Revised Date: April 25, 2003

Dear Clients, Friends and Supporters,

Many clients are experiencing long delays in the processing of their petitions in recent weeks and months at the various BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) Service Centers nationwide, especially Texas and Nebraska. In some cases, approvals of petitions are taking five and six months or longer after filing date.

A number of factors and considerations have converged to create an unprecedented and difficult situation at some of the Service Centers, resulting in these delays.

1. Continuing Sheer Volume of Petitions and Work

Just a few numbers at the Texas Service Center (TSC) alone:
Two (2) physical building plants:
(one is approx. 125,000 square feet, the other is approx. 80,000 square feet)
Approx. 375,000 active pending cases
Approx. 103,000 pieces of incoming mail each week
Approx. 485 employees
Approx. 7,000,000 petitions processed last year 2002 by Immigration Service nationwide (with TSC processing almost one quarter)
Approx. 9,400,000 petitions expected to be processed this year 2003 by Immigration Service nationwide (with TSC expected to process almost one quarter)

2. New Immigration Agency "Transition"

The Homeland Security Law of 2002 created the new Department of Homeland Security and on March 01, 2003 placed the adjudications function of the old "INS" into the new BCIS. While most of the old physical offices and personnel were retained, a new management structure was put into place, new methods and processes are being developed, along with a new agency work culture. The abolition of INS and creation of the new BCIS represents the biggest change in immigration since the 1950s.

As expected the transition has been less than smooth and choas-free. It remains unclear how long this transtion will take before a more efficient system is operational.

3. New Required Security Background Checks

The events of 09-11, the War on Terror, the new Homeland Security Terror Alerts, and now the military conflict in Iraq have combined to make public security a top concern. Immigration officers face a new and significant challenge to conduct extensive and accurate security background checks on all visa petitioners and beneficiaries. This takes time. These checks are now run on everyone, not just some, which slows down the process for all. Even if a particular petitioner and beneficiary have an absolute clean record, they will still need to wait for the check on others ahead of them to be completed. Furthermore, there are various levels of security checks. One is the IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System), another is NIIS (Non Immigrant Information System), another is the NSEERS Special Registration System. Lastly, the FBI is now required to clear all visas in their database before they are issued by the various Consulates.

While technically security checks are an enforcement function which should be done by the enforcement bureau, BCIS has been assigned this function which reportedly costs at least $10 million dollars a month from BCIS budget and about 25% of their personnel.

In short, security checks are slowing down speed of petitions.

4. New Technology and Training

New software and hardware technology was necessary for conducting some of the new security checks. One example is the fact that the old immigration software and database was not tied in anyway to local law enforcement databases or the FBI database. The technical merger of the immigration database at the Service Centers with law enforcement databases, and the re-training of officers to handle and process the law enforcement database information turned out to be a significant and time-consuming enterprise, one which the general public was largely unaware of.

5. Shifting Management Priorities for Petitions

Management at the Service Centers must continually balance their resources and staffing to address the most pressing priorities of the moment. Sometimes Congress mandates that certain cases be decided first or within a particular timeframe, without any additional funding. For example, earlier this year 2003, Congress mandated and the Administration concurred that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) cases be decided on a high priorty by the Immigration Service. Service Centers, including Texas, allocated significant time and energy with the use of assembled teams of adjudications officers to dispose of TPS petitions only, thus holding up all other petitions, including fiancee visa petitions.

Read the answer of the Texas Service Center at the Liaison meeting with the American Immigration Lawyers Association in March 2003:

Question: What is the status of TPS applications and its affect on other product lines? Were some product lines affected more than others?

Answer: We do have the dubious task of balancing limited resources to handle the diverse workload and customer groups for applications and immigration benefit. From time to time, because of filing deadlines, we have to work in a taskforce mode concentrating on workloads that have a finite deadline for completion.

