The Niskanen Center is concerned about the long processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the negative implications for American business, families, and vulnerable populations. However, Niskanen is encouraged by an oversight letter sent on May 13th led by Senator Tillis (R-NC) and Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) to USCIS Director Cissna requesting information about the delays and the agency’s plans to ease the slowdown. More than one-third of the Senate—36 lawmakers—joined in signing the letter.

“The delays in employment authorizations, family-based visas, and humanitarian visas is at best disruptive, and at worst, dangerous,” said Kristie De Peña, Niskanen’s director of immigration & senior counsel. “But the willingness of lawmakers to lead an effort to better understand why it’s happening and what Congress can do to fix it is a promising first step,” she added.

A recent study by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) finds significant processing delays with applications for initial and renewed employment authorization. AILA finds:

  • The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014
  • USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014
  • Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease; and
  • The USCIS “net backlog” exceeds 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017

Specifically, lawmakers are requesting information on the causes of the delays, and what the agency is doing to stem such delays—in addition to whether the agency needs specific congressional appropriations to reduce employment slowdowns.

The Niskanen Center appreciates the leadership and cooperation evidenced by this effort, and looks forward to continue working with lawmakers to ensure the efficient and effective processing of all petitions.