It's rare that you'll find the words "USCIS" and "fast" in the same sentence, unless there's a "not" in there somewhere. The agency that processes U.S. immigration benefits is not known for its lightning speed. But if you're in a hurry, it is possible to expedite your case. USCIS does not always agree to expedite requests, but there is usually nothing to lose by trying.

In fact, USCIS has an entire web page devoted to expedite requests. Note that this page is not for asylum cases. I wrote about expediting asylum cases here. Also, the web page does not provide information about expediting cases outside the United States. For refugees (not asylees) outside the U.S., there is some limited information about expediting here. And for humanitarian parole applications for people outside the country, there is some information about expediting available here. Finally, if a case has already been processed by USCIS and is now with the U.S. Department of State, you can find some information about expediting here. Also, you can contact the relevant U.S. Embassy directly to ask for help.

For cases being processed inside the country, the USCIS web page provides guidance for how to make an expedite request. Such cases include Employment Authorization Documents ("EAD"), I-730 petitions, Advance Parole, Refugee Travel Documents, applications for Lawful Permanent Residency (the green card), and applications for citizenship.

USCIS considers all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis, and has sole discretion to decide to grant or deny such a request. This basically means that you are asking USCIS to do you a favor (expedite), and if they refuse, there is usually not much to be done. Also, in making an expedite request, USCIS requires documentation to support your claim. USCIS will not expedite any case where premium processing is available (usually, these are cases involving employment-based applications where you pay an extra fee for fast processing).

USCIS lists the following criteria for expediting a case--
  • 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: (1) File the benefit request or the expedite request in a reasonable time frame, or (2) Respond to any requests for additional evidence in a reasonably timely manner;
  • Urgent humanitarian reasons;
  • Compelling U.S. government interests (such as urgent cases for the Department of Defense or DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
  • Clear USCIS error.

USCIS indicates that "severe financial loss to a company," means that the company is at risk of failure. For an EAD, you would want to show an equivalent level of difficulty for the individual. Maybe the person will become homeless or be unable to cover medical bills. Whatever the reason, you must show that you are not able to "withstand the temporary financial loss that is the natural result of normal processing times."

Cases can also be expedited based on "urgent humanitarian reasons." The most common examples are health problems (mental or physical, for you or a family member) and safety issues (maybe you are petitioning for a relative who is in danger in his home country).

If you can link your case to a "compelling U.S. government interest," that could be another reason to expedite. Maybe you are involved with U.S. national security work, for example, and you need to expedite on that basis.

Finally, if USCIS has made a clear error, you can ask them to expedite a case to correct the error, or maybe even a subsequent case that has been delayed due to the previous error.

Whatever the reason for the expedite request, you would want to provide documentation: A letter from the doctor or your employer, medical records, evidence that your family members are living in unsafe circumstances (letters from your relatives or others who know about the problem, police reports, medical reports, country condition evidence), evidence of financial hardship, a USCIS letter admitting to their error, etc.

You can make a request to expedite at the time you file your case or anytime after you receive the receipt.

The better approach is probably to make the expedite request when you file. Include a cover letter that clearly indicates that you want to expedite (you can highlight or underline the fact that you are requesting expedition). In the cover letter, include an explanation about why you need to expedite. I prefer to keep my explanations short. In part, this is because I am lazy, but also, I think busy people at USCIS are more likely to read a short and to-the-point explanation than a long, involved explanation. Finally, along with the other evidence required for your application, include documentation supporting your request to expedite.

If you have already filed your application and now seek to expedite, the best approach is to call USCIS at 800-375-5283 (they also have a TTY line at 800-767-1833). To make this call, you will need the receipt number for your application. It is not so easy to reach a real person, but once you do, USCIS will create a service request and forwarded it to the appropriate office. After that, USCIS may request additional evidence in support of your request.

If, after making the expedite request at the time of filing or later on, you do not receive a timely response, you can call USCIS to follow up.

USCIS will (hopefully) agree to expedite the case. For applications that are completed in one step (EAD, Advance Parole, Refugee Travel Document), you should receive a decision in the case and--if all goes well--the requested document. For applications involving more than one step (an I-730 for a relative abroad, for example), the first step will be expedited, but subsequent steps will not necessarily be expedited. So for the I-730, you might still need to contact the State Department or the appropriate U.S. Embassy in order to keep things moving.

If USCIS denies the expedite request, it does not mean that they will deny the application. It only means that they will not reach a decision in an expedited time-frame (conversely, just because USCIS agrees to expedite a case does not mean that they will approve the application).

In our office, we sometimes make expedite requests for our clients. It does not always work, but sometimes it does (this always surprises me), and it can save significant time. For asylum seekers and asylees, many of whom have urgent needs, this can be a real life saver. To maximize your chances for success, you need a strong reason to expedite and documents to support your request. For such cases, USCIS will evaluate the request and--sometimes--expedite your case.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: