It takes twice as long to get a US visa, compared with 2014

Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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The process of sanctioning immigrant visas in the US has slowed to a snail’s pace.

In 2018, the average case processing time by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was 46% longer than in 2016, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Compared with 2014, when Barack Obama was still the president, the average case processing time last year was 91% longer.

AILA’s calculation is based on an analysis of recently published USCIS data.

There are “crisis-level delays in the agency’s processing of applications and petitions for immigration benefits under the Trump administration,” AILA said. “Throughout the nation, these delays are harming families, vulnerable populations, and US businesses that depend on timely adjudications.”

Of all the different types of forms that USCIS processes—including green cards for family members, visas for human trafficking victims, petitions for immigrant workers—94% were processed at a slower pace in 2018 than four years ago, the data show.

“Other agency data lays bare a USCIS ‘net backlog’ exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017,” AILA said. That’s a more than 100% increase from a year ago despite only a 4% rise in case receipts during that period.

“Yet rather than relieving the logjam, USCIS exacerbates it with policies that inhibit efficiency and prioritise immigration enforcement over the administration of legal immigration benefits,” AILA said. “Such measures act as bricks in the Trump administration’s ‘invisible wall’ curbing legal immigration in the United States.”

The victims

The AILA has outlined three critical victims of these massive delays:

Families: Often, individuals are unable to work during processing delays, leaving families without income and thereby without basic necessities such as food and housing.

Vulnerable populations: By filing Form I-360, “special immigrants,” such as domestic abuse survivors or abandoned children, can obtain legal immigration status in the US. However, there has been a three-fold increase in processing time for this form between 2016 and 2018.

US businesses: “Increased delays in the adjudication of employment-based benefits have undermined the ability of US companies to hire and retain essential workers and fill critical workforce gaps,” AILA said. These cases “exacerbate labor shortfalls and alienate talented candidates from seeking employment opportunities in the United States, thus compromising the sustainability and global competitiveness of American businesses.”