USCIS Transformation Program: One Billion Over Budget, Four Years Behind Schedule

Remember the transformation program USCIS launched years ago to convert their paper filing system to electronic filing? Well, after 10 years and billions of dollars, it is far from done. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently released a report detailing their progress, and it isn’t pretty:

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) currently expects that its
Transformation Program will cost up to $3.1 billion and be fully deployed no later
than March 2019, which is an increase of approximately $1 billion and delay of
over 4 years from its initial July 2011 baseline. In March 2012, the program
began to significantly change its acquisition strategy to address various technical
challenges (see table).

So in short, the USCIS program is $1 billion over budget and 4 years behind schedule. If this were to happen in the private sector, I don’t know how many companies would be able to survive after a failure of this magnitude. USCIS initially awarded the contract to IBM, which was never mentioned in the GAO report, but later switched to other suppliers. Hopefully this time they can get their act together and accomplish something.

USCIS I-485 Statistics – January to March, 2015

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published the latest performance data of I-485 Applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Below is a summary of the total number of I-485 cases by category. For more detailed statistics including service center and field office data, please click here.

 I-485 Applications Performance Data (1/1/2015 – 3/31/2015) : Received Approved Denied Pending
Family-based 71,400 58,697 8,203 188,987
Employment-based 30,846 26,232 1,667 122,812
Humanitarian-based 37,846 35,802 1,162 94,316
Others 6,240 6,440 784 16,964
Total 146,332 127,171 11,816 423,079

Notes:

  • Family-based: Applications based on a family relationship with an LPR (legal permanent resident, a.k.a. green card holder) or a U.S. citizen.
  • Employment-based: Applications based on employment status, or as an entrepreneur to create a commercial enterprise.
  • Humanitarian-based: Applications covered by Refugees & Asylum, Battered Spouse, Children & Parents and other special humanitarian programs.
  • Received: The number of new applications received and entered into a case-tracking system during the reporting period.
  • Approved: The number of applications approved during the reporting period.
  • Denied: The number of applications denied, terminated, or withdrawn during the reporting period.
  • Pending: The number of applications still awaiting a decision as of the end of the reporting period.
  • Source: Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Performance Analysis System (PAS) , March 2015

USCIS I-130 Processing Times to Improve in Coming Months

In a recent post I talked about USCIS’ significant delays in processing I-130 petitions filed by U.S. citizens for their immediate relatives. I also proposed a potential reason for the issue. Apparently USCIS has been fully aware of the situation.

In an email sent to stakeholders today, USCIS promised to speed up the adjudication of I-130 forms in the coming months. In fact, USCIS said the processing had already improved, with USCIS currently processing February 2013 petitions instead of October 2012, as published in most recent processing guidelines. By May of next year, USCIS expects to return to an average processing time of five months for these Forms.

Here is the letter from USCIS:

Dear Stakeholder,

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received communications from the public expressing concerns regarding extended processing times for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, filed by U.S. citizens for their eligible immediate relatives. USCIS provides information below in response to the concerns expressed.

USCIS is ever-mindful of the need to process a U.S. citizen’s immediate relative Form I-130 carefully and expeditiously. The need is defined by the immigration system’s goal of preserving family unity. It is for this fundamental reason that USCIS has been focused on addressing delays in the processing of these Forms I-130 for several months.

Through concerted efforts, USCIS is now adjudicating U.S. citizens’ immediate relative Forms I-130 filed as early as February 2013. This is a significant step forward, as previously published guidance reflected the processing of these Forms I-130 filed in October 2012. Furthermore, USCIS expects the processing of these Forms I-130 to be increasingly timely in the ensuing weeks, culminating in the return to an average processing time of five months for these Forms I-130 by May 2014.

USCIS has focused on these Forms I-130 for the very reason that affected members of the public have expressed their concerns; the importance of family unity. Last month, in an effort to expedite the adjudication of these cases, USCIS began transferring stand-alone Forms I-130 filed by U.S. citizens for their immediate relatives from USCIS’s National Benefits Center to its Nebraska, Texas, and California Service Centers. This shift improves USCIS’s ability to adjudicate the cases in a timely manner.

….. (standard language on checking/tracking case status)

We appreciate the concerns that members of the public have expressed on this important subject. We are mindful of those concerns and are addressing them with great diligence.

Kind Regards,
USCIS Public Engagement Division

Tips on Expediting USCIS Processing for Military Personnel

Author: Guy Pearson

Every year, many active duty military members seek expedite on their petition due to circumstances beyond their control. Whether it be a deployment, change of station or a humanitarian assignment, many need the option to speed up their process. Additionally, non-military members are eligible for expedite of their case as well.

Who is eligible?

Anyone serving on active duty or a reserve component in Title 10 status and facing a pending deployment, permanent change of station, or a humanitarian assignment have the opportunity to petition USCIS for an expedite on their case. One of the biggest challenges facing active duty military families is that there are circumstances beyond their control that force them to make decisions that are not always their first preference. USCIS knows this, and is very helpful when it comes to dealing with the military. Upon setup of their hotline (1-877-CIS-4MIL) for military members, they offer the opportunity to K1, K3, IR-1, CR-1 applications the chance to request that USCIS moves their case along faster than normal processing times for the benefit of the military member.

How to expedite

If you are currently on active duty and seeking expedite on your petition, you will need to provide the USCIS with proper reasoning and documentation to support the reason. Many folks expedite their cases over an impending deployment, so they would send the USCIS a copy of their deployment orders. USCIS officially states that they require the following:

  1. A letter written and signed by you that explains why your application or petition should be expeditiously processed,
  2. A copy of your military orders or a letter from your commanding officer regarding your deployment or situation, and
  3. 3. Any other information you feel will support your request for expedite.

I have seen quite a few get expedited just from a letter of Commander, but it is ultimately up to the USCIS to decide this. My wife and I received expedite from simply providing a letter signed by our Unit Deployment Manager that I was inside of my bucket to deploy.

Tips for non-military members seeking expedite:

There seems to be confusion on whether the USCIS allows expedites in other situation. The answer is yes. When calling their hotline, they mention that they do review expedites on a case-by-case basis, and it does have to meet the threshold for a ’emergency’ type situation. Officially, USCIS states that you must meet the following conditions:

  1. Severe financial loss to company or individual
  2. Extreme emergent situation
  3. Humanitarian situation
  4. Nonprofit status of requesting organization in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States
  5. Department of Defense or National Interest Situation (Note: Request must come from official United States Government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to our Government)
  6. USCIS error
  7. Compelling interest of USCIS

If you feel you meet the requirements above, give the USCIS customer service a call to request expedite. Note: you must provide proper documentation within 20 business days to be eligible, otherwise it will be denied.

Whether military or non-military, you will have to either fax or mail these requests to them, and wait (sometimes up to 60 days) for a response. However, if you don’t hear anything back within 30 days, you can always call to check on the status of your expedite.

Guy Pearson is currently in the United States Air Force and co-founded immiTranslate.com, which provides certified translation services to United States visa applicants and their attorneys. He and his wife went through the K1 visa process in 2012, and are celebrating one year of marriage in December.

Is DACA Linked to USCIS I-130 Processing Delays?

Recently many I-130 petitioners have received a USCIS letter stating that their case would be further delayed by about six months. The letter also says the delay is caused by workload factors not related to their case. A reader suggested DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as the reason, so I dug up some data published by USCIS. Since the start of DACA in August, 2012, the total number of pending I-130 petitions has jumped from 208K to 320K, a 60% increase. This number only includes immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and new filings for the same period of time have remained steady.

Below is the pending I-130 data for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, published by USCIS:

Pending I-130 vs DACA

On the other hand, more than 500,000 DACA applications have been processed relatively quickly, especially when compared to typical USCIS processing times.

