USCIS’s Efforts to Address Backlogs and Delays Amidst COVID-19

For any of us who were monitoring immigration processing times under the Trump administration, cases weren’t exactly flying through at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Case processing times were slowing and increasingly unpredictable in 2019 and early 2020. (A recent study revealed that processing times increased six-fold between 2015 and 2020.) And then COVID-19 happened. Fast forward to the present, there are backlogs across the board at USCIS. With staff shortages, office closings, and the general challenges of managing the pandemic, USCIS application processes are rife with delays. Fortunately, USCIS has implemented measures to address some of these problems, with some success, but the Biden administration has much work ahead.

Copies of “Wet” Signatures Accepted:

Beginning in March 2020, USCIS implemented changes to address the challenges of the pandemic, in an effort to continue receiving and processing cases, even if delayed. To the agency’s credit, USCIS began accepting reproduced original signatures on benefit forms and documents. That meant photocopies, scans, facsimiles, and similar reproductions of original handwritten “wet” signatures would be accepted at USCIS. The policy was a welcomed change and remains in place. More changes followed.

Flexibility in Responding to USCIS Requests:

At the end of March 2020, USCIS announced that it would extend response times to certain agency requests. The policy has continued, with USCIS confirming as recently as December 30, 2021 that the flexibility on response times will continue for the below USCIS requests, if the issuance date on the request, notice, or decision is between March 1, 2020 and (up to and including) March 26, 2022:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind;
  • Notices of Intent to Terminate; and
  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 application for naturalization under 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant.

Under this policy, USCIS will deem a response timely if filed within 60 calendar days of the due date set in the request or notice. Under the change, USCIS will not take action on the request or notice until after that 60-day extension period has passed. The agency also announced other response flexibility measures regarding Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, and Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings.

Biometrics appointments:

Another adjustment we saw earlier in the pandemic was related to biometrics appointments. (Biometrics are in-person appointments at Application Support Centers (ASC) for applicants to provide their fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature for the primary purpose of conducting a background check.) Before COVID-19, biometrics appointments were routinely scheduled in processes such as applications for employment authorization (EAD), adjustment of status to become a permanent resident (“green card”), green card renewals (Form I-90), removal of conditions on resident status (Form I-751), and naturalization to become a U.S. citizen (Form N-400). At some point, USCIS began issuing biometrics notices to advise that the agency would use fingerprints already on file, when available. Those notices are still being issued with some regularity (based on our clients’ experiences in recent months).

I-90 Receipt Notices:

Delays in immigration processing times are problematic, without question, but those who need ongoing proof of resident status or employment authorization face particularly troubling issues if USCIS fails to process benefits for prolonged periods of time. USCIS announced that starting in January 2021, a permanent resident applying to renew their green card (Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) would receive a filing receipt notice (Form I-797) that can be used with the expired green card as proof of lawful permanent resident status, including for work and travel purposes. (The green card is also known as the Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card.) The receipt notice confirms that it serves, paired with the expired permanent resident card, as proof of resident status for 12 months from the expiration date of the resident card. If the I-90 green card renewal process remains pending beyond the 12-month period, the applicant may call USCIS at 800-375-5283 to ask about receiving an Alien Documentation, Identification & Telecommunications (ADIT) stamp.

I-751 Receipt Notices:

Speaking of receipt notices, USCIS also extended the time that receipt notices can be used as ongoing proof of resident status for conditional permanent residents seeking to remove conditions (i.e., moving from the 2-year conditional green card to the 10-year green card). For a properly filed Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, or Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, USCIS extended the time that the I-797 filing receipt can be used to show ongoing resident status.

While the application process is pending, the filing receipt can be used, with the existing green card, as proof of resident status for 24 months after the green card’s expiration date. (Before the 24-month update, the prior period was 18 months after the resident card’s expiration date.) What about conditional permanent residents who filed before the rule took effect? USCIS will issue new receipt notices to eligible conditional residents to reflect the 24-month extension.

Employment Authorization:

Applicants for renewals of employment authorization (Form I-765), may receive an automatic 180-day extension on work authorization if timely filing under certain categories. Some of those categories include asylee, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), pending asylum applicant, pending applicant for adjustment of status (permanent residence / green card, and VAWA self-petitioner.

Recently, USCIS announced that there are possible expedites available for healthcare workers with pending renewals for employment authorization (EAD). To address processing time delays, which have hit EADs particularly hard, and in recognition of the clear need for healthcare workers’ services, pending EAD renewal applicants, who are healthcare workers, and whose EADs expire within 30 days or less (or have already expired) may be eligible for expedited treatment. To request expedited processing in that situation, an EAD renewal applicant should call USCIS at 800-375-5283 and make sure they have the receipt notice available.


Do not be discouraged by the idea of delays. It is after all USCIS and U.S. immigration we’re talking about. Delays were a part of the system before the pandemic, and they will be here long after (we hopefully put COVID-19 behind us). Do not let potential backlogs and delays prevent you from filing for a benefit with USCIS that you are eligible for. There is something to be said about filing and getting in line rather than never filing and never giving yourself a chance. Despite the delays, it is encouraging to see how USCIS has tried to acknowledge and address the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to immigration benefit processing, and in the future we hope to see more such measures or, even better, a reduced need for them!

If you have questions about U.S. immigration processing times or application processes with USCIS, contact our legal team today. You can schedule a consultation with us by reaching out online or at (312) 702-1782">(312) 702-1782. Se habla español!