The information on the USCIS website is supposed to help green card applicants determine how long they can expect to wait for USCIS field offices to render a decision on their application. The USCIS field office is the local office where the foreign applicant will sit for an interview at the end of case processing.
Yet, the processing times reported on the USCIS website do not represent the actual amount of time it takes a field office to adjudicate green card applications according to the Office of Inspector General. Consequently, the information is confusing and unhelpful. It makes it very difficult to determine how long applicants can realistically expect to wait for a decision.
How it’s Calculated
In any given month, USCIS will report that each field office is processing cases they received as of a certain date. Visitors to the site might assume that the field office was adjudicating green card applications received on or after the published date noted on the website. However, this published calendar date has nothing to do with the actual receipt date of the applications immigration services officers (ISO) were adjudicating at that time; nor does it reflect how long it was taking to adjudicate applications.
Instead, every month, USCIS determines the number of applications pending adjudication in each field office and uses this number to calculate a calendar date. USCIS uses the calculated calendar date to represent the age of the applications being processed by each field office and then reports that a field office is processing cases as of this calculated date. Basically, a computer system guesses the processing time, but there is no verification.
Two other factors may lead to confusion about green card application processing information on the USCIS website. First, because it takes time to collect internal data, when the calculated date is reported on the website it is already 6 weeks out of date. Second, because USCIS’ calculated calendar date depends on pending applications, if the number of pending applications rises suddenly the calculated date on the USCIS website may move backward in time. This apparent lengthening in processing time may make a field office appear inefficient when the reality may be quite different.
On September 22, 2016, the USCIS website showed the Reno, Nevada field office (Reno) as having slow processing times, which Senator McCaskill interpreted as inefficiency. In actuality, Reno was completing applications more quickly than the national average. Because of this, USCIS shifted applications from other field offices to Reno, causing Reno’s published website processing time to spike. Even though Reno continued to complete applications quickly, the USCIS website showed a sharp increase in expected wait times starting in FY 2015. In FY 2016, even though Reno actually completed applications requiring interviews in 184 days on average, the USCIS website showed Reno taking 518 days to complete applications. The inaccurate postings by the USCIS in various categories prevent valid consumer inquiries regarding delayed cases. They also can serve to deter attorneys from filing suit to prompt the USCIS to adjudicate a delayed case for good cause.
USCIS Goal of 120 Days
Although USCIS’ goal is to adjudicate green card applications in 120 days, field offices rarely meet this goal for applications requiring interviews. USCIS has used temporary staffing assignments and overtime to keep processing times low, but it currently takes, on average, more than twice the amount of time. A goal that does not reflect operational realities contributes to unmet customer expectations and reduces trust in USCIS.
Slower and Slower
From FY 2011 through FY 2016, actual completion times for green card applications requiring an interview rose by 43 days. As of May 2017, the FY 2017 average actual completion time was 282 days or just over 9 months — more than double the goal set by USCIS.
Under the new administration, delays have worsened quickly, essentially resulting in an invisible wall to immigration on the whole.
The OIG concludes that the calculated processing times on the USCIS website do not effectively communicate expected wait times to customers. According to USCIS officials, when customers see a date on the website, they assume they are looking at “real time” information. USCIS is studying how to use system derived data to make external reports more current, clear, and reflective of actual wait times. Green cards are the gateway to citizenship. Therefore, the integrity of the citizenship process depends on careful adjudication of green card applications. The USCIS should reflect accurate and reliable information on its website to instill trust in consumer expectations. It should also try and live up to it’s reasonable promise to adjudicate valid cases in a reasonable time.