Although this data point is hardly conclusive, it does suggest that USCIS may have pulled a considerable amount of resources away from handling regular immigration cases. It is possible that USCIS had no other choice, considering the surge of DACA applications last Summer. In addition, DACA was implemented under an executive order, rather than a new law passed by Congress, so it probably left USCIS very little time to get ready. What is unclear is whether USCIS was also ordered to assign top priority to DACA cases, at the cost of others that have already been waiting in line.

What is more, DACA is valid for two years and renewable. If Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) doesn’t pass, it means that every two years there will be a rush of DACA applications and the temporary delay of processing other cases could very well become permanent.

For people not familiar with immigration issues, I-130 is the only way a U.S. citizen can bring an immediate relative – such as a spouse, parents or children – to live in the U.S. as a permanent resident. DACA is a government policy to defer removal action and grant work authorization to certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines.

DACA statistics:

DACA Statistics

Time to Reach H-1B Cap: FY-2011 to FY-2014

Here is another way to look at how quickly the annual H-1B cap has been reached over the past four years. In 2010, the annual cap for FY-2011 was reached 302 days after the season started on April 1st. This year, it took all of 5 days to do the same.

FY_2010-2014_Cap-Reached

According to USCIS, approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions were filed this year. 85,000 of them won the lottery and if approved, their beneficiaries will be able to work in H-1B status starting October 1, 2013. For people who didn’t win, or missed the boat altogether, the earliest time they may begin working in H-1B is October 1, 2014, assuming they win the lottery next year. Not a good situation for foreign tech workers seeking better opportunities in the U.S.

H-1B Visa Cap for FY-2014 Reached in One Week

H-1B visa cap has been reached one week after the season opened. USCIS announced today (April 5, 2013) that it has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach both the regular H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption cap. As a result, USCIS will no longer accept H-1B petitions for the entire fiscal year 2014, which runs from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014.

For all valid petitions received between April 1 and 5, USCIS will use a random selection process (“lottery”) to pick the winners, starting with the advanced degree petitions (20,000 total). Those not selected will become part of the regular cap (65,000) selection process. Keep in mind that USCIS will continue to accept and process H-1B petitions not subject to the annual cap, such as current H1B workers changing jobs or beneficiaries who will work at institutions of higher education.

H-1B visa consumption has been accelerating over the past four years, as shown in the graph below. In 2010, it took almost 10 months to reach the FY-2011 cap. The following year it was 7 months. But in 2012, all H-1B visas were allocated in 2 months, and this year: 1 week!

h1b-cap-count-2010-2014

Update 4/8/2013: USCIS has completed the random selection process.

USCIS received approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 7, 2013, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process (commonly known as a “lottery”) to select a sufficient number of petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 for the general category and 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption limit. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless it is found to be a duplicate filing. – USCIS

Avoid Immigration Scams

Yesterday USCIS released yet another warning on “misleading” websites and the fees they charge for preparing immigration forms and applications:

In recent weeks, USCIS has received a large number of applications prepared by an online business that charges users to complete their USCIS forms. In most cases, the charge for preparing an application is the same as the USCIS filing fee. When applicants pay these businesses online using an electronic check, the applicant is only paying for the service provided to prepare the application, and not the actual USCIS filing fee. As a result, applicants are attaching a copy of a cashed electronic check when mailing their applications to USCIS. Because the applicant has not paid the USCIS filing fee, USCIS cannot process these applications and must return them to the applicant.

Clearly, USCIS knows about this website…but isn’t planning to tell you. USCIS even worded their alert carefully to avoid calling such practice fraud or scam. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of confused. So if an online business intentionally charges the same amount for preparing an immigration form as the USCIS filing fee, and as a result, a large number of its customers mistakenly think they are paying the government rather than the business, does USCIS consider it a scam or not? What about selling free USCIS forms for a profit?

