I get this question a lot…and it’s not surprising because it feels like work cards (Employment Authorization Document or “EAD”) are taking forever. I promise it’s not you. It’s USCIS. Let’s look at some data direct from USCIS. In the below chart, we’re looking at average processing times in months. “FY” is Fiscal Year, which for USCIS, starts on October 1 each year.

Form

Other Information

FY17

FY18

FY19

FY20

FY21

FY22

I-765

All other applications for employment authorization

2.6

3

3.4

3.2

3.9

6.7

I-765

Based on an approved, concurrently filed, I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (c)(33).

1.8

1.2

1.1

1.1

1.9

0.9

I-765

Based on a pending asylum application

1.7

0.9

2

2.5

3.2

6.9

I-765

Based on a pending I-485 adjustment application

3

4.1

5.1

4.8

7.1

7.2

These numbers are BAD.

But let’s see if we’re comparing apples to apples. It would make sense to me that processing times would go up if there was a big surge in applications. Here are the numbers of total applications (initial, renewal and replacement) for the same fiscal years:

  • 2021 – 2,594,988
  • 2020 – 1,999,895
  • 2019 – 2,189,374
  • 2018 – 2,140,758
  • 2017 – 2,372,592

So we see that the 2021 numbers are higher than previous years, but not significantly higher. Not enough to excuse a tripling or more of waiting. Also, if we want to get down to it, if USCIS would adjudicate the actual cases that the work cards are related to, there wouldn’t be a need for so many renewals. Crazy idea, isn’t it?

There can be limits on when you can apply for an initial work card. For example, for certain asylum applicants, they have to wait a full year before applying for a work permit. Add seven months to that and suddenly that’s 19 months without a work card. That’s 19 months without the legal authority to work, to get a Social Security number (needed for just about everything) and in Georgia, that means no driver’s license.

For renewal work cards, USCIS says to apply no more than six months before your current card expires. I’m no mathematician, but I apply as early as possible, that still leaves me with over a month without work authorization. People are losing their jobs because they lack documentation. People are unable to provide for their families and it’s a nightmare. When a work card renewal is filed before the expiration date, USCIS will (in some instances) grant an automatic six month extension. This is helpful for those who apply as early as possible and are eligible for the extension, but what if you filed two months before your card expired? It’ll be cutting it close.

You know what adds injury to insult? According to USCIS, it takes an adjudicator 12 MINUTES to adjudicate a work card application. Lives are being put on hold and true hardships are created because USCIS adjudicators can’t take 12 minutes to process a routine application. Are you angry? I am.

USCIS says they are taking steps to make things better. They’re extending the validity dates of work cards. That’s nice, but that doesn’t solve the root issue, like I mentioned above. USCIS also says they are hiring more adjudicators, but it will take time to get them trained and ready to go.

I wish I had better news. I hate telling people that their work cards are still pending when they’re asking me how they’re going to pay their mortgage or if they should take their kids to school with an expired license. It’s awful. Hopefully, though, this is the worst of it and USCIS will get better instead of worse.

-Tracie