Immigration to the U.S. isn’t exactly quick and easy, but processing times may be improving in 2023! But before we can talk about what changes the agency will go through to speed things up, it’s worth understanding how USCIS processing times grew so long over the last few years.
Sources of the Slowdown
Statistics show that the Trump administration enacted new policies that expanded USCIS processing times. These policies included making immigration application forms longer, requiring more in-person interviews, asking for additional evidence more frequently, and requiring a higher level of scrutiny for renewal applications.
Despite the added requirements, the number of immigrants that applied to become U.S. citizens actually increased. Some policy analysts say the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump-era led more people to seek security in their citizenship status.
The combination of more people applying and slower processing due to added requirements created the perfect storm, causing the USCIS backlog to nearly double. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the USCIS backlog increased by 85% between 2015 and 2020.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 slowed the USCIS’s snail’s pace down to a total standstill. On March 20, 2020, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at embassies and consulates worldwide, canceling all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments. To be fair, these closures and cancellations were necessary in the face of a deadly, global pandemic, but it’s hard to deny the impact this had on immigrants, families, and businesses.
Importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic also revealed some of the USCIS’s organizational inefficiencies. For example, the USCIS is funded almost entirely by application fees. This meant that when immigration filings dropped by 40% between March and May 2020, the agency’s cash flow was drastically reduced. The USCIS warned employees about a potential furlough (twice!), making it even harder to address the backlog.
Luckily, furloughs were avoided, and USCIS operations resumed. But social distancing practices slowed adjudications even as rates of applications continued to increase. By the end of 2021, the USCIS had adjudicated 1.8 million fewer applications than it received.
USCIS 2023 - New Hope For Speedy Service
Now, in a post-pandemic environment, the USCIS is ready to start picking up speed.
The Biden administration is taking several steps to walk back policies that contributed to the USCIS backlog. For example, during the Trump-era, applications for extension of status were given fresh scrutiny, increasing processing time. The USCIS has now reversed this, and once again defers to prior decision-making when considering an application for extension. Effective through December 2023, the State Department will also waive the requirement for new, in-person interviews for certain green-card applicants, students, exchange visitors, and high-skilled immigrants.
The current administration is also taking steps to ensure the USCIS is properly funded. Congress appropriated $250 million to address backlogs and support processing in 2022, part of which will go towards hiring 200 USCIS staff members. Of course, vetting, hiring, and training new employees will take time, so this funding may not yield immediate results.
But these are definite signs of improvement, making 2023 possibly the best year since 2015 to start your E-2, L-1A, EB-2/NIW; or EB-5 visa petition. We at Visa Business Plans are here to help you realize your dreams of working and living in the U.S.
Contact Us now to get started!