In a recent progress report on its backlogs, USCIS has demonstrated that Congressional appropriations directed at backlog reduction can have a positive impact on its operations. While the $275 million allocated to USCIS for FY22 has been shown to have helped the agency, it is worth noting that the agency’s January 2022 report “Application Processing” included a chart that demonstrated that with the allocated funding for FY22 of $250 million (subsequently increased to $275 million), it would only be able to address roughly 13 percent of the then backlog. As stated throughout the most recent progress report, continued Congressional support is critical to the agency’s continued efforts to address the backlog.
For our part, AILA has urged members of Congress to allocate $400 million in FY23 and beyond, targeted for backlog reduction and efficient intake and processing of cases. As discussed in the agency’s recently released progress report, in FY22, USCIS was able to use the funding allocated by Congress to, among other things, authorize overtime, increase staffing, reduce the net backlog of pending naturalization cases by 62 percent, and also notably to adjudicate over double the number of employment-based immigrant visas than in prior years to avoid the loss of visa numbers. While AILA applauds the agency’s efforts, the fact is that there is still so much left to be done.
Over the course of the last several years, AILA has detailed in several policy briefs the state of the USCIS case backlog, crisis-level processing delays, and customer service tools alongside recommendations to improve the agency’s efficiency. While USCIS has taken action to implement many of our recommendations, the fact is that nearly two years into the Biden Administration, the agency has not done nearly enough to reduce its case backlog or processing delays. The backlog and processing times for many form types continue to grow. The number of pending cases has risen to over 8.7 million, and processing times have continued to rise for many forms, growing further and further away from averages in previous fiscal years.
According to the USCIS Historic Processing Times page, the current median of cases in FY2022 of Form I-601A applications are adjudicated in 31.7 months. This is a 589 percent increase over the median in FY2017! AILA has detailed in prior briefs the significant increases for high-volume form types, like Form I-765, which has seen significant increases since FY2017 for applications based on pending asylum or I-485 adjustment applications. As shown in our March 2022 policy brief, median processing times for other form types have continued to balloon or remained at high levels.
While we will continue to urge members of Congress to support the USCIS’s efforts to reduce its backlog, any continued funding must come with increased responsibility for the agency to keep customers and members of Congress aware of its efforts to address these critical issues. This includes its victories and even its pitfalls. That is why, in addition to our advocacy for additional funding targeted toward backlog reduction and reigning in processing delays, AILA is proud to endorse the Case Backlog and Transparency Act of 2022. The bill establishes reporting requirements for both DHS and the GAO. This includes quarterly reports from DHS on the current status of the case backlog and form processing times and annual reports from DHS providing key data on the number of concerning the makeup of the agency’s backlog, how the agency is using funding from both fee accounts and appropriations to address the backlog and a status report on USCIS customer service tools and overall customer assistance. Importantly, the bill also requires reporting requirements from the GAO through biennial reports detailing its assessment of USCIS’s efforts to eliminate the backlog and recommendations for how the agency can process benefit applications in a fair, accurate, and efficient manner.
While AILA will continue to champion this legislation and push for additional funding to address these issues, we need the help of our members, their clients, and the public. Go to aila.org/takeaction and urge your members of Congress to support both greater funding and accountability measures in order to provide the necessary support for USCIS to right the ship and get back to its statutory mission of efficiently administering benefits for its customers.
Together, we can show the importance of funding USCIS and ensuring that members of Congress hold the agency accountable for addressing the critical delays impacting its customers.