In October 2017, the Department of Homeland Security implemented Trump’s Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry,” by requiring all applicants sponsored for green cards by their employers to be interviewed in person at a US Citizenship & Immigration Services office. The first batch of interviews were scheduled quickly, but over the last year, wait times have skyrocketed, now reaching 1 to 2 years in large metro areas. Waits for family-based applicants (who have always been interviewed) have steadily climbed also, as a result of the growing workload at local USCIS field offices.
The chart below, compiled from data at USCIS’s Processing Times web site, shows current wait times in ten major cities:
|City||Wait Time for Green Card Interview|
|Atlanta||10.5 to 25 months||11 to 17 months|
|Dallas||10.5 to 25 months||15.5 to 21 months|
|Houston||11 to 21.5 months||17 to 27 months|
|Los Angeles||10.5 to 25 months||10.5 to 17.5 months|
|Miami||10.5 to 25 months||11 to 23.5 months|
|New York City||12.5 to 22 months||20.5 to 31.5 months|
|Raleigh||10.5 to 25 months||7 to 24.5 months|
|San Diego||10.5 to 25 months||7.5 to 18.5 months|
|Seattle||10.5 to 17 months||11 to 23.5 months|
|Washington DC||10.5 to 25 months||10 to 22 months|
This week, USCIS announced a plan to shorten these long waits by equalizing field office workloads and interviewing applicants outside their normal USCIS jurisdiction. USCIS has published no details on how far applicants might be required to travel or how much wait times are expected to rise at smaller field offices as a result of the redistribution.
For example, depending on their zip codes, residents of South Florida are now required to interview in Miami, Hialeah, Kendall or Oakland Park. All four of those offices have wait times of up to 2 years for both family- and employment-based interviews. Those Floridians may now have to travel 70 miles to West Palm Beach or 150 miles to Fort Myers to be interviewed, yet that shift will shorten their waits by only a few months, according to USCIS’s Processing Times website.
The same is true in the New York metro area, where green card applicants now are interviewed at field offices in New York City, Queens, Brooklyn, or Long Island – all with up to 2-year waits. Nearby field offices in New Jersey have similar wait times. New Yorkers may have to go as far as Rhode Island or Vermont, perhaps only to shave a few months off wait times.
While Trump’s DHS has prioritized a surge in hiring for its investigation and enforcement branches, the service side of the agency enjoys far less support. In its FY2020 budget proposal, DHS seeks $5 billion for building border walls, $2.7 billion for housing detainees, $550 million for removing detainees, and $470 million for hiring law enforcement and Border Patrol agents. A full 53 percent of its total FY2020 budget authority is allocated to its enforcement arms: ICE, Customs & Border Protection, US Coast Guard and TSA.
USCIS’s allocation is only 5 percent, and its total budget request only $120 million. About 10 percent of that amount is earmarked for Operations and Support, which would include hiring and training new officers to adjudicate applications and interview applicants. While it is true that USCIS operations are largely funded by filing fees paid by the public, DHS this year plans to rob Peter to pay Paul. Some $207 million of USCIS’s filing fees will be transferred to ICE to fund its investigation and enforcement activities. With these priorities, we are unlikely to see green card wait times substantially reduced any time soon.