Photo of Form I-129

Navigating the hazards: How United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can complicate cases

The process of immigrating to the United States is challenging and complex. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plays a crucial role in this process, but unfortunately, they aren’t infallible.

Mistakes and errors can occur that may complicate immigration cases and cause unnecessary delays or even denials. Below are common ways USCIS can make errors that could impact immigration cases and information about how to potentially mitigate these issues.

Lost documents

One of the most common issues faced by immigrants is the loss of important documents submitted to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. These documents could include applications, supporting evidence or original documents like passports or birth certificates. USCIS receives a large volume of paperwork, and documents may sometimes get misplaced or lost in the shuffle.

Generally, original documents should not be sent to USCIS, unless specifically requested. If requested, always make copies and consider sending applications via certified mail or a courier such as Federal Express, with tracking, to have proof of receipt. Note that USCIS will not return original documents.

Processing delays

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services processing times can vary widely depending on the type of application and the service center responsible for the specific case. Delays can occur for various reasons, including increased workloads, staffing issues or system glitches.

Such delays can lead to uncertainty and anxiety for applicants. The processing times on the USCIS website do not in any way conform to future prospective processing times and are generally a snapshot in time designed to discourage litigation.

Foreign nationals can keep a close eye on USCIS processing times on their website and plan their immigration timeline accordingly. If their case is significantly delayed, consider reaching out to experienced immigration counsel to discuss the best strategies and next steps, which could include litigation.

Incorrect visa classifications or priority dates

USCIS officers determine eligibility for a specific visa category based on the information provided in the application. Mistakes or misinterpretations of the applicant’s qualifications can lead to the application being denied or being placed in the wrong visa category. Mistakes do regularly happen at USCIS when entering data and codes into their system.

Applicants should consider consulting with an experienced immigration attorney to help accurately present their case and ensure that they meet the eligibility criteria for their desired visa category. Experienced counsel can also contact USCIS if there is an error on any part of the case, especially the visa class, priority date or name.

Inconsistent adjudications

USCIS officers have a degree of discretion when reviewing immigration cases, which can sometimes lead to inconsistent adjudications. Worse, insufficient training, a lack of supervisory oversight and/or biased adjudicators all contribute to inconsistent decisions. Different officers may interpret immigration regulations differently, resulting in varying outcomes for similar cases.

Applicants can stay informed about immigration policies and regulations to understand their rights and potential outcomes. If they believe their case was unfairly adjudicated, consider speaking with experienced legal counsel, who may recommend appealing and/or litigation.

Communication issues

USCIS sometimes fails to communicate effectively with applicants, leading to confusion and misunderstandings. Missing important notifications or requests for additional evidence can significantly impact the outcome of a case. Regularly, USCIS issues Requests for Evidence or Notices of Intent to Deny that ignore previously submitted evidence or that misstate the evidence presented.

Foreign nationals should regularly check their USCIS account for updates and ensure their contact information is up to date. They should keep copies of all correspondence with USCIS for their records and seek experienced legal assistance to resolve all issues.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services overpromising what its automated systems such as My Progress and MyUSCIS can do

Foreign nationals should not rely on any time estimates given by any of these systems as they are – by USCIS’s own admission – just their best guess. They should, however, communicate with their attorney to see whether the actual timelines correspond in any way to the estimates they are seeing in practice.

Mail room contractor errors

USCIS scans all petitions and provides adjudicators with electronic copies. The people opening envelopes and scanning papers are not USCIS employees. This process is far from perfect and not all pages of every submission are always scanned.

While frustrating, it is not uncommon to receive a request for additional documents that were already submitted. It is best for the applicant to resubmit everything requested, even if it seems unnecessary.

MyUSCIS account

Attorneys do not see the same information the applicant sees on their MyUSCIS account. Therefore, applicants may know information before the attorney does. The attorney is also limited from uploading anything to the applicant’s account if they set it up themselves, as only they have access.

Applicants who have an attorney should not respond to an online request for information on their own. Instead, they should let their attorney know the request has been made (the attorney will eventually receive it in the mail or via fax or email, if the case was filed via premium processing) and let the attorney respond.

USCIS accepts only one response to a request of this type. If the applicant acts on their own and makes an error, USCIS will not accept an additional submission to make a correction.

Electronic filings

USCIS is just beginning its online filing implementation, so be prepared for issues and do not assume things will flow perfectly. Do not expect a method for e-filing for all forms any time in the next decade. But, for the basic forms like a straightforward naturalization, online filing can be beneficial.


While USCIS plays a crucial role in the immigration process, it is essential to be aware of the potential pitfalls and errors that can occur during an immigration case. By staying informed, maintaining organized records and seeking legal guidance from experienced counsel, foreign nationals can navigate the immigration process with more confidence.

Further reading — Navigating the hazards: How the U.S. Department of State (DOS) can complicate nonimmigrant visa applications


Please note: The information obtained in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Please contact the attorneys at Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm for advice regarding each individual situation.

This story was prepared with the assistance of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL), of which Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm is an active member.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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