United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released their annual report “Fiscal Year 2022 Progress Report”. In this document they summarize the main challenges and progress achieved during the fiscal year, which ran from October 2021 to September 2022.
Key Takeaways from the report
The report is an easy-to-read 14 page document that is full of numbers and relevant information. In a way, it is similar to what the USCIS Director, Ms Ur Jaddou, told us in a recent Fireside Chat we already discussed in this website. I curated a list of topics that are especially relevant to EB2 NIW applicants that you can find below:
Reduction in backlogs
USCIS is committed to reduce the backlog problems that the system face. In this report, they include some numbers that prove their efforts are being fruitful. Specifically, the backlog for naturalization processes (related to citizenship applications) has been reduced by over 60%. Additionally, the number of employment-based green card issued has increased by 40%! This is the category that includes EB2 National Interest Waiver green cards. The figure below taken from the official report shows the increase in green cards granted and how they jumped from approximately 200K to 275K in one year.
Reduction in EAD wait times
Another positive finding from this report is the reduction in pending EAD renewals filed by adjustment of status applicants. The numbers had increased steadily until they exceeded 125,000 in late 2021 but have decreased since then to less than 50,000, as shown in the Figure below.
Expansion of Premium Processing
This is a topic we have covered in this blog before. USCIS is committed to expand Premium Processing to visa categories that currently lack it, such as EB-2 NIW. Premium Processing allows the applicant to pay an additional fee in order to speed up the decision process. It does not increase or decrease the approval chances but it shortens the time to receive an answer to the petition.
Last September 2022, USCIS announced that EB2 NIW applicants that had filed their I-140 before February 1st, 2022 could apply for Premium Processing. In the EB2 NIW category, the fee for expedited processing is currently $2,500 and guarantees a decision in 45 calendar days.
In this FY2022 annual report, USCIS highlights these efforts and continues to project that the implementation of premium processing will continue its course. It is expected that expedited processing will be fully available to EB2 NIW applicants in 2023.
Issued guidance on certain Green Card categories
USCIS indicated in their annual report how they issued public guidance on some of the green card categories. This is the famous Policy Manual we have repeatedly referred to in this website. This Manual provides really valuable information to all applicants and shows how USCIS officers may look at submitted cases. I always recommend to bookmark the Chapter for EB2 NIW to all prospective petitioners!
Better USCIS financial health
USCIS is a fee-funded institution. In their report, they review how during a couple of years the financial health of the agency worsened due to COVID restrictions and reduction of the revenue driven by fees. This led to a hiring freeze that worsened the backlog problems and increased the wait times to get green cards.
Recently, due to resumption of applications and funding from Congress, USCIS has returned to a decent financial health that has allowed hiring. With more money in the bank, the agency can process more cases and shorten the processing times. The graph below shows how USCIS cash reserves are now approaching 1 billion dollars, which is what they consider a proper financial situation.
The beginning of the backlog reduction
Because of better financial health, the number of USCIS employees has increased since February. The backlog problem, which has increased since the start of the pandemic, is not tapering off and showing signs of being under control. USCIS is hopeful that this is the start of the reduction of the backlog problems.
Conclusions: Toward next Fiscal Year
In Fiscal Year 2023 USCIS wants to continue reducing the lines of people waiting to get a green card, simplify certain processes, and expand on premium processing.
Even though the report shows very positive news on the progress the agency has achieved during 2022, USCIS recognizes that there is plenty of work to do in the coming months and years.