A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Ombudsman Report Addresses Delay in Renewal EAD and Travel Document

In the 2021-2022 annual report provided by the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman), some important issues about immigration applications are discussed and recommendations made:

Delay in Issuing Renewing EAD

The extended processing time of EAD renewal applications is one of the most significant problems addressed. In fiscal year 2021, USCIS received 2.59 million applications for EAD. Half of the applications were based on a pending adjustment of status application (I-485) and asylum and withholding of removal application (I-589). According to the information published by USCIS, the median processing time for adjustment and asylum-based EADs is 7.5 months and 6.5 months, respectively. However, the report shows that more than 50% cases would take longer to be adjudicated. 

The severe delay of EAD applications interrupt applicants' employment and simultaneously interrupt the ability of U.S. business to employ their workforce continuously. The Ombudsman Office therefore urges USCIS to take further action to minimize lapses in applicants' employment authorization, including: 

  • Further extend the existing automatic extension periods and also consider new regulations to provide more flexibility to applicants who are waiting for a decision on EAD renewal; 
  • Provide better options for nonimmigrant spouses for EAD renewal; 
  • Allow early filing for renewal; and
  • Continue to expedite EAD renewals for workers for national interest purposes, etc. 

Barriers to Travel - Severe Delay of Advance Parole Document

Delay issuance of the Advance Parole document is another major issue addressed. As the wait for processing green card applications can range from 8 months to more than 20 months, the applicants' need for traveling increases as well. The requests received by the USCIS Contact Center and field offices to expedite and to obtain an emergency advance parole almost doubled, and applicants are finding it more difficult to receive the travel document in a timely manner. 

USCIS indicates that it takes time for the officers at field offices to make a discretionary decision on the emergency advance parole requests. As a result, certain USCIS offices do not schedule appointments for such requests after mid-afternoon to give the office time to complete the necessary steps. Other issues including staff shortage mean that applicants often has to wait days, or even weeks before they can hear back from the USCIS on their requests. Sometimes even worse, they have to make multiple follow-ups just to find out their request is no longer considered an “emergency” since they have had the time to wait for the response.

Improving Access to Expedite Process

The Ombudsman Office also discussed the process of the expedited request for immigration applications. The current criteria for expedited services including severe financial loss, emergencies and/or urgent humanitarian reasons, etc. While this is a way for applicants to speed up their applications based on sufficient reasons, the Ombudsman also notices that there is a lack of consistency and transparency when USCIS considers these requests. 

Hence, the Ombudsman Office encourages the USCIS to establish a centralized technological infrastructure and specialized personnel to intake and process expedite requests, and to develop a public-facing portal for receiving requests and supporting documents. Also, it would be helpful to create a new form for expedited requests submission, and to develop standardized guidance to officers while adjudicating the requests. 

Other issues discussed included the lack of efficiency of USCIS's online filing system and the continuous grown of the affirmative asylum cases backlog. The Ombudsman has urged USCIS to refine their operational approaches to improve the quality and efficiency while handling these matters, without compromising their integrity or equity.

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule a legal consultation.) 

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