Every day, I receive at least one inquiry (if not five or six) from people asking when their pending cases will be decided by USCIS. I explain how people can track their cases online and also how the online data about processing times are misleading. I know people are anxious to have their cases resolved (especially these days), but I wish USCIS would make it easier for people to understand where their cases are and provide realistic expectations. I also hate making constant excuses for USICS – where the filing fees paid (which aren’t cheap) are supposed to be used for the agency itself, which presumably would be for increased staff.
How to Track Your Case
You can create an online account to track your case with your receipt number. That is, assuming that your case type is trackable online. I-918s, I-914s, I-751s, and a few other case types cannot be tracked online. You can set it up so that you receive email notifications and/or text messages when an action is taken on your case.
However, the online case tracking system isn’t perfect. In addition to not having all cases available for tracking, the technology itself isn’t reliable. Just today (the 14th), I received an email on a case saying that a work card was mailed five days ago.
Where Do I Look for Processing Times?
I hesitate telling people how to look up processing times because they are so unrepresentative of reality. But, they do give applicants a rough idea of how long a case ought to take.
The first thing you need to know is where your case is at. There are five service centers, the National Benefits Center, and over 80 field offices. Files move around, though, so it can be hard to know where to look. You can either call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to check on your case location, or you can take an educated guess depending on what happened last in your case. All receipts should have an address on them and that’s a good idea of where your case could be (at least it started out there). Processing times are available online for every office, but not necessarily for every type of case.
Receipts are grouped like this – look at the first three letters. Those should tell you where the case was initially processed. YSC = Potomac Service Center, EAC = Vermont Service Center, NSC = Nebraska Service Center, WAC = California Service Center, SRC = Texas Service Center. If you have an EAD pending or a U application, or an I-601A Provisional Waiver filed – those will be decided at the Service Center.
If you have an application to adjust status or for naturalization filed, those cases will likely be decided at a field office because you’ll need an interview. You’ll want to look at the processing time for the field office, not the service center where filed, to figure out how long you may have to wait.
What’s Wrong with the Posted Processing Times?
Once you figure out where your case is, though, you can look at their processing times. The calculation, though, isn’t what you think it is. According to USCIS, processing times are not meant to be a direct representation of the actual processing time for a given form in the month reported. Rather, they are merely estimates based on a calculation that takes into account the number of cases pending and the monthly completion rate for the most recent month. Huh?
It means they calculate based on how fast they go. Processing dates only reflect how fast USCIS could work through their cases if they adjudicated at the same rate of speed consistently. (cases at the start of the month + # of receipts issued – cases completed that month) / cases pending at the end of the month = Cycle Time
Maybe a chart will help.
|Month||Cases Pending at the Start of the Month||# of Receipts Issued that Month||# of Cases Completed in that Month||Cases Pending at End of the Month||Cycle Time|
So, if USCIS published processing times in May, it’d be back-dated 15 months. But if USCIS published processing times in July, it’d only go back three months (processing cases in April). They don’t truly track the date that cases were filed and the dates that they are working on. It’s all based on calculations and not reality.
Also, did you know, that processing times are out of date from the moment they’re published? It takes up to 75 days for the processing date calculations to appear on the USCIS website.
My Case is Outside Processing Times, What Do I Do?
If the inquiry comes from a non-client, I refer them to the USCIS National Customer Service Center which can be reached online or at 1-800-375-5283. They can put a “tracking number” on your case and ask the appropriate office for an update. I can’t make an inquiry on a case where I’m not the attorney of record (and since USCIS won’t accept faxes, so I have to mail in a G-28 and wait for that to connect with the A-File, which could take months).
Why This is So Bothersome
I truly don’t mind walking my clients through their process – it’s scary, it’s a scary time and people need to understand what’s going on in their cases. But, when most of my day is spent explaining that USCIS hasn’t lost their case, that just because a processing date is after their application filing date, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with your case, and then making excuses for USCIS and how their posted information isn’t really useful… …well, it’s not the most efficient. I wish USCIS were more of a partner and more transparent. Not just for my sake, but for my clients.