Skip to Content

Decoding USCIS’s Processing Time and Case Status Updates for Employment-Based Adjustment of Status Applications

             For I-485 applicants wanting to track progress on their case, USCIS’s online case management tools can sometimes provide guidance, but they can often lead to more questions than answers. The agency recently made updates to its Employment-Based Adjustment of Status FAQs page that provide some insight into the information applicants find on these online tools.

Processing Times

          USCIS’s Processing Times tool purports to provide an estimate of how long a regular (non-premium) case will take to adjudicate, based on the form type, category, and USCIS office location where it is pending. Applicants who have filed their I-485 application concurrently with their I-140 petition would have mailed their cases to either the Texas or Nebraska Service Centers, since these are the service centers that process I-140 petitions. And while they may receive an I-485 receipt notice listing the Texas Service Center (TSC) or Nebraska Service Center (NSC), it is likely that TSC/NSC are not where the I-485 will eventually be adjudicated. The USCIS FAQs clarify that the agency’s current practice is to forward the I-485 application to the National Benefits Center (NBC) after approval of the I-140 petition, if the I-140 is in the EB-1, 2, or 3 categories. The I-485 will then be processed by the NBC’s Field Office Directorate, meaning the case will likely be forwarded to the USCIS field office closest to the applicant’s home address for final adjudication.

            The location dropdown selection in the processing times tool for employment-based I-485 applications therefore lists a number of cities, referring to the local field offices that will perform final adjudication of the case. The dropdown does also include the TSC and NSC, but USCIS’s FAQs clarify that the only I-485s processed directly at the service centers are EB-4-based applications, and applications with particularly complex circumstances and/or procedural histories. The posted processing times for TSC and NSC are therefore not an accurate reflection of the majority of EB-1, 2, or 3 I-485 applications, which will be adjudicated at local field offices.

            Visa Number Availability

         Even if an applicant selects his or her local field office from the dropdown menu, there are a number of reasons why this may also not be reflective of the total processing time for an employment-based I-485 application. The main factor that will increase the overall time for a final decision is the availability of an immigrant visa, i.e., whether the applicant’s priority date is current according to that month’s Final Action Dates chart published by the State department. An I-485 application cannot be finally adjudicated until the associated priority date is current according to the final action dates chart, regardless of how long it has been pending. Since the availability of immigrant visas cannot be anticipated by USCIS, its processing times website does not take into account the amount of time it may take for an applicant’s priority date to become current.

            Local Field Offices

In addition, the applicant may not be able to anticipate which local field office will process his or her I-485 application until it has been transferred. While the case would typically be assigned to the field office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s home address at that time, there have been many instances where an applicant’s I-485 was being processed by a field office across the country from their residence, with no apparent connection to them. This has usually happened during periods where USCIS was under significant time pressure to adjudicate large numbers of applications (2021-2022, for example) before visa numbers ran out at the end of the fiscal year. The agency appeared to be assigning I-485 applications to any field office at that time that had capacity to process them, even if they were outside the applicant’s home city. Applicants with a registered myUSCIS account will sometimes receive a notification when their case is transferred from one office to another though, and the specific field office may be identified at that time when NBC transfers the file.

           Concurrent vs. Separate Filing

           A consequence of USCIS transferring all EB-1, 2, and 3-based I-485s to the NBC is that there is no longer any particular processing time advantage in filing an I-485 application separately from the I-140 petition, as opposed to filing concurrently (if the visa bulletin allows for concurrent filing). Previously, when TSC and NSC directly adjudicated I-485 applications that had been filed there, a significant processing time difference was observable, particularly between TSC and NBC, and many applicants purposely sought to file the I-485 directly with NBC, separate from the I-140 which had to be submitted to the Service Centers. With the Service Centers now transferring most EB-1, 2, and 3 I-485s to the NBC anyway, there is little advantage to filing separately, unless the applicant prefers to wait for the I-140 decision before proceeding with the I-485 filing.

Case Status

           Applicants may also look to USCIS’s online Case Status website for information on their I-485 application using their I-485 receipt number (myUSCIS account registrants also receive automatic updates in the portal). The FAQ confirmed that a “Case Remains Pending” message indicates that the I-485 application has been reviewed, but cannot be approved due to lack of an available visa number. For applicants who filed their I-485 application in the past few years and then saw the priority dates retrogress, this is the most likely case status listed for their application, and may remain as such for several years until their priority date becomes current.

            A number of applicants’ case status in the past year also updated to “Case Was Updated to Show Fingerprints Were Taken,” seemingly randomly, since it had been months since their biometrics appointment. The USCIS FAQ page now confirms that this notification was made automatically as a result of internal updates to USCIS’s systems. The applicants do not need to take further action on their case, and their application will continue processing.

            As with many USCIS online tools, it is important to keep in mind that the Case Status website is not always accurate. The tool can often provide the most up-to-date information, since actions such as approval, denial, or issuance of a Request for Evidence will typically be updated on the Case Status website the same day the action is taken, several days before the hard copy correspondence arrives in the mail. However, the Case Status website has frequently been subject to glitches or confusing updates, such as the biometrics notification. Applicants should ensure they are still checking their mailing address for correspondence on their case to be appraised of any changes.

By: Rebecca Chen

Rebecca Chen is a Partner at Reddy & Neumann. Her representation includes advising clients throughout the non-immigrant and immigrant visa application process, from initial filing, responding to various requests for evidence, and processing at overseas consulates. Her years of experience in the immigration field have made her a knowledgeable resource for complex business immigration matters.