shutterstock_154341992AILA members and their clients are well aware of the lengthening processing times for several product lines at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service centers.  However, most pronounced is the extraordinary expansion of processing times for H-1B extensions at both the California and Vermont Service Centers.  AILA has brought concerns regarding the delays in processing to the attention of USCIS in several different forums over the past several months.

We pointed out that according to the posted processing times, on September 30, 2015, the California Service Center was processing routine H-1B extensions that were filed on or before June 2, 2015.  Several months later, the November 30, 2015, report indicated that the processing date moved only 11 days – to June 13, 2015. Those who have tried to inquire with the National Customer Service Center regarding cases pending beyond the normal processing times have learned that the date has not moved significantly beyond June 13, 2015, in the 2 months since November 30, 2015.

An analysis of these reports reflects that in a period of four months, the California Service Center has not moved the processing date more than 3 weeks.  We have asked, in several different forums, why?  Did the California Service Center stop processing H-1B extensions?

Every time, we receive the same reply:  USCIS is aware of the issue, and is working to resolve it.

Period.  That is it.  Despite being asked, USCIS has failed to provide an adequate explanation as to how or why the problem developed or to describe how USCIS plans to resolve the backlog. This provides little comfort to clients who are impacted by the backlog because it is the same answer USCIS has consistently provided for several months. In the meantime, the problem has grown far beyond tolerable.

Our clients are suffering.  Travel plans, renewal of driver’s licenses, the expiration of the 240- day regulatory extension of employment authorization, all become serious daily problems that require more and more resources to resolve.  If our clients can afford it, they are forced to file a request for premium processing and pay the additional fee.  Indeed, USCIS has acknowledged an increase in premium processing requests.  These premium requests are often for petitions that have been pending 6 months or longer.

The lack of response or explanation raises many questions. When the premium processing program was implemented, we were told that it would not cause regular processing to suffer.  The evidence now tells a different story.  Will we see premium processing upgrade requests continue to rise as a result of this backlog? Will the backlog ultimately shift from the regular processing unit to the premium unit, and will we, as a result, soon see a spike in premium processing requests for evidence as USCIS struggles to meet the 15-day processing mandate? And ultimately, many ask if the shift toward premium processing is an unfortunate effect of a situation that is beyond the control of the agency, or a means to generate additional income.

And, as we approach April 1, and the deluge of new H-1B petitions that may exceed by two times or more the 85,000 annual H-1B cap, we asked USCIS to describe its plans for handling the new cases. The response? You guessed it: They are aware that April 1 is looming large, and they are working on it.  No more information, just they are working on it.

This is not an acceptable response.

Written by Rob Cohen, Chair, AILA USCIS HQ Liaison Committee

AILA members – AILA is collecting examples of how lengthy USCIS processing times can have serious implications for applicants, petitioners, and beneficiaries. If you have examples that could help us illustrate the real-world effects of USCIS backlogs, please complete this form by 2/9/16.