Many factors affect the time it takes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process immigration applications, including the type of benefit you’re applying for and which USCIS service center or field office is processing your forms. This article covers the factors that affect immigration application processing, how to check your case status throughout processing, and what to do if your application is taking longer than the average processing time.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated November 14, 2022
How Long Does It Take USCIS To Process Immigration Forms?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has five service centers that process most immigration applications. Four main factors affect the processing time:
The type of immigration application you submitted and the number of required forms for that application
Your personal background
Which service center or field office is processing your application
The current USCIS backlog at your service center
Your Application Type and USCIS Processing Times
Some types of immigration benefits require fewer forms than others. For example, if you’re applying for citizenship by naturalization or for a DACA renewal, you’ll submit one main form (along with supporting documents). But other types of immigration benefits require applicants to submit multiple forms, as well as supporting documentation.
For example, to apply for a green card, you usually need someone to petition on your behalf— either an employer with Form I-140 or a family member with Form I-130. Once that’s processed, you as the beneficiary/applicant need to apply for an adjustment of status with Form I-485 if you’re applying from within the United States. If you’re applying from outside the United States, you’ll use Form DS-260 or DS-261.
How Long Does the Whole Application Process Take?
USCIS’ form processing time is a major factor in how long your whole application process will take, but other factors affect the wait as well. For example, USCIS mails out official notices to explain status changes as your case progresses. Your total application time will include the time it takes for these notices to land in your mailbox and for you to respond if required. If USCIS sends you a Request for Evidence (RFE), this can lengthen the time it takes to complete the application process.
To learn more about how long your application process may take and how long each step takes, check out these articles:
How Can I Check the Status of My Immigration Application?
To check your immigration application status, you first have to figure out where your application is. Generally, if you submitted your application from inside the U.S., it will be processed by USCIS. If you submitted your application from outside the U.S. by consular processing, it will be processed by USCIS first and then forwarded to the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). Finally, the NVC will forward it to the U.S.embassy or consulate closest to you.
How To Check Your Application at USCIS
You can check your application's status by entering your application receipt number in USCIS's online case status tool. You can also check your application status by calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.
For more information, read our How To Check Your USCIS Case Status article.
How To Check Your Application at the National Visa Center (NVC)
If your application is at the NVC, you can check its status by entering your immigrant visa case number in the State Department’s online visa status checker tool. You can also call the NVC at 1-603-334-0700.
When the NVC receives your approved case from USCIS, it assigns an immigrant visa case number to it. The case number has 14 characters; three letters at the beginning with 11 numbers following. You can find your case number in the welcome letter that the NVC sent you. You should have your immigrant visa case number on hand when you call the NVC so it can provide you with the latest details on your application.
How To Check Your Application With a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
The NVC will forward your application to the U.S. embassy or consulate that is closest to the address you listed on your visa application. If you have questions about your application while it’s at the U.S. embassy or consulate, you should contact the embassy or consulate directly. The U.S. Department of State lists embassy and consulate contact information on its website.
What Should I Do if My Application Is Taking Too Long?
Immigrating to the U.S. includes a lot of waiting. Some waiting is normal. Other times there may be a problem with your application. To find out how long it’s currently taking USCIS to process your application type, use the USCIS case processing tool. You’ll need to know the number of the form you submitted and the field office or service center that is processing your case. Then, check the case status of your application to see how it matches up. You’ll need the receipt number from your receipt notice to check your case status. If your case falls outside USCIS’s normal processing time, you may want to take action.
Note that the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect USCIS processing times. COVID-19 caused backlogs at some processing centers and led to changes in certain aspects of the immigration process that changed wait times. USCIS continues to keep a COVID-19 response page with the latest information about how the agency is dealing with the continued effects of the pandemic.
Here are some steps you can take if your application is taking too long.
Contact USCIS if You Haven’t Received a Receipt Notice
Whether you’re filing your case from inside or outside the United States, USCIS will usually be your first point of contact. If USCIS hasn’t mailed you a receipt notice confirming that it has received your application, you definitely want to follow up. USCIS usually sends this notice two to three weeks after you submit your application. If it’s been a month or more since you sent in your forms and you haven’t gotten a receipt notice, or if you have other concerns about your case processing time, contact the USCIS service center or field office where you submitted your case. A field officer can help you figure out what’s going on.
Resubmit Your Application
You might want to consider resubmitting your application in the following instances:
You determine that, for some reason, your application was never delivered to USCIS.
USCIS lost your application.
Your immigration request expired, and USCIS considered it abandoned.
In cases like these, you should resubmit your application as soon as possible. Be sure to keep a scanned copy of any documents you submit to USCIS so that you can easily refile if you need to. Remember to update any relevant information since you first applied, including a change of address. Don’t forget to include the required filing fee as well!
Contact the Agency Handling Your Application
If you’re filing your immigration application from inside the United States, USCIS will be your main point of contact if you have questions about your case. USCIS encourages applicants to look online for case status updates and information before contacting a USCIS agent. You can also call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.
If you’re filing your application from outside the United States, your point of contact depends on what stage your application is in. You may need to contact a USCIS service center or field office, the National Visa Center, or the U.S. embassy or consulate assigned to your case. You should usually contact the most recent government office that has provided an update to your application. You can contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 and give the NVC a call at 1-603-334-0700. You can also retrieve the information of the U.S. embassy or consulate handling your case on the U.S. embassy website.
File a Case Inquiry
If you have a case pending with USCIS outside normal processing times, you can submit a case inquiry to USCIS on its website. You will need to have your receipt number, A-number, the date you filed your application, the type of application you filed, and your email address on hand.
If you have a case pending with the NVC outside the average processing time window, you can ask for a case update using the Ask NVC tool. You will need to enter your NVC case number or USCIS receipt number on the portal to submit your inquiry.
File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request
If you still aren’t able to get the information you need, you can file a FOIA request with the agency processing your case.
If you’re filing your application inside the U.S., you would make a FOIA request to USCIS. You can do this if you have tried to get an update on the status of your application by contacting USCIS directly but were not successful. The length of time it takes USCIS to respond to your FOIA request will depend on how complicated your case is and the backlog at the USCIS service center or field office.
If you’re filing your application from outside the U.S., you’d file a FOIA request with either USCIS or the National Visa Center. You should submit the FOIA request when you’ve tried unsuccessfully to get an update on your application from USCIS or the NVC. The length of time for USCIS or NVC to respond to your FOIA request will depend on how complicated your case is and the backlog at the USCIS service center or field office.
Find a Lawyer
It may also be useful to have an experienced immigration lawyer look into the delay on your behalf. A good lawyer will be able to walk you through what may be behind the delay in processing your application.