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When, Why & How Long: Answers & Questions about Immigration

Hi guys, this is New York-based immigration attorney Marina Shepelsky. Today I answer the questions everyone has been asking me: 

When will my immigration case be called?

When is my court date?

Why are immigration cases taking longer?

How long will it take for USCIS to give me an update?

Here’s what’s going on with the long wait times for immigration cases, and why it happened in the first place. Then, I’ll explain what’s happening in my practice to show you how the courts and USCIS are moving cases along.

Because of the pandemic, a lot of the immigration offices were completely shut down. Consular offices posts were completely shut down. Nobody was coming in for interviews, while immigration courts, for months (some cases a year and a half, like our New York offices), were completely shut down. The National Visa Center (NVC), was working and moving cases along, but there was nowhere to move these cases because NVC’s job is to take cases approved by USCIS in the United States, collect everything that the consular post needs, and send it to the embassy for the interview.

☝In addition to this, a lot of people were working remotely. Work was getting done very slowly and waiting for things to be sent over by mail. The Vermont Service center officers who make decisions on VAWA cases, for example, had been working from home already for many years. So, when you file a VAWA case, the Vermont service center collects everything, sends them a box to their house or home. They look through it, they make decisions to type it up and then they send it back to the Vermont service center. It’s a back and forth process, and this was already in place even before COVID.

Slowly, everything began to reopen and immigration courts slowly reopened. So why have VAWA cases have been taking longer? 

📂Our New York courts didn’t reopen until August 2021. None of the hearings were going forward, so when everything reopened, court dates got shuffled. The cases that needed to be heard (previously scheduled and canceled because of COVID) are getting heard first. However, some of the judges have moved, retired, are no longer there. All of the calendars are getting reorganized, so it’s not proven or even promised that the case that was supposed to have been heard during the pandemic is going to get heard quickly. Some people were rescheduled for 2022, 2023, even later. Now that things have reopened with immigration courts, I see them rescheduling things that were already rescheduled.

Even the fact that you were rescheduled at first doesn’t mean you’re going to get heard. I had a client who was supposed to get heard in September. Now, on September 7th, she just received the letter that her case was moved to November to another judge. Everything is changing daily. They’re still trying to get used to this new system. 

Are there remote hearings?

Yes, some courts are now doing some hearings remotely, which means they send you a link and you do it like this on camera, by Microsoft teams or Zoom or whatever that particular court decided to use. Others are going in person to have a full-blown individual hearing with a judge in person. It depends on where you live, so be patient and wait for news. The interesting thing about immigration courts hearings is that we really didn’t receive any letters about the rescheduling of anything.

The only way to find your court hearing date is by checking online through the automatic immigration court system. If you have your alien number, you can go online and check your case status using the automatic immigration court system, you enter your number and you hit enter, and it tells you when your next hearing is scheduled for, the place of hearing, and the name of your immigration judge. That might change. This week it’s one thing, it might change next week. I recommend you check your check once a week.

❓What’s happening with immigration interviews?

Finally, they’re bringing back asylum officers, to interview people for asylum interviews. People are surprised to hear that this new system that Trump started is still in place, which means the last one in the first one, scheduled. Whoever is now filing for asylum, those people are getting interviewed for asylum very quickly, within 60 days or even less. If you filed for asylum five, six, even seven years ago, you are still going to be waiting. Please be patient and keep waiting. Many of those people haven’t seen their children in years. Haven’t seen their parents, their family members, and they’re so frustrated with our system. I totally hear you. I’m just explaining to you that the people who filed long before aren’t waiting in line, and they’re sort of on the bottom. The people at the top of the list who are getting scheduled are the people who are filing right now. As I said, Trump started the system and it’s still in place. 

❓What’s going on with the removal of conditions? How long does it take to remove the conditions on a green card? Why is USCIS taking so long in 2021?

For those who filed for removal of conditions (meaning you had a two-year temporary conditional green card in the marriage to a US citizen), now it’s time for you to file for removal of conditions to get that permanent unconditional green card.