Maybe USCIS is worried about getting themselves into legal trouble by disclosing these companies’ names; maybe they don’t think they are in a position to do anything — USCIS is not a law enforcement agency, after all. But I still hope they would do a bit more in the future, other than relying on public warnings. The intended audience here is the immigrant community which consists, obviously, immigrants. Many of them are new to America, don’t know much about immigration, and aren’t fluent in English. This is a group that is hard to reach, but in the mean time, the most vulnerable and easiest target for scammers.

In recent years we’ve seen increased efforts from USCIS, DOS, DOJ and other government agencies to fight immigration scams. There are also broader media coverage (see BBB, Union Tribune and the Beacon) and more ways for consumers to report fraudulent activities (see FTC Complaint Center and eConsumer.gov). Most recently the National Initiative to Combat Immigration Services Scams also kicked off. Let’s hope all the hard work will soon pay off.

Update 9/19/2011: USCIS posted another blog entry on this subject, again without releasing any names.

Update 9/23/2011: Illinois Attorney General has filed a law suit against a Chicago man for immigration fraud:

The lawsuit alleges Lekarauskas deceptively marketed and represented his website, www.USAimmigrationsupport.com, as an official government site. The website features a logo that closely mimics a federal seal next to the title “United States Immigration Organization,” and attempts to make consumers believe it is an official government site where they can obtain passports, visa and citizenship applications.

USCIS Initiatives on Entrepreneur and EB2

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new initiatives on August 2, 2011 that would allow entrepreneurs to pursue a green card under the employment based second preference category (EB2). The new policy also clarified that entrepreneurs may qualify for National Interest Waiver (NIW) and H-1B, including an example showing when a sole owner of a petitioner (company) may be able to demonstrate an employee-employer relationship for H-1B purposes.

The initiatives are brought up with very good intentions – there is no doubt about that. In fact, it is a key part of the Obama administration’s Startup America campaign, aimed to attract the world’s best and brightest to become America’s job-creating entrepreneurs.

However, the new policy immediately raised concerns among current EB-2 applicants – many of them have been waiting in queue for several years. The visa bulletin for August 2011 set the cutoff date for China and India EB2 categories to April 15, 2007, which means that you may be able to get a green card only if you started your immigration process nearly five years ago. EB3 preferences face even a longer wait, ranging from 6 to 10 years.

Given the current situation, increasing demand without increasing the supply of visa numbers doesn’t seem like a good way to reduce existing backlogs. So the initiative to allow new entrepreneurs to share the same pool of EB2 visa numbers could potentially worsen the retrogression. On the other hand, however, more jobs created by more startup companies are good for the economy, which in turn improves the political atmosphere necessary for a true immigration reform. What do you think? We posted a survey shortly after the USCIS announcement and here is the breakdown of 120 responses (a small sample size, but from people who truly care about immigration):

USCIS Pending I-485 Inventory is Behind Schedule for Q1 2011

Update 5/27/2011: USCIS finally released the inventory on May 27. The Green Card Tracker has now been updated with the new data.

USCIS is supposed to release the pending EB I-485 inventory on a quarterly basis, but is apparently running late for the first quarter of 2011. The last release was on January 5, so the next one should be somewhere around mid April, including a couple weeks of lead time. So USCIS is roughly three weeks behind as of today (5/6/2011).

Last year’s inventory releases were generally three months apart, on March 8, May 27, October 1, and then January 5 of this year. The 5/27 – 10/1 gap was a little over four months, however.

Many readers have recently asked when they will see an update on the green card tracker, which uses the official I-485 inventory for the calculations. Honestly we don’t know, but we do expect USCIS to release the next inventory by the end of May.

On a side note, USCIS has indicated their intention to publish the family-bases I-485 inventory as well. If the delay of EB inventory continues, we wonder if USCIS is trying to synchronize them. If this is the case, the delay will be certainly understandable and actually very good news for those waiting in the family queue. This, of course, may be just our wishful thinking. The immigration agency made no commitment as to when or if they will release the family-sponsored I-485 data.