Sunday, January 13, 2013

How Are USCIS Processing Times Determined and What do They Mean?

It is very likely that anyone who has had a case filed and pending with USCIS has used the online status check and has also checked the “normal” processing times for the type of a case they have had filed. Many of our readers are well aware of these two resources and we encourage following the information posted on the website.

Recent Issues with Inaccurate Processing Times Reports

Over the past few months, we have seen an increasing number of cases for which the processing times reports do not reflect accurate case status. In other words, the processing times reports have been inaccurate, in some cases, substantially so. For example, when USCIS processing times indicated that H-1B cases are processed within 3 months, we have seen a number of cases which had been pending well above this time period.

USCIS has addressed some of these concerns and have taken steps to correct the way the processing times are gathered and reported to ensure higher quality data. Recent internal investigations by USCIS have revealed that some of the processing times are simply being reported incorrectly. For example, the Texas Service Center had inadvertently been processing cases out of their receipt order, thereby deviating from their standard first-in/first-out policy. We are assured that this deviation has been corrected.

How Are Processing Times Determined?

The USCIS calculated processing times are intended to be a reflection of the number of months of application/petition receipts that an office’s inventory of pending cases represents. For example, a 4 months processing time reported for a service center indicates that the inventory of pending cases (waiting to be processed) was equal to the number of cases that the center had received over the past 4 months. This means that the processing times are somewhat backward looking in the sense that they do not necessarily reflect how long a new case would remain pending.

USCIS also shows the online processing times based on workload processing goals. If USCIS is processing a specific type of a petition in less time than the processing goal, the processing time would be shown in months. If USCIS is taking longer than the processing time goal to handle a case, USCIS will post the specific filing date of the oldest pending case the service center has to process as of the date of the processing time chart.

USCIS’s methodology in calculating the processing times is as follows: USCIS only calculates the time a case is considered to be actively pending with USCIS and is under adjudication. It does not take into account the time USCIS is waiting or an action by the applicant or petition. As an example, the time is takes for USCIS to issue and wait for a response to a request for evidence (RFE) (usually 84 or 87 days), is not reflected in the processing times.

USCIS Working to Provide More Recent Processing Times Information

Another substantial problem with the processing times report is that the data is simply very old. Often, by the time a processing times report is published online, it is already 30-, 45- or even 60-days old. USCIS has indicated that it works with its internal IT and Performance and Quality Departments to try to speed up the information gathering and reporting process.

According to USCIS, the current process of gathering the processing times information is manual and based on self-reporting. USCIS is working on a new system which should allow automated, accurate and faster reporting. The system is currently being tested and is scheduled for implementation in early fiscal year 2013.


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