A new rule that just came out is that anybody filing after September 4th is going to get 24 months automatic extension letter of your status. Your two-year status is getting extended by two more years. While you’re waiting, you’ll have that letter of automatic two-year / 24-month extension to show to your employer, to travel and come back to the United States with while they’re taking their sweet time to make a decision on your new I-751 decision. They even promised to send these automatic two-year extensions to people already right now, waiting for a decision on their I-751. Make sure that you have the right address with USCIS. If you moved recently, you can just go online and change your address online, having your alien number and your receipt number there with you. When you’re doing this online, you have to put in your old address, your new address, your alien number, and all your case numbers in that, and they will update your address everywhere.

📑People who filed for consular petitions. Some examples are parents of US citizens, children of US citizens, green card holders, filing for family members, employer petitions for green cards. All of those are finally coming back for interviews too. It’s a disaster because a lot of cases were canceled. A lot of cases were pending and new cases have come in and they have to go to embassies. And certain embassies are just reopening now, and others were interviewing people before. To deal with that, the Department of State met with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (our organization), and they declared that the way they’re scheduling they’re scheduling those cases is as follows:

🔷They now have a four-tier system in which the first category, the first tier, they will be scheduling, in the months to come, is inter-country adoptions, US citizens, and green card holders adopting kids from other countries.

👶Also kids who are aging out, kids who are about to turn 21, also emergencies. They said, look, anybody who’s working in the healthcare industry directly with COVID and will be helping the United States by coming in and working in some facility in a COVID-fighting system, we’ll schedule you as an emergency if you just requested. You can request to expedite, and you can email that to Um, okay. So that’s tier one.

🔷Tier two will be immediate family members of US citizens waiting for an interview. That’s kids under 21, spouses, and parents of US citizens. Anybody waiting for an interview for a fiancé(e) K-1 visa will be in tier two.

🔷Category three is going to be all the non-immediate relatives, their preference categories. Those are green card holders who filed for spouse or kids under 21, US citizens who filed for children over 21, married children of US citizens, siblings of US citizens. They’re all in tier three.

🔷Tier four will be for anybody with a diversity lottery winning number and all the employment green card petitions. So this is for those people waiting for an embassy consular interview in another country. They will have a four-tiered system and depending on what category you filed in, your relative will be scheduled according to the preference category tiers that they have now created.

National Visa Center is continuing to accept everything and process visas and they’re working pretty fast. I am seeing them finally scheduling things in embassies. I’m seeing them collecting all the documents for all these cases they’re working and they’re doing everything right. They’re probably my least concern of all the other agencies.

What I’m seeing is that the people who were supposed to have an interview that was scheduled and then canceled because of COVID, that’s getting scheduled first and foremost in consular posts. If your relative was supposed to have a counselor interview just before everything got shut down or during the time of shutdown, they’re rescheduling those people right now, and I’m seeing that in my practice. Kids who are aging out, I see them scheduling those kids first and foremost.

‍⚖️‍📝 That pretty much concludes what I had to say. Remember, if you have an immigration court case, you could be rescheduled for two or three years from now and check the online automated court system with your alien number. USCIS cases, all the delays are there, they’re taking their sweet time with everything because remember, they still have to deal with the old cases and the new cases that are coming in now, plus all the cases that were filed during COVID. They’re slowly bringing those in. They have to abide by social distancing rules for interviews; they cannot schedule as many, volume-wise, people. I now see about 25%, one quarter, of what they use to schedule before COVID. They cannot schedule as many people. They have to make sure people are sitting six feet apart. And then the employees there are also doing social distancing. They have to make sure that everybody’s safe and everybody’s wearing a mask and all of that. A lot of people are canceling because of being sick with COVID. So they have to deal with all that at the USCIS centers.

The biometrics fingerprints process has resumed and is taking time as well. Everything is back to normal, more or less. Slowly, but surely we’ll get there, be patient. A lot of times when you crawl, you may not be able to reach somebody right away, just again, be patient. A lot of things can now be done online. That’s You can email NVC. They’re very responsive, but it might take them a week or two to get back to you. Keep that in mind.

🙏Thank you for reading until the end. Thank you for your patience with your case! America thanks you for bearing with the process. Thank you for sticking around on our website and reading through our blog. We invite you to become a subscriber. Give us a like on social media Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook ! We work with clients from all over the United States and definitely from all over the world and we don’t care where you live. We can help you figure out your visa, immigration, and green card situations. 

Shepelsky Law Group
US Immigration Experts
Tel: (718)769-6352