Naturalization Interviews To Be Held Weekends, After Hours

March 21, 2008

If you receive your notice for a naturalization interview and it is schedule for the weekend or after hours, it was not a mistake.

USCIS said it is expanding its hours and staff to help respond to the deluge of naturalization applications received last year.

In pursuit of its processing time goals, USCIS will be interviewing applicants on Saturdays, Sundays and during the week after traditional work hours.

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Estimated Processing Times For Summer Surge Naturalization Applications Reduced to 14-16 Months

March 16, 2008

USCIS has reduced its processing time projections to 14-16 months for naturalization applications filed during the surge last summer, increasing the chance yours will be approved in time to vote in the November presidential election, according to a recent statement.

Processing times were originally estimated to be between 16-18 months.

USCIS reports that during FY 2007, it received approximately 1.4 million naturalization applications. In the months of June and July of 2007 alone, it experienced an increase of nearly 350 percent compared to the same period in 2006.

The summer surge is attributed to a desire to beat the fee increase and to stepped up campaigns promoting naturalization in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election.


Naturalization Delays? What You Can Do About It

February 28, 2008

While permanent residency applicants were pleasantly surprised by the new USCIS policy allowing adjudication of applications with FBI name checks pending for more than 180 days, naturalization applicants in the same situation were disappointed to learn no such remedy is in sight for them.

So what can you do if your naturalization application is stuck in the FBI name check black hole?

One option is to file a lawsuit against USCIS and the FBI for unreasonably delaying the processing of your case. This lawsuit, known as a mandamus action, enables plaintiffs to request the court to order USCIS and the FBI to do their jobs by adjudicating the case, or in the alternative, conduct a new naturalization hearing before the judge.

Immigrants who have been waiting for years for their application to be processed have been filing such suits in federal courts around the country, generally with success.

AILF (American Immigration Law Foundation) provides an overview of the status of these delayed naturalization lawsuits on its website here.

Additional information on the use of mandamus for other DHS applications, as well as naturalizations is available through AILF here.

These lawsuits for delayed naturalization adjudications are based on INA § 336(b) (8 U.S.C. § 1447(b) ), which requires the government to make a determination on naturalization applications within 120 days of the “examination.”

If the application is not adjudicated 120 days after the “examination is conducted,” under INA § 336(b) an applicant may file a petition in district court seeking judicial adjudication of the application (i.e. the court holds its own naturalization hearing) or return it to USCIS with an order to finish processing it in a timely manner. [Note: With this latter option, you are not asking the court to approve your case. Rather, you are asking the court to compel USCIS to complete processing of your case.]

The hurdle to getting these cases into court centers on the question of whether the FBI name check is considered part of the “examination” so as to provide the court with jurisdiction to hear the mandamus action.

The government argues that the “examination” encompasses the entire process of gathering information about an applicant, including the completion of the FBI check, explains AILF. Thus, the government says, if the FBI check still is pending, the 120-day clock has not started ticking.

The plaintiffs, however, argue the 120-day period runs from the date of the naturalization interview.

Across the country, the courts are agreeing with the plaintiffs that jurisdiction exists even if the name check is not complete. A few holdouts remain, though, so it is important to know the status of the law in your jurisdiction before filing a case.

As to the remedy granted to plaintiffs, most courts have been choosing to remand applications to USCIS for decisions within a specified time frame rather than to conduct naturalization hearings. 

As these mandamus lawsuits have become more and more popular and effective, USCIS is coming up with new policies designed to thwart prospective plaintiffs.

For example, in April 25, 2006, the USCIS announced it will schedule naturalization interviews only after the FBI name check has also cleared, thereby avoiding the triggering of the 120-day clock that has served as the basis for the lawsuits.

In addition, in the early days, when a mandamus lawsuit was filed, USCIS would react by requesting the FBI to expedite the name check for processing. On February 20, 2007, however, USCIS announced that it will no longer make expedite requests based merely on filing a lawsuit.

AILF says the extent to which this new policy affects mandamus actions is still unclear. It says practitioners continue to report that the government is mooting mandamus actions by taking the action requested in the complaint; other practitioners, however, report that the U.S. Attorneys are defending the government more aggressively than in the past.

Attorney Fees

Winning plaintiffs can seek attorney’s fees and costs for pursuing their mandamus actions in federal courts under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d) and 5 U.S.C. § 504 et seq. The courts, though, will only award attorney’s fees when there has been some sort of court order demonstrating that the plaintiff was the “prevailing party.”

A prevailing party can be established, for example, by a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor, or perhaps a settlement agreement or consent decree approved by the court.

If the government, however, takes the action prior to and in the absence of a court order, attorney’s fees are not recoverable.

For more on EAJA fees, see AILF’s discussion here.


USCIS To Take 3 Years to Clear Naturalization Backlog; Processing Time Up To 18 Months Now

February 16, 2008

USCIS is estimating it will take three years to clear the backlog of naturalization applications submitted just before the fee increase in July 2007, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Following the summer surge, applications went from taking 6-7 months on average to process to 16-18 months.

USCIS attributes the surge in applications to both the fee increase and nationwide naturalization campaigns in the run-up to the presidential election. USCIS reports that between May-July 2007 it received 737,223 applications, 3.5 times more than  the usual number of 207,536 received during the same period the previous year, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

USCIS says it has beefed up manpower to deal with the volume, but anticipates it will be 2010 before processing times will drop back to those pre-surge.

While discussing its efforts to address the surge, USCIS makes no mention of how it plans to combat the multi-year delay of thousands of naturalization applications due to pending FBI name checks.

Immigration attorneys nationwide have been forced to address these delays by filing a mandamus lawsuit in federal court against DHS/USCIS and the FBI to compel the government to finish processing the applications. For more information about mandamus lawsuits, please visit AILF (the American Immigration Law Foundation), which is tracking mandamus actions against the government for delays of both naturalization and adjustment of status (I-485) applications.