Speeding Up The Immigration Process in Emergency Situations: Expedited Processing

Processing of immigration applications in the U.S. is inherently time intensive. In rare emergency cases, immigrants may be able to speed up the process.

In any dealings with the U.S. immigration authorities, in particular U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you can expect to encounter long waits and unexpected delays. This is a perennial source of frustration to immigrants as well as their attorneys. And in some cases it is more than frustrating – waiting for an answer can jeopardize the health, family stability, or immigration situation of the applicant.

Unfortunately, there is not usually much you can do about the long waits. USCIS is perpetually overworked, and everyone’s file spends a lot of time sitting in mail rooms or in officers’ “pending” trays before receiving the attention it deserves. The agency has heard consumer complaints saying “This is taking too long!” many times before, and its answer is usually, in effect, “Tell it to Congress, so they’ll allocate more resources our way.”

Nevertheless, if there is some reason that your application really should be given immediate attention—that is, put ahead of all the other waiting applications—you should ask for what is called "Expedited Processing." Expedited processing is commonly used by employers sponsoring immigrants for employment visas.

While this is best done with an attorney’s help, we will describe what it involves, below.

When to Request Expedited Processing

You will need to make sure you can describe a true emergency need for help, such as:

  • a family member is very ill or dying in your home country and you need permission to leave the country during your green card processing to visit them
  • you are a member of the military who will be shipped overseas on a certain date, but wish to bring your overseas fiancé to the United States in order to get married before that date, or
  • you have a scheduled surgery coming up, with a long recovery period afterward, and may be unable to attend an important USCIS appointment if it is not scheduled before the surgery.

Remember, USCIS will not change the laws to accommodate you. If, for example, you are waiting in line for a family- or employment-based visa, and the government has already given out the maximum number in your category that year but your priority date still is not current, nothing you can do will convince it to give you a visa out of next year’s allotment.

But if you’re simply waiting for the government to act on something that it could do any time, but for being backed up with excess work, you can legitimately ask for quicker attention.

There is also a special opportunity to ask for expedited processing of your adjustment of status (I-485) or naturalization (N-400) application if your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is about to run out and USCIS has already taken more than six months without deciding your application. See the “Questions and Answers: Expedited Processing Available for Certain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Beneficiaries” page of the USCIS website for details.

How to Request Expedited Processing

In order to make this request, you will need to prepare a letter, and send it to whichever office is currently handling your case file—most likely the last one from which you received correspondence. The letter should include enough personal detail that they can locate your file (petitioner and beneficiary’s names, beneficiary’s date of birth and alien number (A#) if any, and the case number from your receipt notice). It should outline the reasons for the request, making sure to explain exactly what you need and what will go terribly wrong if the request is not granted.

Do your best to include proof of any claimed emergency, such as a letter from a doctor or a copy of your military orders.

Make a complete copy of the request, and send it via certified mail. If you don’t hear anything within four weeks, send a follow-up letter.

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