U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ processing of Forms I-751, Petitions to Remove Conditional Resident Status is in a state of disarray.
Sandra Feist writes for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that USCIS has been adding new procedural delays and hurdles to I-751s, like brick after brick in an “invisible wall” making life difficult for spouses of U.S. citizens.
As background, in 1986, as part of President Reagan’s comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill, Congress enacted the current framework for marriage-based permanent residence to require a 2-year interim green card before these immigrants are granted “unconditional,” permanent residency. At the 2-year mark, these green card holders are required to file I-751s. Notably, they must wait until the 90-day window before the 2-year anniversary of their green card approval and file their I-751 petition before the expiration date on that card.
In the past, here’s how things typically went when filing an I-751 petition with USCIS:
- 30 days before expiration of the applicant’s conditional permanent residency card – Form I-751 is filed with USCIS.
- 1 week later – Receipt notice is issued by USCIS confirming that USCIS is processing the case, and extending the applicant’s green card while the I-751 application is pending with USCIS.
- 4-6 months later – Approval notice arrives in the mail, or an in-person interview is scheduled at a local USCIS field office.
And, here are how things go now:
- 89 days before expiration of the applicant’s conditional permanent residency card – Applicant files Form I-751 with USCIS, nervously, given this age of uncertainty around immigration petitions.
- 2 months later, if you’re lucky – Filing fee checks are cashed and receipt notice is issued by USCIS.
- Up to 2 years later – Approval notice or interview notice arrives in the mail.
Here’s the takeaway, according to Feist: Through administrative delays, USCIS has turned 2-year conditional resident status into 4 years. Besides that delay, the delay in issuance of receipt notices is extremely frustrating. Residents need the receipt notice to prove they are lawfully in the U.S. as conditional residents, so without it they can’t prove eligibility to work in the U.S. or to return to the U.S. from travel abroad or to register for school.
How has USCIS created such havoc?
- May 23, 2018 – A “processing error” resulted in erroneous fingerprint appointments for these petitioners.
- June 12, 2018 – USCIS “addressed the problem” of the delays by reissuing receipt notices that extend the validity of the interim proof of conditional residence from 12 to 18 months.
- June 13, 2018 – USCIS announced “data entry delay” at the California Service Center.
- September 10, 2018 – USCIS announced a filing location change, dispersing pending cases across all four USCIS Service Center.
- October 18, 2018 – USCIS announced that it completed receipting and data entry for filings between May 1st and September 9th, meaning that timely petitioners by this point may have been without proof of their green card status between May to October – a full 5 months.
- November 30, 2018 – USCIS announced that it would interview I-751 petitioners more frequently, which will mean even more extensive delays for typical petitions.
These delays have had a very real impact on the lives U.S. citizens and their family members who were previously issued green cards and who are willing to be checked again by USCIS two years later but want to get on with their lives without endless delays and hassles.