On March 29, 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a plan to improve efficiency and reduce immigration system burdens in the agency that have led to severe application processing backlogs. Specifically, the agency will expand the availability of premium processing to additional types of applications, establish processing benchmarks to reduce application backlogs, and make temporary extensions available to more applicants applying for renewals of employment authorization documents (EADs).
Premium Processing Expansion
Under a final rule announced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS will expand premium processing to more categories.
No start date has been announced by the agency to introduce the new premium processing options. USCIS intends to start implementing the new options for the categories below in fiscal year 2022.
The categories of USCIS filings that will be eligible for premium processing at an undetermined date are:
- Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. This is the form used to extend H-4 and L-2 status, among others, so this provision will reduce delays currently faced by spouses and children of H-1B and L-1 holders
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
- Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker:
- EB-1: Multinational Executive or Manager
- EB-2: National Interest Waiver (NIW)
Currently, premium processing is only available to petitioners who are filing a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and to certain employer-sponsored petitions of Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers.
Application Backlog Reductions
USCIS has also announced plans to reduce its application processing backlogs. The agency has set new internal goals that will serve as guidelines for evaluating progress towards reducing backlogs and act as metrics to determine how long it takes USCIS to process cases.
USCIS posts processing times online that indicates how long it takes the agency to process a specific petition. Total processing times include the time from when USCIS receives an application to the time it has adjudicated a case. USCIS uses an internal metric called “cycle time” that shows volume for pending cases of a particular form in process. Cycle times are timelines that are generally close to the processing times that are published online.
Notable new cycle time goals include two months across all applicable service centers for Form I-129 and three months for Form I-765 through regular (non-premium) processing.
Better Access to Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)
Lastly, USCIS issued a temporary final rule on March 24, 2022 called “Temporary Increase of the Automatic Extension Period of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants” to provide new processes for EADs. USCIS indicates the agency streamlined EAD processes for applicants, including extending validity periods for certain EADs and offering expedited work authorization renewals for childcare and healthcare workers. USCIS indicates the temporary final rule is designed to ensure that individuals do not lose their work authorization status while their applications are pending.
Additional details and specific timelines are pending from USCIS on the outlined plan.
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