The New (Ab)normal Under the Trump Administration: Increased Processing Times

The New (Ab)normal Under the Trump Administration: Increased Processing Times

Delays and changes to U.S. immigration policy have been international news over the last few years. Many of my clients are frustrated over increased wait times at every step of the visa or permanent resident application. 

Under the Trump administration, processing delays have nearly doubled even as the number of immigration applications has decreased. The government established U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2002 to improve application backlogs. Unfortunately, backlogs are distressingly common in the Trump era. Here’s what you need to know.

There are different types of backlogs in the U.S. immigration system. Some, such as the wait time between filing a citizenship application and getting an interview, are based on current bureaucratic problems at USCIS and other U.S. government agencies. Others are based on limits in the law on how many visas can be issued per year for certain types of visas. 

For example, some family-sponsored immigrant visas have a yearly limit, and the government has created a “priority” system, which is really a waitlist. 

The order of priorities is:

  1. Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. (F1)
  2. Spouses and children (F2A), and unmarried sons and daughters (F2B), of permanent residents.
  3. Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. (F3)
  4. Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens. (F4)

The U.S. State Department releases a visa bulletin every month with up-to-date wait times based on category. As of November 2019, USCIS is only current for spouses and children of permanent residents. For the F1 category, USCIS is currently processing applications received in March of 2013 for mainland China, India, and other countries not specifically listed, but it is currently processing applications from September 2008 for those from the Philippines and applications dating from August of 1997 for those from Mexico. So, wait times vary greatly based on category and country of origin.

As shown on the November 2019 Visa Bulletin, current dates are:

Other Areas China: mainland 
India Mexico Philippines 
F1 3/1/2013 3/1/2013 3/1/2013 8/8/1997 9/15/2018
F2A Current Current Current Current Current
F2B 7/8/2014 7/8/2014 7/8/2014 8/22/1998 10/1/2008
F3 10/15/2007 10/15/2007 10/15/2007 2/22/1996 6/1/1998
F4 1/1/2007 1/1/2007 10/15/2004 12/15/1997 9/1/1998

Obviously, the wait can be long. Even if you are seeking a marriage or fiancé visa, you can expect the overall processing times to be one to two years. 

Immediate relatives do not have “priority” waits; those categories only have to wait based on USCIS processing time. The only immediate relative categories are spouses of U.S. citizens, children under 21 of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens who are over 21 years old. 

I recommend that all applicants consult with me or another immigration attorney before filing any application, even if you ultimately decide to file without the representation of a lawyer. It is important to talk to a lawyer before starting the process to learn about processing times and also to learn about any issues that may affect your family member’s eligibility for a U.S. visa or green card. 

Knowing what to reasonably expect can help you feel more in control of the process. There’s no need to navigate this complicated process alone. I can help you assemble your application and documentation, discuss any issues you may have, and help make this go more smoothly. I work with clients from all around the U.S. and the world to make these processes less confusing and as efficient as possible.