Fiance visa, spouse visa and adjustment of status applications all first go through USCIS. last year about this time USCIS was performing very quickly to accomplish their initial processing of cases. In general fiance and spouse visa cases consistently zoomed through the USCIS review in roughly two to three months. Green cards sometimes took 7 to 9 months and often the Green Card interviews (especially front loaded VisaCoach applications) were waived.
Now one year into the presidency of Donald Trump all cases are experiencing huge delays in processing times, taking 2 to 3 times as long. I call this the “Trump effect”.
President Trump has mandated that USCIS vigorously enforce and administer immigration laws, take no short cuts. The goal is to restrict Legal immigration while stopping illegal immigration.
“We have to get much tougher, much smarter, and less politically correct,” Trump said.
What this means is that they are very closely examining and scrutinizing all cases looking for reasons to deny. In addition cases that regularly had their interviews waived now specifically there is an Executive order that no interviews regardless of the strength of their evidences, may be waived.
The result is USCIS has more work to do, has more bases to touch in the processing of EACH case. And while President Trump has promised to hire more staff to handle the increased load, so far no new staff has been hired, but the workload has increased.
This is the Trump Effect. More work, with same staff. The result is that USCIS processing times for fiance and spouse visas have stretched to take at least 5 to 7 months.
This compares very unfavorably to the 2 to 3 months processing times we enjoyed in 2016 and early 2017. Conditional and Permanent Green Cards that used to take 7 to 9 months for approval, now often take over a year.
USCIS previously had the policy that fiance or spouse cases should be completely processed through their system within five months. That was their official policy for complete processing.
In the case your case was delayed past 5 months you could call and speak with an USCIS operator who would take action once you reported your case as “past the policy for processing time”. The operator would flag your case so that it could catch up.
Today that’s not what happens. Calling after 5 months one reaches a harried operator who is stressed, whose polite professional manner has disappeared. This is because the operators now are overwhelmed with calls from people constantly complaining about delays. And even if your case is over the 5 months official policy, currently the operator takes no action except to tell you “be patient” and “if you must call back, please wait 3 to 6 months more before doing so”.
There might be light at the end of the tunnel. This is because at the same time that President Trump ordered USCIS to work harder he also promised to hire 10,000 more officers. Unfortunately for you, the Fiance or Spouse visa or Green Card applicant, while the workload increased immediately, and because of that the case backlogs started to grow, no new staff was actually hired.
Eventually, perhaps USCIS Staffing may increase and when this happens hopefully processing times will speed up.
That will help if the amount of work demanded does not also continue to grow. On the table are proposals for additional and more time consuming case review steps. US immigration is seriously considering requiring for each case a thorough review of the applicants social media presence, via Social Media Data Mining as well as “EXTREME” Vetting such as surrender of cell phones and user ids and passwords. These proposals of course would add for more tasks and actions for USCIS to accomplish and could easily wipe out gains made by a gradual hiring program.
Sorry, but I don’t imagine that processing times will improve any time soon. We have three more years of the Trump Presidency I anticipate he will continually mandate more work to be accomplished in vetting all visa and green card candidates. While a promise has been made to hire adequate staff to accommodate the increased demands on Homeland Security, there is already opposition in Congress to delay and hinder the hiring efforts. More work, same staff, means more delays. And as the in-box of each USCIS reviewer gets piled higher, the processing times will increase. This probably won’t materially improve until a new President is in office, and the official policy of “immigration restriction ism” is changed.
What can you do? Well it will get worse before it gets better. Until then, your best path is to work with me to submit your well crafted, “front loaded” application, just as soon as you can. Then follow the advice of “a watched pot never boils” by ignoring the calendar and patiently waiting for your visa or green card to be approved.
By Fred Wahl