Corporations, not Citizens, Get the Fastest Service from USCIS

By David North on June 1, 2010

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of DHS is reluctant to issue statistics about many of its operations, but it does – as a service to aliens, citizens, corporations, and their lawyers – publish somewhat out-of-date information on the processing times of some of the petitions it handles, but not all of them.

These waiting times have dropped considerably, and commendably, in the last couple of years, but it is interesting to see where USCIS priorities lie. Which classes of petitions do they handle quickly, and which less quickly?

The short answer is that USCIS is no cupid.

Petitions for corporations seem to have high priority and most get handled in two months. Single U.S. citizens wanting to live with their beloved in the U.S. must wait three times as long.

We draw these conclusions from USCIS claims-handling data drawn from the California processing center, one of four roughly comparable decision-factories in the States where petitions are adjudicated. The data, printed out on May 29, are for March 31 of this year.

The government's data set has 53 petition categories arrayed by the document number; I have listed below all of the categories that are handled within two months, and some of those processed in longer periods of time. In several cases I have combined two or more similar petitions into a single entry; the characterization of who is applying is my own. Most of the categories not listed below take six months. Some immigrant categories take much longer for reasons beyond USCIS control, such as the waiting list for some classes of immigrant visas with numerical limits set by statute.

Applicant Alien Category  
Processing Time
Agribusiness H-2A farm workers 15 days
Corporations (usually)    O  aliens of extraordinary ability    15 days
Corporations, museums   P   athletes, artists, entertainers    15 days
Corporations H-2B other temporary workers   
30 days
Corporations L intracompany transfers (individual) 30 days
Asylees, and applicants    Employment authorizations 

30 days
Corporations H-1B specialty occupations 
2 months
Corporations NAFTA professionals   
2 months
Corporations L intracompany transfers (blanket)   
2 months
Well-to-do aliens    Treaty traders and investors   
2 months
Mix Temporary trainees   
2 months
Mix Cultural exchange workers   
2 months
Foreign students Various benefits, extensions, etc.    3 months
Churches R-1 religious workers    

3.5 months
U.S. Citizens (I-129) K-1, 2  fiancé  of citizen, and fiancé’s child 6 months
U.S. Citizens (I-129)    K-3, 4 spouse of citizen, and spouse’s child 6 months
U.S. Citizens (I-130) immediate relative of a citizen 6 months
Spouses of citizens (I-751)    petition to change to green card status    6 months

Marriage is always a multi-splendored thing but it is much more so if USCIS plays a role. The I-129 petition mentioned above is a nonimmigrant document and can bring the loved one to the U.S. only temporarily; the I-130 is used to grant immigrant status to several different kinds of relatives, including long-married spouses; the 1-751 has a more specialized role, it converts the conditional permanent resident status for the alien spouse to permanent resident status, after the marriage is two years old.

Were USCIS more interested in love-seeking citizens than in profit-seeking corporations it could switch some staff from handling petitions for foreign workers to those for foreign spouses and fiancés, but it has not made that decision.

The quick turnaround for H-2A foreign farmworkers is understandable within a program that I regard as totally extraneous. If you are going to let farm employers, largely corporate entities, bring in foreign farmworkers for seasonal work, you need to act quickly. Frankly, a slight adjustment of wages and a somewhat more flexible set of hiring policies on the part of agribusiness could take care of all, or nearly all, their harvesting needs. (I have a background and some bias on this point, having served, at one time, as the Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor for Farm Labor.)

The processing time for the other three centers seems to be about the same as for the California facility. Each of the four centers handles a much, much longer set of documents than shown above, or shown in the agency's website; many of them are used relatively rarely. Other USCIS decisions are made at district offices, and the processing time for some of the documents handled in those offices can be reviewed on the same website; still another set of decisions is made at the agency's Missouri-based National Benefits Center.