If you filed an N-400 in the past four to six months, you probably had one of two things happen. You either had your case processed much faster than you imagined or your case seems to be moving at a glacially slow pace. If you’re in that second category, what happened? Did you do something wrong? Did your attorney do something wrong?
In most cases, everything was filed correctly. The problem, lately, has been with USCIS – or more specifically with the software system USCIS is using to covert the paper N-400s into electronic format in its new ELIS (Electronic Immigration System) program.
According to USCIS, they recently discovered that their software system was truncating names of naturalization applicants when they sent the names over to the FBI for background checks. That meant the background checks weren’t done correctly or fully. As you can imagine, this is a problem because a few background checks were coming back clear when they shouldn’t.
Out of an abundance of caution, USCIS decided to pull every N-400 case that was in the ELIS system and ask the FBI to rerun the background checks for those applicants who had filed, who had been interviewed, and who had not yet been sworn in as US citizens. Although USCIS has asked the FBI to expedite these checks, they do not know how long this will take.
In the meantime, Field Offices will continue to conduct interviews, but they cannot fully approve someone or swear them in as a US citizen until the new background check is complete.
What strikes me is that this isn’t the first time this has happened. This summer, we heard about this same thing occurring. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for USCIS. Almost.
You may be thinking that since you didn’t file electronically that your case shouldn’t be impacted by this “glitch.” I wish you were right, but you’re not. Starting late spring, USCIS began taking N-400s that had been paper-filed and converting them into electronic files within the ELIS system. The old paper-based files have receipt numbers beginning with “NBC” and those cases that were converted into ELIS files have receipt numbers beginning with “IOE.” There are approximately 240,000 naturalization cases that are now in the ELIS system. So, if you have an IOE-receipted N-400 case, you are impacted.
You can plan and prepare for most everything, but I don’t think this is something that anyone would have expected when they filed their application for naturalization. In these longer-than-average pending “IOE” N-400s, it’s safe to safe that it’s not you (or your attorney), but it’s them – USCIS itself – causing the delay.
Hopefully, we will hear good news soon and USCIS can resume naturalizing new US citizens.