On January 25, 2022, USCIS updated its policy guidance regarding criteria used to determine whether a case warrants expedited treatment. USCIS updated the expedited processing criteria to include the following circumstances:
- Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the Petitioner’s or applicant’s failure:
- To timely file the benefit request; or
- To timely respond to any requests for additional evidence
- Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;
- Nonprofit organizations (as designated by the IRS) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural or social interests of the US;
- US government interests (such as urgent cases identified by federal agencies such as the US Department of Defense, US Department of Labor, National Labor Relations Board, DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
- Clear USCIS error.
(1) Severe Financial Loss
A company can demonstrate it would suffer a severe financial loss if it is at risk of failing, losing a critical contact, or required to lay off other employees. Job loss may be sufficient to establish severe financial loss for a person, depending on the individual circumstances, however, please note that the need to obtain work authorization, without evidence of other compelling factors, does not warrant an expedite request. A letter from an employer or employee documenting the positions functions, the challenge finding someone else with the requisite skills to cover, specific deadlines, and financial hardship should be sufficient evidence.
(2) Emergencies or Urgent Humanitarian Reasons
Humanitarian reasons are those related to human welfare such as illness, disability, extreme living conditions, death in the family, or a critical need to travel to obtain medical treatment in a limited amount of time. An urgent need to expedite employment authorization for healthcare workers during a national emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, may constitute an emergency. The desire to travel for a vacation does not rise to the level of an emergency.
(3) Nonprofit Organizations
A nonprofit organization must demonstrate an urgent need to expedite the case based on the beneficiary’s specific role within the nonprofit in furthering cultural or social interests. The request cannot be based on the organization’s role in furthering social or cultural interests. Expedite requests from a nonprofit should include a letter from the employer/nonprofit explaining why the beneficiary is specifically needed.
(4) US Government Interests
The national interest need must be immediate and substantive. If the need for action is not immediate, expedited processing is not warranted. A substantive need necessitates that the case at hand is of a scale or a uniqueness that requires immediate action to prevent real and serious harm to US interests. Expedite requests from a government agency, whether federal, state or local, must be made by a senior-level official of that agency.
(5) Clear USCIS Error
If a USCIS mistake causes an individual to lose time in status and it can be proven, an expedite request can be submitted. Critical mistakes can include things such as using incorrect dates that cut short a visas validity period. Individuals will need to submit proof that USCIS made the error rather than the petitioner or applicant.
USCIS has noted that even if an individual’s situation fits in one of the above listed categories it may not warrant expedited processing. USCIS considers all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and it is within USCIS’ sole discretion whether an expedite request is granted. These requests are typically granted when the facts are overwhelmingly sympathetic and the individual can quickly and clearly explain the reason for the request.
How to Request Expedited Processing
Individuals can request expedited processing by calling the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 or by utilizing the Ask Emma function on the USCIS website. You will need a copy of your receipt number in order to complete the request. Once connected to a USCIS agent, you will need to inform them you wish to place an expedite request. You should provide as much detail as possible. After USCIS receives the expedite request the reviewing office may request additional documentation. USCIS will then issue an expedite decision indicating whether USCIS will take the expedite request and issue a decision faster than the normal processing time. A decision on an expedite request is not an approval or a denial of the underlying benefit request.
While USCIS generally does not consider expedite requests for petitions where Premium Processing is available, a nonprofit organization may submit an expedite request even if premium processing is available for that case.
Expedite Request Denied, Now What?
If the expedite request is denied, individuals may submit an E-Request in limited situations. For example, an e-request may be submitted if a case is outside of the normal processing time. Once an e-request is submitted, USCIS will send an email to the email address provided with a request ID number and a date when a reply should be expected. USCIS does not always respond on time so it is advised to keep track of all efforts made by the Petitioner for the specific case.
When a case is well outside of posted processing times and no progress has been made via the e-request, one option to consider is to reach out to a local member of Congress. An individual must submit an e-request before reaching out to a member of Congress. To find the specific office that can assist you, please visit https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative. There should be a “Help with Federal Agency” option on each individual congressperson’s website. Requestors will need to follow the specific instructions on the website to submit this request. Requestors should be prepared with information specific to their case such as alien numbers, receipt numbers, dates of notices, or copies of receipt notices. The more information that can be provided, the better.
Lastly, individuals can consider contacting the CIS Ombudsman’s Office. The Ombudsman’s office requests applicants to first contact USCIS before submitting a request to their office. If assistance is still required, one may contact the Ombudsman’s Office by filing a Form DHS-7001 online or by mail. Individuals should only contact the Ombudsman’s office if the case is outside of USCIS’ published processing times or if the expedite request has not yet been denied by USCI
By: Ashley E. Thomas
Ashley Thomas is a Senior Associate Attorney at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. who focuses on employment-based non-immigrant visas. Ashley’s practice covers all phases of the visa process including filing petitions, responding to Requests for Evidence (RFE), and drafting motions and appeals. She developed her passion for immigration in law school where she participated in the Asylum and Human Trafficking Legal Clinic, allowing her the privilege to work with indigent clients in preparing asylum, T visa, and U visa applications. She hopes to continue to play a role in helping individuals start their life in the United States as well as help them navigate the complex and difficult immigration process.