In an effort to save money, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is closing its 23 international immigration field offices over the next year and all immigration matters will be referred back to the regional U.S. offices. However, many immigration advocacy groups said these closures will mean more backlogs.
NBC News reported that organizations such as HIAS and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) were concerned that the closures mean that USCIS will have to process more cases, creating ever-larger piles of paperwork. According to the AILA, the average time to process a case in 2018 was 9.48 months, which was 19% longer than the previous year (7.98 months) and 91% longer than in 2014 (4.96 months). Further, the “net backlog” at the end of 2017 was more than 2.3 million delayed cases — more than double the number at the beginning of the year.
According to the AILA, more than 1.5 million applications were received by USCIS in 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, the amount of time to process a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) went up from 7.7 to 9.7 months; for Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), the processing time increased from 8.1 to 10.2 months. The family-based Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485), which took 8.4 months to process in 2017, took 11.1 months to process last year.
HIAS, an organization that assists refugees coming into the U.S., said the backlog would create obstacles for refugees and legal immigrants — the same type of immigrants, HIAS said, that President Trump wants to bring into the country. HIAS President Mark Hatfield told Reuters that the shuttering of the offices overseas is “another example of the administration pulling up the drawbridge.”
The international offices perform various services, including helping Americans bring foreign-born relatives to the U.S., processing applications for refugees and overseas citizenship, assist Americans in adopting foreign children, process naturalizations for foreign-born citizens currently serving in the U.S. military; check visa applications for fraud and advise other U.S. government officials on immigration matters.
In response to the closure, USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins told Reuters that the processing will be spread out to regional offices and, if needed, to U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. She said that would help alleviate the backlog.
If you are intending to file an application or petition with the USCIS, the first step should be to contact an attorney with experience in immigration matters. First, an experienced immigration attorney can help minimize errors that may further delay your application or petition. Second, the experienced attorney may file a writ of mandamus to expedite the process. The lawyers at Bretz & Coven, LLP are experienced in representing clients in visa, benefit, and petition matters including using writs of mandamus to expedite the process. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call our New York and New Jersey immigration lawyers at (212) 267-2555.