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Processing Questions

I’ve been reading—absorbing the more than 400 comments you left from my last Journal entry. You’ve asked many questions—mostly about our processing times, wait times for visa approvals, and how we’re responding to the record number of applications we received last year.

But most of all, you want to know when USCIS will complete your case. Let me try to address some of your concerns.

After visiting local USCIS offices around the country and reviewing our current production statistics, I am confident USCIS will beat our projected 13- to 15-month processing estimate for completing naturalization applications filed after June 1, 2007—while we continue to improve processing times for other applications and petitions. Next month, we will provide you with a detailed report with updated processing times for all USCIS offices.

Our employees are hard at work every day, including evenings and weekends, processing files and interviewing applicants. The results of their efforts show tremendous productivity. I am optimistic that USCIS will exceed our goal of completing more than 1 million naturalization applications this fiscal year, which ends September 30, compared to last year’s 748,000 naturalization cases. And so far, applications received have been lower than normal this year. If that continues, we’ll bring processing times down further than we projected.

Many of you also asked about the processing times displayed at, and why the dates sometimes go backward rather than forward. We estimate those dates based on a formula that calculates, among other things, the number of cases received within a defined period, how many cases we’ve completed during that time period, and how many cases remain in process that our beyond our established processing time goals. Sometimes the flow of cases received and completed changes during a specific period in a way that shifts the date backwards. The processing timeframes shown on our webpage reflect applications just completed. So the page is only a tool for customers to estimate our current processing times.

In addition, the average processing times posted on our website do not take into account the many issues that may arise when a particular case is under review. For example, sometimes a USCIS officer may need to ask for additional information before a final decision can be made. If your case has been delayed beyond our posted processing times and you have not been asked for additional information, we encourage you to call our customer service line at 1-800-375-5283 to inquire about the status of your case.

Some of you also asked about the long wait for employment-based visas. The law limits how many people can immigrate in these employment based preference categories each year. That determines how many cases we can complete and often establishes how many new cases we can accept. To complicate matters, demand often far exceeds that supply. To assist applicants who are awaiting those visas, we will soon begin to issue Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that are valid for 2 years for certain applicants who filed an application to adjust their status to permanent resident but are still awaiting an immigrant visa number.

Others have asked why petitions for their relatives take so long to process. Usually, it’s because an immigrant visa simply isn’t available. More than 1 million petitions to sponsor a relative are still awaiting visas. USCIS must manage our work based on the number of visas allowed by law. To change that, Congress would have to amend the law. No USCIS employee wants to keep a family apart or withhold proof of eligibility to work, but we must work within the requirements set by law.

Our current immigration system challenges us with backlogs on a regular basis. During the past fiscal year, we’ve begun to make improvements that will permanently eliminate future backlogs, including hiring additional employees, instituting new business processes and technology, and creating a new employee culture focused on professional training and development.

Will we succeed overnight? No. Making these changes—the right way—will take longer than my tenure as Acting Director. Nonetheless, we’re committed to making them sooner rather than later.

Thanks for taking time to read this entry.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services