

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ 120-day goal for processing green cards is unrealistic, according to the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The processing goal doesn’t take into account delays caused by interview scheduling as well as the time given to applicants to respond to requests for evidence, the OIG said in a report released March 14. Moreover, information about processing times posted on the agency’s website are confusing and inaccurate, the OIG said.

In fact, as of May 2017, the average actual time it took to complete a green card application in fiscal year 2017 was 282 days, the OIG said.

It’s not just RFEs and notices of intent to deny that cause delays, Anastasia Tonello of Laura Devine Attorneys in New York told Bloomberg Law March 14. If they were, those would be the only cases that take longer than 120 days, she said.

But “even cases that are processing on as they should be” are delayed, she said.

A representative for USCIS didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

USCIS agreed with the OIG’s recommendations that it reconsider its processing time goal and revamp its website to more accurately reflect the actual time it takes to complete a green card application, the report said.

The current format for posting processing times on USCIS’s website is “misleading,” Tonello said. “If they gave a more accurate representation, I think it would benefit everyone,” including the agency, she said.

That change could come soon, as USCIS Director Francis Cissna wrote to the OIG that it would be posting processing times in the new format in March. The agency also announced March 13 that it would be revamping its website “in a few days.”

New Interview Requirement

Processing times were expected to increase even further with implementation of a new requirement that all applicants for employment-based green cards who apply from within the U.S. must have an in-person interview.

The additional processing times are on top of what can take years or decades of waiting for green cards to become available in the first place. The backlog is the result of overall limits on employment-based visas coupled with per-country caps.

USCIS can’t begin to process a green card application until a visa becomes available in a fiscal year.

The new interview requirement is “definitely causing delays,” Tonello said. She pointed to one case where the employer’s petition to sponsor the worker for a green card was approved in October of last year. The notice that the case was being transferred to the USCIS field office for the interview came in December, and notice of the interview—scheduled for mid-March—came in February, she said.

If the interview hadn’t been required, the worker’s green card likely would’ve been approved back in October, shortly after the employer’s petition was approved, Tonello said.

Instead of recommending that USCIS develop a more realistic processing time goal, the OIG should have looked at ways the agency could actually try and meet the 120-day goal, she said. “They could take away these unnecessary steps” like the new interviews, she said.

“You’ve taken an agency that isn’t meeting its goals” and “put all of this extra work on them,” Tonello said.

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