Foreign nationals are experiencing delays of more than a month in receiving approved work permits and green cards that are normally issued and mailed within days of approval. Applicants are also experiencing extended delays in the time it takes USCIS to adjudicate these applications. These delays have a major impact on foreign nationals and their US employers.
Although fluctuating processing times at USCIS are nothing new, delays in producing documents are. A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post reported that the contract between USCIS and the company it uses to print documents ended in June, and USCIS was set to transition document production to one of its own facilities. Inconveniently, however, USCIS shut down one of its two production facilities and significantly reduced capacity at the other due to a budget shortfall, resulting in a backlog in printing 50,000 green cards and 75,000 employment authorization documents (EADs).
Presenting evidence of employment authorization – such as an EAD, which is valid for and renewable in increments of 1 to 2 years – is required to work in the United States. In most cases, presenting an approval notice, but not the EAD itself, is insufficient for an employer to verify eligibility to work on Form I-9, as required by law. The delay in document production at USCIS leaves employers in a difficult position. They cannot hire the talent they have identified because new hires cannot produce documents to verify eligibility despite being authorized to work. They can pause or end employment for current employees who have not yet received renewed EADs. Or they can risk incurring civil violations and fines by hiring or retaining employees who can legally work, but cannot present documents to verify that fact because of USCIS production delays. These are equally unpleasant choices.
Delays in producing initial or renewal green cards also carry significant consequences. Green cards are valid for 10 years and must be renewed to update photos and fingerprints, so even long-term residents must deal with USCIS intermittently. Permanent residents age 18 and above are required by law to carry their cards or be subject to fines or even jail time. Residents must also present their green cards to show they are employment authorized, entitled to be readmitted after international travel, and lawfully present for driver’s licenses, mortgages, college enrollment, and other types of benefit applications.
Waiting for USCIS to produce an already approved green card may mean a permanent resident cannot access a benefit he or she is entitled to. It may also mean employers cannot hire the talent they need to run their businesses successfully. Although permanent residents’ eligibility to work is never re-verified, even after their cards expire, a resident who chooses to present a green card as evidence of employment eligibility at time of hire must present an unexpired card.
With the looming furlough of 13,400 USCIS employees if Congress does not allocate $1.2 billion in emergency funding by August 3, these document production delays are not likely to be reduced or eliminated any time soon.