Given the lengthy processing backlogs for things like U Visas and employment authorization documents, clients often ask about what else we can do to speed things up. Lack of visa numbers, workforce inefficiencies, budget issues, and a whole host of other uncontrollable and unknown factors can cause visa and benefit applications to become delayed.
But while the wheels of justice often turn slowly, that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to the unending wait. Especially if you have an emergency.
So, what can you do?
There are basically two ways to try to speed up the adjudication of a visa or other benefit application: (1) a request for expedited processing, or (2) a federal Mandamus lawsuit. This is an overview of the first option – expedited processing.
Why Ask for Expedited Processing?
You know the expression that “it never hurts to ask.” When we talk about long-pending visa applications it is easy to forget about the option of asking the USCIS for expedited processing directly from the USCIS, but it’s important to keep this option in mind, especially in cases where there is a true emergency.
Take for example the growing backlogs in the processing of U visas. There are roughly 100,000 U visas pending at the Vermont Service Center, and the current processing date hasn’t changed significantly in almost two years. But what if a U visa applicant meets the requirements for expedited processing? There is no reason that person shouldn’t request expedited processing.
Criteria For Expedited Processing With USCIS
While the USCIS won’t expedite every visa or benefit application (they don’t have the resources to), if you meet the criteria for expedited treatment, they might. Keep in mind that the decision whether to expedite or not is entirely discretionary. But the worst they can say is “no,” right?
As outlined in the USCIS policy manual, there are three criteria for expediting a benefit request that relate to hardship to the applicant herself:
- Severe financial loss to company or person – this requires proof that the failure by USCIS to expedite the benefit request (such as a work card).
- An Emergency situation – the example given in the USCIS policy manual is where the applicant is gravely ill. Let’s say the person is applying for naturalization and the effect of her naturalization will be that her children will become U.S. citizens. If the applicant is gravely ill, she may die before she is naturalized, and her children would not be able to derive citizenship through her naturalization. In those cases, USCIS can speed up the naturalization upon request.
- Humanitarian reasons – the example USCIS gives in its policy manual here is where war breaks out in the home country. So, take for example a U visa applicant from Yemen who is waiting for his visa to be approved. In the last year, fighting in Yemen has gotten much worse. Perhaps that person could request expedited processing given the recent fighting in Yemen and the inability to return there.
There are several other criteria for expediting that don’t relate to hardship for the applicant (such as a national interest request by a government agency or a request based on USCIS error).
How to Request an Application Be Expedited?
There are several ways to request that your application for benefits be expedited.
1. Ask in Writing
I generally think the best first step is a written request for expedited processing. Of course, this needs to be submitted to the correct USCIS office and should include the evidence you can provide to show you meet one or more of the expedite criteria. A persuasive cover letter or brief from your attorney should also help.
When people hire me to request a benefit be expedited, I always submit these requests in writing. There are a few reasons for that.
First, it’s important to have a record of what you’ve requested so that later if you have to prove what steps you took (like when you’re litigating a Mandamus claim in federal court) you can provide a copy of this letter.
Second, although you can ask by telephone, you’re not always certain that they’re going to write down everything you tell them (and frankly in my experience it doesn’t seem telephone requests are taken as seriously). Anyone can contact the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283. But I prefer to have a request in writing.
Third, when you submit your request in writing, you can attach evidence to show you meet the required expedite criteria. How does one do this by telephone? Certainly USCIS can follow up after a phone request and ask you for more information. But if they don’t you’ve lost an opportunity to prove your case.
Finally, while the USCIS does provide an online portal for submitting some requests, it doesn’t let allow you to make an expedite request unless the application is actually outside of their posted processing times.
2. Enlisting Your Congressperson to Help You Expedite the Application
This is a resource that is often forgotten, but your local Senator or U.S. Representative likely has a person in their office whose job is to advocate with federal agencies on behalf of their constituents. You can find your Senator or Representative here. We regularly help clients navigate this process by contacting their member of Congress for them and assist their constituent services staff to communicate with the USCIS on our behalf.
A few years ago my friend Josh Goldstein, an Immigration Attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, shared the story of his experience enlisting Congressman Barney Frank to convince the USCIS to adjudicate a green card application in 27 days.
Of course not every case can move that quickly, and sometimes you also need a bit of luck or a miracle, but having your Congressperson or Senator going to bat for you cannot hurt.
3. Contacting the USCIS Ombudsman
A third way to request expedited processing in writing is by contacting the USCIS ombudsman.
4. Make an InfoPass Appointment
If it’s too urgent to send them a letter, an expedite request can also be hand-delivered by making an InfoPass appointment. Normally you have to make an appointment in advance.
It’s easy to make an InfoPass appointment. Start at my.uscis.gov/appointment. First, select whether you’re making an appointment inside the United States or outside the United States:
Second, enter your zip code to select the right office:
After you select the date of your appointment, you’ll be asked to put in your personal information:
It is usually helpful to take an attorney with you to explain the basis for your request or help advocate for you with the officers. The officer you meet at this appointment won’t have your file, won’t know anything about your case, and might not understand what you’re trying to do. It’s helpful to have someone who can explain it and, if necessary, speak to a supervisor if the officer is unwilling to receive the expedite request.