Recently, I was pleasantly surprised by early approvals of “stand-alone” spousal and other relative petitions. These are petitions processed at the consular level or at the US embassies. Petitions filed in January 2014 were approved in March 2014. These include petitions for alien relatives (Form I-130, spousal, minor child, parent) or fiancée visas (Form I-129F).
Until mid-2013 it took the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) six to seven months to adjudicate such matters, and now these are processed in half the time. For the really “lucky” clients, some of my filings are even approved in a little more than a month.
To avoid disappointment or dissatisfaction, I usually advise clients to wait for six to seven months before they call the office, but now they are in disbelief at this quick turn of events. All I can say is “Stop complaining and count your blessings!” This could be a temporary reprieve caused by re-organization and might not happen again.
In the meantime, some clients’ petitions that were filed earlier (August 2013) have not been adjudicated yet. Worse, these cases are being transferred from one service center to another for the following purposes: To resolve problems of delay; to “unload or ‘unclog” the dockets of one service center and the petitions are assigned to another center that is less burdened; and to expedite the resolution of cases that have been pending for quite a while.
But what happens to those who are caught in between? Calls made to USCIS inquiring about the cause of the delay of the August 2013 cases in the wake of the swift adjudication of the early 2014 filings have become a futile exercise. No doubt, there are a multitude of questions, and we are advised to wait and be patient. It is a baffling phenomenon, but it sounds like an opportunity knocking on the door.
Here is another serendipitous situation: In August and September 2013, the Visa Bulletin announced that the visas of spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents or “green card holders” (F2A) have become “current,” meaning, instead of waiting for two years from the date their petition was filed (priority date), the USCIS could process their visas, and they could come to the US right away, just like the spouses of US citizens who are classified as immediate relatives and do not have waiting period for the processing of their visas.
Again, this was unexpected, and the USCIS or the Department of State (DOS) offered no explanation. Commencing in October 2013 up to the present however, the status of many petitions has remained stuck at “Sept 08 2013.” Thish means that only petitions to be approved prior to September 2013 can now be processed. Still, the wait is less than two years.
Even with an established system and an ongoing review of immigration policies and regulations, there seems to be an inherent unpredictability in the outcomes. For most Filipinos, it is a familiar experience, reminding us of those grueling, cold, dark early-morning waiting in long line at the gate of the US Embassy in Ermita, Manila. Carrying precious documents, we did not really knowing what the criteria are as we stood in front of a consular officer at the glass window.
Our fate every time we faced the officers 30 years ago or today is the same: We do not know. We do not know what questions will be asked, and we do not know what decisions will be made. Ultimately, it is an exercise of discretion on the part of the officers, and as far as the execution and implementation of laws affecting entry of aliens to the US and the security and safety of the nation as a whole are concerned, a wide latitude is granted to consular officers or to the Department of State or Department of Homeland Security.