Why Does My Immigration Case Take So Long? 5 Reasons You Need to Understand

At any given time there are millions of immigrants waiting, sometimes for months or often years, to get into the United States.

OR if they are already here, it seems like they’re waiting forever to hear from Immigration.

They long for the day when they will receive green cards, visas, citizenship and other benefits that a (hopefully) favorable outcome with the Immigration Service  – or an Immigration Judge – can give them.

But the question we hear all the time…why does my immigration case take so long?

Here are 5 reasons for a lengthy wait in an immigration process:

  1. Family quotas.  Family-based visas are when a US citizen petitions for a family member to immigrate to the US either as an Immediate Relative, or as a Family Preference. There are minimum waiting periods, and yearly quotas for each of these categories, meaning that some relatives can end up waiting for a long time before they can get a visa this way. For example, a US Citizen sibling from the Philippines can wait more than twenty years for his petition to become current, and for his brother or sister to apply for a green card.  Other categories may not take this extreme length of time, but certainly the limits imposed create multi-year backlogs in many areas.
  2. Too many deportation cases, not enough judges.  In the US Immigration Courts, there are about 500,000 folks awaiting trial dates before approximately 250 Immigration Judges.   The average wait time is twenty two months nationally and in some cities, there are Judges setting their calendars out for two or more years.
  3. Employment quotas.  As with family-based quotas there is a maximum amount of skilled workers allowed from any given country in a year. Skilled workers from India face more than a decade of waiting for green cards, as of this publication.  There are other categories which might not have such long “lines,” but as in the family cases, there are truly some serious limits placed on beneficiaries of visa petitions.
  4. Background checks.  While the very necessary procedure – by which the USCIS verifies that an applicant is no threat to society – has become much more advanced (and quicker) than a dozen years ago, certain checks take an extraordinarily long time.  Many law enforcement agencies are tied into the network.  One rule of thumb: if you have a surname that is common in your home country (Think Kim, Patel, Rodriguez, Silva, Lee, Singh, etc.), do not be surprised if your case might take longer.
  5. The system has its inherent flaws.  Some offices (and officers) are simply slower in processing cases than others.  But it’s more complicated than that.  Files get lost, officers transfer to different departments and leave behind unfinished adjudications, folders are rerouted to service centers to “even out” the waits, and there are many more delays caused by a bureaucracy that requires a strong, experienced navigator.

Now there are ways to try and get and green card fast, and a good lawyer should be able to speed this process up for you by knowing various shortcuts, or exceptions if you are stuck in one of the above categories.

As the then-INS Spokesperson Karen Kraushaar said, circa late 1990s:

“Immigration is a mystery and a mastery of obfuscation, and the lawyers who can figure it out are worth their weight in gold.”

If you have any questions about this or any other immigration related issue please don’t hesitate to contact me at Harlan York and Associates.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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