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What to do if USCIS takes too long to consider your application: how to check what is the norm, and when to start worrying

If you've been waiting weeks, months, or years for a decision on your green card or US visa application, you're not alone. Find out how to track your immigration case and find out if such a long wait is really abnormal and what to do about it. Useful tips offered by the publication NOLO.

Photo: IStock

There have always been delays in the US immigration system. But now things have become completely confused and it has become completely unclear how long the average applicant must wait for any US visa or green card. And the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future.

How serious are case delays at USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

Very serious. How long you wait for a decision on your visa or green card application depends in part on what you are waiting for, where and in what status.

For example, US citizens applying for a green card for spouses and young children have to wait up to 14 months for the government to approve the I-130 petition that starts the process. This long wait is especially common if you live in Texas or areas served by USCIS Texas offices.

On the subject: Four reasons why you can be deprived of a green card

Further - more (or longer): I-130 approval is just a green light to apply for a green card for a relative. This means, you guessed it, there's even more waiting time ahead of us.

But that wasn't the worst news yet. The most annoying thing is that in cases where a foreign spouse does not live in the United States, it will be difficult for him to even obtain a tourist visa to America (B-2) to visit a loved one during the endless waiting for a green card. The US immigration authorities will suspect him of a secret desire to stay in the US forever, based on the fact that he is waiting for the application for a green card, which means that such a person will be denied a tourist visa.

Green card holders who apply for U.S. citizenship face a wait of up to two years after the N-400 is filed before they even have an interview with USCIS. And then they can wait for a decision on naturalization for months.

Asylum seekers in immigration court wait an average of four and a half years for a decision. All the while, they face separation from their families, dire financial circumstances (few are eligible for work permits), and the constant stress of wondering if they will one day be deported to the country they fled from.

This list of examples could go on. Suffice to say, there is almost no corner in the world of immigration law where application processing is quick or smooth.

Something went wrong

The immigration bureaucracy is complex, underfunded and serves millions of people every year. Therefore, delays are inevitable. On top of that came the Trump years, when hostility towards all immigrants led to new additional requirements for immigrants and burdens on immigration agents; and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of the Immigration Service offices.

What to do if your immigration case is delayed

If you have been waiting months or years for a decision on your immigration case, don't panic. It is unlikely that you are treated worse than others, or that your case has been lost in the USCIS paper warehouses (although some do get lost, few of them). In general, it's a good idea to start by tracking your case and making sure the delay you're experiencing is "normal" and then taking action if it isn't.

For many types of applications, the US government publishes average processing time or allows you to track your application in the system by case number. If it still says your case is pending and the average processing time is less than what you were already expecting, you can send an individual requestto find out what went wrong. Inquiries to USCIS or the immigration court system are unlikely to produce immediate results, but they will move the case.

You can also contact USCIS by phone at contact center, but you will need to go through the automated system and convince it to assign you a conversation with a live person. We wrote about several life hacks, how to reach a live person in USCIS.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.

Or you can hire a lawyer to handle these issues if you don't already have one. Lawyers can't do miracles and speed up the bureaucracy, but they can at least handle the tedious case tracking process and they know the context to see if something really went wrong in your case.

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