I’ve received several emails lately from folks wondering why their cases are stuck. A stuck case is a case where you know something should be happening, but it’s not. The case could be outside of normal processing times or the promised-for next step hasn’t happened.
Sometimes, the problem is that a file gets sent to the wrong office and we have to track it down and get it sent to the right office. This is a type of liaison work that I can do for my clients and although it takes time to get the case back on track, at least we can get back on track.
However, sometimes what happens is that we’re told that the case is “pending background checks.” What exactly does that mean, though? And is there anything that can be done to speed-up those background checks?
Anytime someone applies for an immigration benefit (like a green card or naturalization), USCIS has to work with various international agencies to check the applicant’s criminal history and to make sure that the applicant doesn’t post a threat to our national security. This includes the FBI, Interpol, various military agencies, etc. USCIS has absolutely no control when those agencies report back to them and they cannot move your case along until those background checks come back clear.
It’s extremely frustrating when there’s been a “hit” of some sort on your name. This hit may have absolutely nothing to do with you. But, if there’s someone of interest who has a similar name, date of birth, grew up in the same area, etc., it can delay your case by months – if not years.
There may be the option to use USCIS to force them to make a decision on your case (called a Writ of Mandamus), but the federal courts may allow USCIS to continue to delay a decision in your case in the name of national security, or if USCIS is compelled to make a decision, they will deny your case because they do not have all the necessary information they feel that they need in order to approve the case.
Unless and until all of the different agencies report back and tell USCIS that you are not a threat, USCIS will not allow your case to move forward for an interview. They certainly they won’t approve a case without your background checks come back clear.
Whenever I hear someone has a case “pending background checks,” I cringe a little. Not because I think they’ve done something bad, but because I know that they have an indefinite wait and there’s nothing that I can do to help speed the case along. People want me to have answers and to be able to do something for them. Sometimes the answer is that nothing can be done. I know the limits of the system, I’ll be honest about those limits, and I’ll be honest about my own limits, too.
If you find out that your case is “pending background checks” though, don’t give up. Check in with USCIS every month or two. Let them know you’re not forgetting about your case and you’re not going to let them forget about your case, either. But, also know that you may be waiting a year or more to get the case resolved.