Processing Times

THE ages-old question that just about everyone asks when applying for an immigration benefit -- when will my case be completed? -- is one that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is always trying to answer to the satisfaction of its thousands and thousands of customers, particularly those who have applied for U.S. citizenship.

The agency is constantly setting targets for itself, and according to its acting director, Jonathan Scharfen, its well on its way to meeting these goals. Here are his most recent thoughts on the matter:

"After visiting local USCIS offices around the country and reviewing our current production statistics, I am confident USCIS will beat our projected 13- to 15-month processing estimate for completing naturalization applications filed after June 1, 2007 - while we continue to improve processing times for other applications and petitions.

"Our employees are hard at work every day, including evenings and weekends, processing files and interviewing applicants. The results of their efforts show tremendous productivity. I am optimistic that USCIS will exceed our goal of completing more than one million naturalization applications this fiscal year, which ends September 30, compared to last year's 748,000 naturalization cases.

"And so far, applications received have been lower than normal this year. If that continues, we'll bring processing times down further than we projected.

Many of you also asked about the processing times displayed at www.uscis.gov, and why the dates sometimes go backward rather than forward. We estimate those dates based on a formula that calculates, among other things, the number of cases received within a defined period, how many cases we've completed during that time period, and how many cases remain in process that are beyond our established processing time goals.

"Sometimes the flow of cases received and completed changes during a specific period in a way that shifts the date backwards. The processing timeframes shown on our webpage reflect applications just completed. So the page is only a tool for customers to estimate our current processing times.

"In addition, the average processing times posted on our website do not take into account the many issues that may arise when a particular case is under review. For example, sometimes a USCIS officer may need to ask for additional information before a final decision can be made. If your case has been delayed beyond our posted processing times and you have not been asked for additional information, we encourage you to call our customer service line at 1-800-375-5283 to inquire about the status of your case.

"Others have asked why petitions for their relatives take so long to process. Usually, it's because an immigrant visa simply isn't available. More than one million petitions to sponsor a relative are still awaiting visas. USCIS must manage our work based on the number of visas allowed by law. To change that, Congress would have to amend the law. No USCIS employee wants to keep a family apart or withhold proof of eligibility to work, but we must work within the requirements set by law.

"Our current immigration system challenges us with backlogs on a regular basis. During the past fiscal year, we've begun to make improvements that will permanently eliminate future backlogs, including hiring additional employees, instituting new business processes and technology, and creating a new employee culture focused on professional training and development.

"Will we succeed overnight? No. Nonetheless, we're committed to making them sooner rather than later."

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