U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced three flagship actions related to the status of immigrant workers on March 29, 2002. 

These measures are aimed first at reducing backlogs within the agency (I), second at expanding priority premium processing to other types of forms (II), and third at easing the burden on work permit holders by streamlining the process of obtaining employment authorization documents (EADs) (III), which are critical for foreign workers and the organizations that employ them.

Agency Backlog Reduction

To reduce backlogs within the agency, USCIS has developed new internal measures that will guide workload reduction actions within the agency. As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, USCIS said. Applicants will receive decisions on their cases more quickly.

The agency plans to improve the technology so far used in processing cases and also increase staff to meet these new goals set by the end of fiscal year 2023. Processing times published by USCIS indicate the average time it takes to process a particular request from start to finish. 

A metric called “cycle time” will now be used to monitor the number of cases pending within USCIS. Cycle time measures how many months a case pending on a particular form has been waiting for a decision. As an internal management measure, cycle times are generally comparable to average processing times published by the agency. 

Cycle time is a measure used by USCIS operations to gauge whether the agency is making progress in reducing backlogs and case processing times. Details on USCIS’ new cycle time goals can be found by clicking here.

Phased rollout of priority premium processing.

DHS is codifying the premium processing fees and award schedules provided by Congress. The department is also issuing a final rule to expand premium processing eligibility for certain petitions including I-140, I-539, and I-765.

Specifically, USCIS will expand premium processing options for the following:

  1. I-140 petitions request classification of EB-1 immigrants as a multinational executive or manager. This form also requests classification of EB-2 immigrants as members of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional skill requiring a National Interest Waiver (NIW) (EB-2). The processing fee for this application is $2,500, for a 45-day turnaround.
  2. I-539 petitions, on the other hand, request a change of status to F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1, or M-2 nonimmigrant status or extension of E-1, E-2, E-3, H-4, L-2, O-3, P-4, or R-2 nonimmigrant status. The application fee in this case is $1,750 and the processing time is 30 days.
  3. I-765 petitions require employment authorization and require $1,500 as an application fee and a 30-day processing time.

The priority premium processing deadline.

Prior to October 1, 2022, the start of the government’s new fiscal year, premium processing should be available for EB-1, NIW I-140 applications; for I-539 petitions requesting a change of status to F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1, or M-2 nonimmigrant status. 

Priority processing of premiums would also occur for I-765 applications, for students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT), and for exchange visitors. The earliest possible date for premium processing in these categories is May 31, 2022. 

The government’s initiative to regularize the status of immigrant workers is welcome. The Biden administration’s measure is extremely important for businesses and individuals. 

But there is the question of implementation. There are questions about how the already stretched USCIS will manage the implementation of the measure due to the phased rollout and associated logistics. A reasonable timeframe for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to expedite employment authorization documents and include a large number of categories is also critical to the success of this Administration measure.

We will post an update as more information becomes available.

Streamlining the Process for Employment Authorization Documents (EAD). 

To ensure that some individuals do not lose their work authorization while their EAD application is pending, USCIS is seeking to extend the automatic extension period for EAD renewals. Currently, most applicants wait more than 10 months for their EAD renewal.

USCIS continues to move toward the temporary final rule currently known as the “Temporary Extension of Automatic Extension of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants.”

In recent months, USCIS has begun streamlining many EAD processes, including extending the validity period of certain EADs. The agency is fast-tracking work authorization renewals for health care and child care employees. The interim final rule is designed to build on this progress and ensure that some individuals do not lose their work authorization status while their applications are pending.

We will continue to monitor any administrative changes issued by USCIS and DHS.

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