Six months ago, we were telling clients that their work cards should be adjudicated within 3-4 months. Today, I’m telling clients it could be closer to 5-6 months. Last year, people could file for Naturalization and expect an interview within 5-6 months. Today, it’s closer to 12 months. I-90s to replace green cards take nearly 9 months. I-751s to remove conditions on residency take between 12 and 15 months. I-918 s for U visa applicants now take over 3 years for an initial review.

How are people supposed to live their lives when it takes so long for USCIS to review their cases? This is especially problematic when it comes to working permits because people’s lives come to a halt as soon as the work permit expires. No work means no money. And in Georgia, no work permit means no driver’s license. These work permits are people who are lawfully present in the United States, though they may not be approved for a green card, yet.

It’s even more complicated for lawful residents (green card holders). They can’t get work permits or travel permits because those are only meant to be used temporarily in pending cases. They have to have their green cards to demonstrate their status. Yet, with replacements taking nearly a year, these residents are trapped. With I-751s taking over a year, conditional residents are left with an expired card and a society that doesn’t understand that they are still in the U.S. as residents.

Technically, lawful residents can request an I-551 stamp in their passports to demonstrate their status, but those stamps are only available in InfoPass appointments. InfoPass appointments are notoriously difficult to get – it’s taken me upwards of a month of trying to get one. USCIS will only take walk-ins on an emergency basis…and not having a valid green card isn’t really an emergency in their opinion.

Why is everything taking so much longer? In large part, it’s because of the increase in interviews for employment-based green card cases. That’s increased the workload at local USCIS offices by at least a third. Yet, the number of officers hasn’t increased. That’s why getting an interview at a Field Office is taking nearly twice as long now as compared to a year ago.

As for the delays in cases where an interview isn’t required, the delay is likely because of a shift in resources. The focus seems to be on extreme vetting – that is, digging in old cases for fraud. For example, the Burmese community recently received a spate of interview notices – even for U.S. citizens – if they were processed through a certain refugee camp in Malaysia because it seems like a few individuals listed out family members on their applications who weren’t truly family). We’ve also received green card revocation notices for permanent residents who have had their green cards for ten years or longer because USCIS now believes that there was fraud in the original marriage. USCIS isn’t focused on working new cases, but on finding “problems” with old cases.

At the end of the day, these delays hurt people who are trying to stabilize their immigration status. I’m also afraid that it erodes trust between me and my client. They look to their attorney for answers and to work their case through as quickly as possible. But with every case taking so long, with every applicant calling USCIS for help, with USCIS not being as forthcoming with information on cases…well, it’s hard.

Just know, please, that the delays are because of USCIS – and not because of anything you did or didn’t do or anything your attorney did or didn’t file (at least most of the time!) .