Sometimes, the Service Centers have internal priorities when they decide that a particular "product line" of petitions need to be decided first. Recently, L-1 petitions at some Service Centers were placed high on the adjudications priority, and adjudicators working on other petitions were pulled and re-assigned temporarily to dispose of L-1s, thus creating a backlog of petitions in other areas.

In brief, management priorities affect speed of adjudications on any petition.

6. Financial Resources

A Service Center needs financial resources, in other words money, to fund payroll, hire, train and re-train staff, acquire new hardware and software, implement new technology, pay for rent and supplies, and otherwise cover operating costs of business. Payments made towards petition filing fees by petitioners and beneficiaries actually are forwarded to the U.S. Treasury, not the Service Center budgets.

The Congress appropriates money to the new Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration Service, and through them the Service Centers. Funding has increased by almost 4%, but much of that money has not reached the Service Centers yet. Recently, BCIS lost about $30 million in revenue from filing fees when, for technical reasons under the Homeland Security Law, all petition filing fees were reduced for a short time from January 24, 2003 to February 27, 2003. There are continuing concerns about funding for the increased projected demands on BCIS. In short, the Service Centers just need more money.

7. H1-b Work Visa Premium Processing Program

Immigration Service currently has a program called "Premium Processing" for H1-b work visa cases (Petition I-129) and other business visa petitions only. Under this program, in exchange for a government filing fee of $1000, the Service Center "warrants" that they will decide the petition in fifteen (15) calendar days, or you receive your money back. The program has been very successful, with a success rate of 97% for timely adjudication. The problem has been that because this program has such a high priority for the Service Center, the required number of adjudicators for it have lessened the number available for all other petitions, including family petitions such as the fiancee visa petition. (Please note that this program is not currently available for family petitions such as the fiancee visa petition.)

8. Some Good News, and What to Do

There indeed is some good news.

New Staff: The Service Centers have all hired new staff and after training is complete, they will eventually help the situation improve. For example, Vermont Service Center has hired 100 new adjudicators, so many that there is not physical room for all of them at the current facility and new space is being added.

Electronic Filing and Processing of Petitions: Immigration is now working to enable website visitors to the BCIS website to eventually file their petitions electronically, much the same way IRS allows electronic filing of certain tax returns. The program will start with Petitions I-90 and I-765, and expand later to petitions such as the I-129F.

Our office position is that family based petitions such as fiancee visa petitions should be really be disposed of in 30 to 60 days, no more. The petitions and supporting documents are not difficult to review and decide. For family re-unification reasons, these petitions should be given preference and priority.

Eventually and with time, we believe that the Service Centers will improve their efficiency and processing speed. Yes, we know they are slow right now, but anger, frustration and complaints will not make the Centers process any petitions faster.

As the immigration system improves, we suggest the following: 1. Be patient. 2. Continually check the status of your case online at the BCIS website (and telephone lines, when you can get through). 3. Stay informed about the unoffical Processing Time Reports of the Service Centers (many Immigration Attorney websites post these frequently) and 4. Voice your opinion where it may be constructive and helpful. Say it loud and clear and often. Contact Your Local Congressman's (or Congresswoman's) office, specifically the Immigration Liaison staff person in the office. Register your dissatisfaction with current petition processing speed and ask that legislative priority be given to more funding for immigration. Congressmen's offices record the views and opinions of constituents, and take them into account in committee hearings, fact-finding reports and ultimately votes on the floor for new legislation. No, of course money is the not the answer to everything, but it will surely mean more personnel and resources, and thus hopefully better efficiency and speed.

Above all, stay confident and positive, and you and yours will indeed receive your petition benefits and visa!

Gary Bala
USA Immigration Attorney
Pennsylvania USA

SPECIAL NOTE: All the Service Centers allow Expedited Processing of a Petition based on a showing of a legitimate emergency situation. For a sample list of emergency reasons, see the California Service Center Expedite Procedures Statement.

E-Mail: garybala@VISA-Attorney.com


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Gary Bala, USA Immigration Attorney.