** September 14 Update: USCIS admitted the timelines below were a mistake. Their website has been updated to reflect a more “reasonable” processing time of 5-7 months. **

How long is too long to wait for a work card? It used to be 90 days. Under former administrations, people could file for their work cards based on their pending adjustment of status application and expect a decision within three months. I remember that feeling like such a long time. Those were the days….

Work cards based on adjustment of status (category c9, for fellow immigration nerds out there), are meant to help people who are applying for green cards to be able to live their lives and be produce while they wait on a final decision of the green card application. Work cards do so much more than allow someone to work, though. Work cards are required to get a Social Security Number – and SSNs are required for all sorts of things like bank accounts and utilities. In Georgia, work cards are required to obtain or renew a driver’s license. I know it’s an overused word right now, but work cards truly are essential for anyone who wants to start their lives in the United States – and these are all people who are doing it “the right way.”

In the last few years, work card adjudication and production slowed from 90 days to 6-8 months. No one was happy to hear this – this meant that the immigrant was forced to sit and home, not contribute to their household, not be able to drive themselves anywhere for over half a year. In pre-COVID times, it would generally take 9-12 months to get a green card interview, so the work card was helpful, but it was really only helpful for a few short months – still, better than nothing.  Well, recently USCIS updated their website to show that it’s now taking 28.5 to 37 months to get a work card based on adjustment of status. Yes – more than two years and up to three years. Here’s a screen shot directly from the USCIS:

I’m willing to grant USCIS some grace and say that with COVID and the shutdowns earlier this year, it may be difficult to maintain a “normal” time frame. But this is beyond unacceptable. This is a way for USCIS to sabotage our legal immigration system. This is designed to disincentivize anyone from applying for a green card because their lives will be miserable while they wait. I also think this is a way for USCIS to stop the public (including lawyers) from being able to ask about cases. There is an online service tool where we can ask about specific cases, but it will only accept the inquiry if the case it outside the normal processing times. So unless your work card was filed before August 6, 2017 and you don’t have a decision, you cannot ask USCIS for help.

I also am worried about what this may mean for adjustment of status cases. Does USCIS anticipate waiting for four years or more to get a green card interview?! And what happens if USCIS ends up furloughing 75% of their staff next month? I can’t begin to imagine the delays – heck, at that point, it won’t be delays, it’ll be a pure freeze and stop to all immigration benefits.

We’ll continue filing for adjustment of status and including work card applications and hope that USCIS gets their act together. We’ll also contact our elected officials and ask them to #holdUSCISaccountable.