Delays in the processing of petitions and applications filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have long plagued our immigration system. But that may improve before long.

The USCIS recently announced three actions “to increase efficiency and reduce burdens to the overall legal immigration system.” These actions will be phased in during Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023.

Item 1: Reduce processing backlogs

The USCIS announcement says that it “is acting to reduce . . . caseloads and processing times, while also ensuring that fair and efficient services are available to applicants and petitioners.”

The USCIS says that it will establish goals and internal metrics “that guide the backlog reduction efforts of the USCIS workforce and affect how long it takes the agency to process cases. As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, and applicants and petitioners will receive decisions on their cases more quickly.” The USCIS also says that it will “increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to achieve these new goals.”

The agency expects to meet these goals by September 30, 2023, the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

Item 2: Expand premium processing

Premium processing allows petitioners to pay an additional fee to have their petitions decided within 15 days. Currently, premium processing applies only to Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (covering work visa petitions often filed by employers in categories such as E, H, L, O, P and TN) and to certain employment-based immigrant visa petitioners filing a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers (I-140 petitions are the first USCIS filing in the green card process).

The Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act of October 2020 directed the USCIS to expand premium processing to additional case types, including Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. The Act also increased premium processing fees. The premium processing fee for almost all case types, including the I-140 categories discussed below, is currently $2,500. The fee for premium processing of the I-539 is $1,750. The fee for premium processing of the I-765 is $1,500.

As part of the recent announcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the USCIS, announced a final rule “that aligns premium processing regulations with the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act. The rule codifies premium processing fees and adjudication timeframes provided by Congress.”

The final rule also added the following to the premium processing list:

  • Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (processing time 30 days)

  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (processing time 30 days)

  • The following Form I-140 petition classifications (processing time 45 days):

    • EB-1 immigrant classification as a multinational executive or manager, or

    • EB-2 immigrant classification as a member of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional ability seeking a national interest waiver.

The processing time for all other premium processing will remain at 15 days.

The final rule will take effect on May 31. However, “The availability of premium processing for newly designated immigration benefit requests will be announced by USCIS in accordance with DHS premium processing regulations and will become available as stated at that time.”

These premium processing changes will be phased in starting this fiscal year (FY22), with the first priority being the changes to the Form I-140 processing.

Item 3: Improve access to Employment Authorization Documents

The USCIS also announced that it is working on a temporary final rule “Temporary Increase of the Automatic Extension Period of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants.”

The goal of the rule is to automatically extend Employment Authorization, and that would be a significant improvement. To date, as part of the backlog reduction initiative, the USCIS has taken steps to streamline the process that applies to Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. These applications have had significant backlogs, jeopardizing the ability of workers to continue employment. The USCIS has already extended the validity periods for certain applicants -- including applicants for adjustment to permanent resident status -- from one year to two years. The agency has also expedited work authorization renewals for health care and child care workers.

The goal of the temporary final rule, according to the announcement, “aims to build on this progress and to ensure certain individuals will not lose their work authorization status while their applications are pending.”

We will keep you posted.

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