Why Is My Immigration Case Taking So Long?

Learn about the main issues that can hold up your U.S. immigration case.

If you are waiting for U.S. government action on an immigration petition, visa, or other application, it is quite possible you have already experienced a longer wait than you would have expected – and are wondering why. Unfortunately, long waits are a fact of life in the immigration world.

If it is any comfort, the reason is probably nothing personal. Nor is it likely to be the fault of your lawyer, who has little more control over the actions of the immigration authorities than you do (although an experienced lawyer can help you track the status of your application and make inquiries).

Below we outline the most likely reasons that your case is taking a long time to resolve.

The Office Handling Your Case Is Backed Up

The U.S. immigration authorities always seem to have more applications coming their way than they can possibly handle in a reasonable time. It’s the regular subject of news stories and congressional inquiries.

For the most part, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reviews applications on a first-come, first-served basis – although everyone must stand in line behind the employment-related petitioners who have paid extra for “premium processing.”

Also, in certain family visa cases, USCIS may take longer to make decisions on I-130 visa petitions where the beneficiaries’ priority date will not be current for many years, such as in the case of the brother or sister of a U.S. citizen. This does not hurt the person’s case, because their place in line for a visa has already been established by their “priority date,” which is the date that USCIS first received the form I-130 petition.

To get a general idea of processing times at different USCIS Service Centers and offices, see the “USCIS Processing Time Information” page of the USCIS website. If you have already gotten a receipt number for your own petitioner application, you can check its status on the “My Case Status” page of the USCIS website.

To find out wait times for interviews or visa processing at U.S. embassies or consulates in other countries, see the “Visa Wait Times - for Interview Appointments and Processing” page of the State Department website.

You Are on a Waiting List for a Visa or Green Card

If you are in a category of visa or green card applicant that does not allow unlimited numbers to be given out each year, a certain amount of waiting will be built into the process. For example, if you are applying for a green card as the married child of a U.S. citizen, then you are in the third preference category of family-sponsored visas, and can expect to wait at least ten years before your priority date is current and a visa number is available to you. There is nothing you can do about this except to keep on eye on your progress and advise the National Visa Center (NVC) if your address changes.

Your File Has Gotten Lost in the System

It would not be paranoia on your part to wonder whether your file has got lost somewhere in the recesses of a government building. This happens. It’s the reason we recommend making a complete copy of your entire application before sending it, and never sending original documents if a copy will satisfy USCIS’s needs.

The possibility of loss is part of why it’s important to track your case through the system, as described above. But if your file got lost before even having a case number assigned to it, and so you never got a receipt notice even after many weeks or months, it will be harder to track. In that case, your best bet is to write a letter to the office that should have your file, explaining the situation and attaching a copy of the application you sent.

Your Immigration-Related Mail Got Sent to the Wrong Address

Have you moved since filing the application with USCIS? If so, you hopefully advised the agency using Form AR-11 or its online "USCIS Online Change of Address" service. (It's legally required of all immigrants.)

But sending USCIS a general change of address doesn’t always result in the agency advising the office that is actually handling your file. In most cases, you need to separately send letters with change of address notifications to every USCIS office that might be working on your case. If you suspect that your new address might have caused confusion, write that letter now, and explain that you are awaiting word on a particular application. Here again, it would be a good idea to attach a copy of the application.

Your Security Check Is Taking a Long Time to Process

Any immigration application that required you to have fingerprints taken will involve those prints being sent to the FBI for a check of your criminal and immigration record. This can add weeks or months to the process, particularly if you have a common name or an extensive record.

You Haven’t Responded Adequately to a Request for Evidence (RFE)

When USCIS cannot approve an application based on the materials you sent it, the agency may send you what’s called a Request for Evidence, or RFE. Gathering the evidence requested (even if you think it irrelevant your case, which it often is) and returning it in a timely manner is crucial. If you ignored the RFE or sent your evidence in late, or are not certain that the evidence you sent was sufficient, this is a likely cause of delay. See an attorney for help.

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