Why Is My Immigration Case Taking So Long? (And How To Speed Up The Process)

  • Have you been waiting a long time for your Green Card, Visa, Removal Hearing, or any other immigration application? At any given time there are millions of immigrants waiting, sometimes for months or often years, to get into the United States. If you are already in the US, it can feel like forever while you are waiting to hear from Immigration.

    During the pandemic it’s been very hard to know how long an application can take. We’ve had a lot of success going through the immigration process to speed up applications that have stalled or are just taking too long.

    The question we hear all the time . . . why is my immigration case taking so long?

    Before we get into reasons why immigration processes could be delayed, you should first understand how long should it take to get my visa, green card, etc.

    How long can it take to get your immigration application?

    Depending on the service as well as geography, you could be waiting anywhere from a few months to many years.

    Here are 5 reasons your immigration case might be taking a long time:

    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 1.3 million folks awaiting trial dates before approximately 465 Immigration Judges.   The average wait time is thirty two months nationally and in some cities, there are Judges setting their calendars out for three or more years, delayed even more due to the pandemic.
    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 20 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. AND OBVIOUSLY, COVID SHUT DOWN THE EMBASSIES WORLDWIDE FOR MORE THAN A YEAR.

    So How Can I Speed Up My Immigration Process?

    Now there are ways to try and get your 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.

    An immigration lawyer will attend to the needs of clients through a daily review of the never ending changes that seem to be coming from the Immigration Service, federal courts, and the presidential administration – no what matter president  is in charge.

    There are other helpful ways to speed up a case, including Premium Processing. We also wrote about how to speed up your immigration process here, and specifically how to speed up green cards here.

    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.”


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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