All applicants who seek immigration benefits are subject to USCIS security checks. Such background investigation is designed to screen out criminals and national security threats during the immigration process. However, despite its good intention and overall success, this process has serious flaws.
Currently there are a vast number of green card and citizenship applications that have been delayed by security checks for one year or more. In some cases, by several years! The problem is, while a case is pending the outcome of security checks, the beneficiary is usually allowed to legally work in the US and travel abroad. Ironically, people who get stuck are usually the ones who triggered some sort of security flags in the first place. So if a person turns out to be a real security threat, the lengthy background check actually extends his stay in the US.
For most people, all security checks eventually come out clear. But the processing delay can cause great anxiety and frustration, in addition to severe financial burdens, to those individuals affected. Many applicants have to extend their EAD and AP every year, spending $645 per person for those two documents alone. With family members, the cost can quickly approach $2000 annually.
So a speedy process not only offers much needed relief to many immigrants, but enhances national security as well.
The USCIS typically conducts four types of background checks, but may perform other reviews on a case by case basis.
The Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) is a networked database from multiple agencies primarily designed to effectively control the entry of persons into the United States. It is an electronic system that can be quickly accessed by immigration officials at a port of entry (POE), as an inspection tool to identify high-risk and inadmissible travelers on the spot.
IBIS name check is sometimes called TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communication System, maintained by CBP) name check.
USCIS is now checking an applicant's name against this system to detect crimes, fraud schemes, and other illegal activities. For example, one component of the IBIS is the National Immigration Lookout System (NAILS) that stores millions of records created by USCIS and other law enforcement agencies. By running an IBIS name check, the USCIS is able to identify certain national security and public safety concerns before granting immigration benefits.
Because of the nature of the IBIS, this process normally takes very little time. In most cases the result of an IBIS name check is available immediately. However, if a person's name matches a record, or otherwise reveals information that requires further review, it may take additional time. But the IBIS name check is rarely a bottleneck that is slowing down the security check process.
Fingerprint checks are performed by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) located in West Virginia. People are often confused, but it is important to note that FBI fingerprint check is completely different from the FBI name check, which is conducted by the National Name Check Program in Washington DC.
An applicant will receive a fingerprint notice from the USCIS soon after properly filing an immigration petition. The notice contains an appointment date, time and location (usually an Application Support Center - ASC) where the applicant needs to have his/her finger prints, signature and digital photo taken. The information is then electronically transmitted to the CJIS to check for any criminal records, using the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).
This is another quick process, and result is usually sent back to the USCIS within a couple of days.
A fingerprint (FP) notice will contain a code number, indicating what biometric information is to be collected:
From 2002 to 2008, FBI name check was a bottleneck in the immigration process. Hundreds of thousands of applicants were "stuck" for years because of FBI name check delays. However, the situation has improved significantly since then. Follow the link above to read more.
The Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) is used for the storage and processing of biometric and certain biographic information. IDENT was initially developed for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1994, but has since become a DHS-wide system for biometric identification and verification of individuals.
Fingerprints and all biographic data collected at the Application Support Center (ASC) are automatically sent to IDENT, in addition to the FBI. The result from an IDENT fingerprint check is also used in determining whether an applicant or petitioner is eligible for the immigration benefit.
When people call service centers directly (see how here), they are sometimes told that their cases are under "extended review" or "additional review." We have not been able to obtain a clear definition from the USCIS regarding exactly what constitute an extended review, but here are three theories:
1. "Extended review" means "under review." It is a term loosely used by some representatives and could be anything, security checks, officer review, or in another word, just normal processing.
2. "Extended review" means "final review." It is referring to the final stage of the processing after security checks have been cleared and the case is ready to be adjudicated.
3. "Extended review" means "external review." It means USCIS is awaiting information from another government agency.
Before USCIS cares to offer an official explanation, we tend to believe theory #1 is the case.