“How long will it take?” and “Are we there yet?” are common questions when filing U.S. immigration forms, but U.S. authorities provide a way to get an answer.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency responsible for processing green card and naturalization applications and other immigration forms, publishes and updates average processing times for 37 immigration forms, such as Form I-130, Form I-129, or the N-400 naturalization form.
Using this information, you can identify whether your wait time is normal or if you should make a USCIS case inquiry.
In this guide:
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Using USCIS historic processing times data, you can see the trend line for your type of application to obtain a green card. Importantly, USCIS uses Fiscal Year (FY), which runs from October 1 of the prior year through September 30 of the year being described. For instance, FY 2020 would run from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020.
Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”):
There is a net trend from FY 2016 until FY 2020 of increasing processing times, with an average increase of 1-2 months until FY 2020, where processing times average 10.1 months.
Form I-131 (“Advance Parole”):
This advance parole document also sees a significant increase in processing times, almost doubling between FY 2016 and FY 2020, with the latter seeing processing times of 4.2 months.
Form I-485 (“Adjustment of Status”):
Family-based green card applications (in other words, immediate relatives or spouses of a U.S. citizen) have seen a decrease in the processing time between FY 2016 and FY 2020, with FY 2020 processing times averaging 8.7 months. Note that the USCIS office closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic means processing times will likely increase in the coming months.
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Processing times for Form N-400 (officially called the “Application for Naturalization”) have stayed relatively steady between FY 2016 and FY 2020, with the FY2020 processing time being an average of 8.3 months. However, processing times in FY 2015 were far lower, at 5.8 months. The spike in recent years is largely due to a naturalization application backlog. In addition, a recent report from Boundless found that the postponement of naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies due to the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a surge in wait times.
This demand is not showing signs of decreasing in the near-future, so if you’re considering applying for U.S. citizenship, the best time is always now, rather than later.
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To handle the enormous volume of applications it receives, USCIS is supported by field offices across the United States, and each applicant is assigned to a field office based on their ZIP code.
Every field office receives a different number of applications, directly impacting its processing speed compared with other offices. Different USCIS offices have substantially different waiting times, especially if you compare less-populated areas with large cities such as New York or Los Angeles.
USCIS then publishes the processing wait times for each field office and updates the figures once every month.
To find the office handling your case, enter your zipcode into the USCIS search box. This will bring up the relevant field office. Importantly, for some key forms such as form I-130, form I-129 and others, a USCIS service center will handle the application.
Once you have found the field office or service center handling your application, head over to the USCIS Case Processing Time tool. In the first dropdown box select your type of application, and in the second dropdown box select the field office or service center that is handling the application.
You will see the processing times presented as a range between two numbers. For example, the processing time range for naturalization applications (Form N-400) at the Seattle, WA field office was 12.5 to 36 months, as of March 31,, 2020. The first number reflects “the time it takes to complete 50% of cases (the median)” while the second number refers to the completion time for 93% of cases.
Using these two numbers, you will be able to see a range that the majority of cases are falling into during that specific period of time — remember, these numbers are updated weekly.
Note that USCIS office closures due to the coronavirus pandemic likely means processing times will increase. This underscores the importance of applying sooner than later if you’re eligible now.
Boundless turns all the government requirements into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under a couple of hours. You don’t have to worry about which number corresponds with which form. We make it easy to complete your naturalization application. Learn more, or get started now.
Checking your case online is simple and USCIS will provide updates to it when available. But the process differs depending on whether you’re applying from within or outside the United States.
Learn more here about how to check the status of your application online based on where you’re applying from.
As always, there will be a wait time as processing gets underway. But how long is “too long” and how can you inquire about with USCIS about your case?
First, check the processing times for the office or service center handling your application using the USCIS processing time tool. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and there will be a breakdown of the different cases handled under the form.
Choose the category that applies to you and look to the right-hand side under “Receipt date for a case inquiry.” Check your confirmation paperwork from USCIS, looking for the date of receipt of your application. If you applied before this date and have not received a reply to your application, it means you can file a Case Inquiry with USCIS to find out what is happening with your application.
To get an update about a case that falls out of normal processing times, fill out the e-form on the USCIS website. This will notify USCIS and they will look into your case, coming with an answer as to why there is a delay.
This form, however, should only be filled out if your case falls before the “Receipt date for case inquiry.” Contacting them while your case remains within processing times will result in a generic reply to that effect.