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EAD Processing Delays Cause Hardship, Says Ombudsman
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On July 11, 2011, the Department of Homeland Security's Ombudsman noted that in some cases the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fails to meet its regulatory requirement to process applications for employment authorization in 90 days, and USCIS generally does not issue interim employment authorization documents (EADs).

These processing delays have adverse consequences for employers and foreign national employees—applicants experience financial hardship from job interruption and termination, families face suspension of health benefits and individuals have difficulty renewing driver's licenses, while business operations stall from loss of employee services. The lack of immediate resolution through USCIS' designated venues exacerbates the situation.

The Ombudsman recommended that USCIS take the following actions to improve EAD processing:

  • establish methods at local offices to facilitate immediate resolution;
  • establish a uniform processing time goal of 45 days for adjudication and 60 days for EAD issuance;
  • improve monitoring and ensure real-time visibility through an automated system for tracking processing times;
  • follow established internal procedures for issuing interim EADs in cases where background checks are pending; and
  • issue replacement EADs with validity dates beginning on the date the old EAD expires.

USCIS currently directs applicants with EAD delays to contact the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) or the local district office; however, neither venue has the ability to provide direct assistance. The Ombudsman noted that USCIS is reviewing the procedures and may provide field offices with updated guidance on how to assist individuals with EAD applications pending beyond 90 days. Currently, USCIS representatives or officers assist individuals with delayed I-765s by submitting service requests or sending e-mails to the National Benefits Center or service centers.

While both service requests and emails alert the applicable office of a delay, I-765 adjudication and EAD delivery may take 10 or more days. According to the Ombudsman, even though customers receive responses to service requests in five days for expedite requests and 15 days for all other requests, these responses are often "generic and unhelpful." The responses are often that an applicant's case is "under review" but do not provide a timeline for issuance of the EAD. Other responses merely state that a decision will be issued in 30 or 60 days, when the application has already been pending more than 90 days. The Ombudsman said "such responses fail to address the problem because they do not assist the customer in rapidly obtaining an interim or final EAD. The failure to communicate useful information to customers often results in repeated telephone and in-person inquiries, causing inefficiencies for USCIS."

The Ombudsman also said USCIS' website lists alternative contact information, such as email addresses, for service centers and the USCIS Headquarters Office of Service Center Operations. However, before people email those addresses, USCIS advises them to wait 30 days for a response from NCSC and 21 days for a response from the service centers, "when even one day of delay may lead to financial loss for EAD applicants and business disruption for employers."

The Ombudsman termed the Vermont Service Center's five-day processing goal for background checks conducted in connection with adjudication of an I-765 a "best practice." Adjudicators email cases to the Background Check Unit (BCU), identifying the form type and marking it as an expedite request in the subject line. BCU monitors the inbox to ensure that cases are promptly referred to adjudicators and resolved within the specified timeline. This process allows USCIS to resolve minor concerns immediately, while carefully reviewing cases that involve national security, egregious public safety issues, criminal convictions or immigration fraud.

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