Christina T. Le, Associate Attorney at Liu & Associates, PLLC
At the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Annual Conference earlier this month, representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) described goals for the upcoming year. In particular, USCIS expressed hope that it would complete backlog reduction by the end of this fiscal year (September 30, 2009) and strive for nationwide consistency in the adjudication of all cases.
During the Summer of 2007, USCIS received more than one million applications that resulted in a tremendous case processing backlog. Now two years later, Donald Neufeld, Acting Associate Director of USCIS Domestic Operations stated USCIS is in its final phase of the surge elimination plan. He expects USCIS will complete adjudication of these cases by the end of this fiscal year. He also announced that service centers will be pre-adjudicating employment- based adjustment of status (I-485) cases, which will involve issuing requests for evidence (RFEs) and denying clearly ineligible cases. Mr. Neufeld hopes pre-adjudication will prevent the July 2007 visa bulletin situation (when immigrant visa numbers became current) from arising again. As cases are pre-adjudicated, USCIS will request a visa number in the system, so the Department of State will have complete visibility of the number of cases in the queue awaiting immigrant visas. Such transparency will allow the DOS to set more accurate dates for the visa bulletin. As of May 30, 2009, USCIS had pre-adjudicated 110,000 EB-485 cases.
USCIS service centers are close to meeting the four-month processing goal for I-140 petitions. Specifically, the Director of the Nebraska Service Center, Gerard Heinauer, stated the NSC processing times are close to current and will be current by the end of the fiscal year. Further, he expects the pre-adjudication of the EB-485s at NSC will be completed before the end of August.
Unfortunately, the Texas Service Center is not quite up to speed. TSC Director David Roark stated there are still approximately 1,500 I-140 cases remaining from Summer 2007, but he expects the TSC can pre-adjudicate cases by the end of the fiscal year. On a more promising note, the TSC is continuing its “Plus Project” to issue “green cards” within 90 days of receipt for certain I-140/I-485 cases that do not require RFEs. With respect to EB-1 and NIW I-140 petitions, Mr. Roark again reiterated that petitioners should not submit excessive documentation and unnecessary papers. He described it as very “off putting” for adjudicators to see a thick stack of documents on their desks.
Premium Processing Service for Form I-140 to Resume June 29, 2009
USCIS announced that the backlog reduction will allow it reinstate Form I-140 premium processing service for all categories previously available. Premium Processing Service will resume June 29, 2009. Premium Processing Service allows the petitioner to pay an additional $1,000 premium processing fee for expedited case adjudication and guarantees that USCIS will issue an approval, notice of intent to deny, or request for evidence within 15 calendar days of receipt of a petition. This service has been suspended since July 2, 2007, for most I-140 petitions due to the increased employment-based applications resulting from the July 2007 visa bulletin.
Once reinstated, premium processing service will be available for previously designated classifications and I-140 petitions in these categories: EB-1 Aliens with Extraordinary Ability, EB-1 Outstanding Professors/Researchers, EB-2 Members of Professions with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability (not National Interest Waivers), and EB-3 Skilled Workers/Workers other than Skilled Workers and Professionals. Premium Processing Service will not be available for EB-1 Multinational Executives/Managers or EB-2 National Interest Waiver cases.
Nationwide Adjudication Consistency
As USCIS meets its processing goals, the service centers are also aiming for consistent review and adjudication of cases throughout the country. Ramona McGee, Acting Chief Counsel for USCIS, described a new procedure for quarterly reviews of cases among the service centers to identify anomalies or inconsistencies in the adjudication process. Any case identified as inconsistent with USCIS adjudication procedures may be reopened and the decision may be reversed. Ms. McGee stated the adjudication policies remain the same and there are no stricter standards. Each quarter, USCIS service centers will pull representative cases for other service centers to review and to determine whether a different service center would make the same final decision. USCIS believes this process will lead to cross-country
consistencies in the adjudication of all cases.
These announcements above provide hope that USCIS soon may achieve its goal for the prompt and consistent review and adjudication of immigration cases, and more specifically, employment-based immigration petitions. But we note, the capability of processing I-140 cases within four months, however, is rendered meaningless if petitioners and beneficiaries working in the national interest must wait nearly a decade to obtain lawful permanent residency. Alas, there was little to no discussion from USCIS about plans for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) that may relieve this long-standing immigration problem of inadequate visa numbers for highly skilled researchers and scientists. The only source of optimism came when Mr. Neufeld joked that during his 25-year career with the immigration service, the USCIS and legacy INS always had been striving to clear a backlog of cases, and just when they near this goal, a new event occurs to multiply the backlog. Perhaps CIR will be the future catalyst for the next round of backlogs?