Backlogs and interminably long processing times have been an unavoidable aspect of working with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly Immigration & Naturalization Service or INS) for decades. But in recent years, the backlogs and delays have reached historic levels and the degree of suffering experienced by foreign nationals trying to navigate the system has never been as dire as it is now.
According to the most recent annual report issued by the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman, USCIS backlogs have snowballed to create “an avalanche of consequences for the agency,” applicants, and petitioners. While this isn’t news to those of us spending our days in the labyrinthine processes of the immigration service, it’s important to note the exponential effect that such delays create across the spectrum of U.S. immigration services.
Specifically, the ombudsman’s report states that the agency’s long processing times cause an avalanche of “immediate and often severe” consequences, including “lost jobs and the benefits attached to them (both temporary and permanent), lost societal benefits such as driver’s licenses, lost safety net benefits, and similar losses"to say nothing of the anxiety, stress, and depression they experience.”
The consequences for applicants and petitioners have an additional “snowball” effect on the agency itself as “[e]ach delayed application creates a need for workarounds to mitigate the delay’s impact, resulting in these individuals seeking expedites, applying for additional benefits to bridge the gap created by the backlog, and generally dealing with the effects of the lack of action.”
Thus, delays negatively impact applicants which creates more work for the agency as well as slowing down multiple processes including the Call Center as it gets more and more flooded with inquiries on delayed applications. The ombudsman reports that delays resulted in a 79% spike in requests for help from their office in 2021.
In its report, the CIS Ombudsman’s office presents a list of recommended actions USCIS could take to alleviate the harm caused by ongoing processing delays. The suggestions include expanding flexibility for work and travel documents, making the expedite process more efficient and consistent, trying new procedures and methods to address the affirmative asylum backlog, continue “robust” digitization efforts, and learn from its success in backlog reduction in areas such as the U visa determination process.
The CIS Ombudsman’s report is not binding on USCIS but the close relationship between the offices means it is given substantial consideration in the service’s policy and procedural rule-making. The Ombudsman is the official public liaison between USCIS and those who rely on its services " applicants, petitioners, immigration lawyers, and other immigration organizations. It is tasked with researching and investigating stakeholder complaints about USCIS and its specific processes. If you have a long-delayed case or other problem with your case at USCIS, consider contacting the ombudsman’s office for assistance. Keep in mind, though, that due to the ongoing issue of USCIS backlogs, the ombudsman’s office itself is similarly swamped with requests for assistance. Please feel free to contact us with questions about their service.