How to handle delays of immigration applications


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Over the years, our law office has received many inquiries from the public about their pending immigration petitions and applications. The most common questions are about delays or "lack of updates" of their filings.  Yes, it is indeed frustrating not to know what is going on with one's immigration petition for a family member, maybe a fiancé or spouse.  Other filings, such as H-1B petitions and work authorization applications, are also time-sensitive and critical for the applicant to be able to work legally. 

Planning is the Key

As we constantly remind our clients, the U.S. immigration processes are complicated and lengthy. One must have a plan and also some backup plans from the beginning.  It is also important to understand the timeline of each application and plan accordingly.  Although USCIS allows the use of "premium processing services" in some applications for additional fees, most immigration petitions are processed based on a "first come, first served" basis, and also based on visa availability. Early planning is the key to a satisfactory outcome.

Following up and Checking the Processing Times

We sometimes get calls from people who said something like: "I filed this application about 10 years ago, and I want to know what's happened to it."  However, they do not have a filing receipt or the case number.  After submitting any application, make sure that you receive filing receipt notice (I-797) from USCIS.  Keep this notice in a safe place. The receipt number allows you to check your case status and also the normal processing times in  Immigrant visa availability is based on the monthly Visa Bulletin published by the Department of State.  

Reporting changes in address and personal info

Following up also means that you must report any changes in your address and contact information to the government agencies such as USCIS, National Visa Center, etc.  The government agencies would continue to send notices and information to your old address if you fail to report it.  Also changes in marital status and addition of family members must also be reported as soon as possible.

When and How to Ask Questions

If your case is delayed beyond the normal processing times, or if you just have questions about it, you can contact USCIS Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283, (or 1-212-620-3418 from outside the U.S.).  USCIS also have a chatbot called "Ask Emma", that can answer public inquiries. If you believe that the case is unreasonably delayed, you may also submit an Online Case Inquiry through the USCIS website.  For those who are able to use computers, they may also write a letter to USCIS, via certified mail.  One may also call the USCIS Contact Center to schedule an "InfoPass Appointment" to speak to a local immigration officer.   

Seeking help from the USCIS Ombudsman and Congressional Members

The CIS Ombudsman (1-855-882-8100) serves as a third-party liaison between the public and USCIS. One may seek help from them if USCIS is unresponsive to their inquiries. Similarly, local members of the Congress may also make inquire about a case on your behalf with the USCIS, although responses to Congressional members are usually routine in most cases. 

Seeking Legal Assistance from Professionals

If all these steps seem complicated and confusing, you may seek help from an experienced immigration attorney.  Navigating through the U.S. immigration system can be daunting and time-consuming for many individuals.  It is better to seek help from an experienced professional lawyer who can offer proper advice and guidance.  

Although most case delays can be resolved through normal administrative steps, one may have to resort to legal actions in some situations.  For example, a person may file a mandamus action with the federal court to require a government agency to perform their official duties, such as processing and adjudicating immigration applications.  These legal actions are extremely complicated and should be handled by experienced attorneys. 


In sum, given the ever-rising number of immigration filings each year in the U.S., processing delays and other unexpected issues are inevitable. Careful planning and diligent followup actions are essential to ensure timely and proper adjudication of one's immigration filings. 

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit to schedule a legal consultation.)  


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