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USCIS Announces Three-Pronged Approach to Reduce Immigration Backlogs


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced three initiatives designed to increase efficiency in the legal immigration system:

  • Set new agency-wide backlog reduction goals,
  • Expand premium processing to additional form types, and
  • Work to improve timely access to employment authorization documents

The COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of resources from the previous administration have left USCIS with unprecedented numbers of pending immigration cases and increased processing times. By taking these actions, the Biden administration intends to reduce caseloads and processing times while still ensuring the availability of fair and efficient services to immigrants and their families.

Backlog Reduction Goals

USCIS is establishing new agency-wide cycle time goals or internal metrics that measure how long it takes to process cases. These cycle time goals will guide the backlog reduction efforts of the agency. As cycle times improve, so will processing times, thus leading to quicker decisions for applicants and petitioners. USCIS expects to achieve these new goals through increased and improved capacity, technology, and staffing by the end of FY 2023.

USCIS publicly posts processing times for how long it takes the agency to process different types of immigration forms. Processing times measure from when USCIS receives the application until it issues a decision on the case.

Internally, however, USCIS uses cycle times to monitor the number of pending cases in its workload at any particular time. This metric measures how many months of pending cases involving a specific form are pending a decision by USCIS. Generally, cycle times are comparable to publicly posted processing times. As a result, USCIS can use cycle times to see what process they are making toward reducing their case backlog and overall case processing times.

Premium Processing Expansion

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a final rule to codify premium processing fees and adjudication timeframes. In addition, this rule aligns the premium processing regulations with the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act.

Premium processing involves paying an additional fee in exchange for expedited adjudication of your case. Currently, premium processing is only available for petitioners filing a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers, and some petitioners filing a Form I-140, Immigration Petition for Alien Workers.

However, the DHS final rule expands the types of forms available for premium processing over the next several years. The forms available for premium processing in FY 2022 will include Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and other petitioners filing Form I-140. The first individuals who will qualify for expanded premium processing will be Form I-140 petitioners requesting EB-1 immigration classification as multinational executive managers or EB-2 immigrant classification as members of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional ability seeking national interest waivers.

The phased-in approach of expanded premium process services will allow USCIS to meet an important Congressional requirement. Specifically, any expansion of the premium processing program must not cause any increase in processing times for regular immigration benefit requests.

Timely Access to Employment Authorization Documents

USCIS is working to enact a temporary final rule entitled “Temporary Increase of the Automatic Extension Period of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants.” USCIS has begun streamlining several EAD processes by extending validity periods and expediting some renewals in anticipation of this rule. The rule’s goal is to ensure that workers do not lose their work authorization while they have pending renewal applications.

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For help with all your immigration law needs, don’t hesitate to contact our offices at (919) 833-0840 and see how we can help. We offer comprehensive legal representation for individuals, families, and employers in all types of immigration law cases.