Ever since USCIS started releasing the pending I-485 inventory data last September, there has been skepticism all over the Internet. Some, including immigration attorneys, have gone as far as claiming the data being close to useless.
Well, I think that is too far.
Sure, the data is incomplete. But it is something we never had before. Prior to September of 2009, if you had a pending I-485, all you knew was that you were standing in line waiting for the next visa bulletin. Now, with the inventory, you can find out approximately how many people are actually ahead of you. Even if USCIS doesn’t count all the pending cases, you now have a general idea of how long the line is, and more importantly, what position you are in.
USCIS clearly indicated that I-485 applications transferred to field offices are not included in the inventory. And it appears that they plan to add this missing piece in later releases. There has been much debate about the exact percentage, and I guess nobody knows until USCIS publishes the data, but we do know that the majority of employment-based AOS applications are being processed by service centers, not district or field offices.
Another source of missing cases in the inventory, as claimed by many, is that USCIS simply isn’t capable of counting! I’m not as pessimistic, however. After all, it is a database. Let’s look at the case status checking system first. How many people with a pending I-485 cannot find their case in the system? Not many, right? It is a non-scientific indication that the database at least contains the vast majority of I-485’s out there. With data being present, counting and sorting is a few queries away. And there are multiple ways to cross reference your results to make sure nothing is obviously off track.
Many people also question the accuracy of the data. I can’t guarantee the inventory is error-free; in fact I can pretty much guarantee there are errors. But it serves its purpose well, and is good enough to shed some light on a matter that traditionally has been a black box.
We want to push USCIS to further improve their reporting of the inventory data – no doubt about that. But we shouldn’t ignore what we already have, especially since there is nothing better right now. Let’s not tell a starving person to throw away the burger in hand, and just wait for a steak dinner.