How Do I Check the Status of My Case Pending with USCIS?

February 19, 2024
Grace Parsons

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that adjudicates various immigration petitions and applications. While many immigration processes also involve separate steps with other agencies – such as the Department of State, Department of Labor, or the Executive Office of Immigration Review – most immigrants will interact with USCIS during at least one step in their immigration journey. The agency handles an extremely high volume of cases. Based on 2022 reports, USCIS estimated that on a given day, the agency adjudicated more than 32,500 immigration benefits requests, and handled more than 55,000 phone calls.

So, if you are one of the many thousands of people with a case pending before USCIS, how do you get information about your pending case?

After filing an application or petition with USCIS, the agency sends a “Form I-797C” to notify the benefit requestor that their case has been accepted for processing. If a case is filed on-line or if the requestor has an online account with USCIS, the I-797C form is often viewable within minutes of electronic filing. For mail-filed cases, the I-797C notice typically arrives within a month. This form contains important information, including the application’s unique receipt number, the date the case was received, and which USCIS service center is processing the case.

The USCIS website has some important tools to help monitor your case status, and to know if you should reach out to USCIS to request an update:

  1. 1. The “Case Status Online” Portal. If you navigate to USCIS’s “Case Status Online” webpage, you can input your case receipt number from the I-797C form to see if there has been any recent update or change in your case processing with USCIS. This feature has some limitations. It is not available for certain application types, for example most Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applications and U-Visa Applications (for victims of crime) are not listed in this portal. Sometimes the case status will say USCIS is “actively working” on a case, but that case might not see any case action or update for months. Sometimes the case status is not updated to reflect important changes – for example, when an applicant mails in a response to a USCIS request for evidence, the status is not always updated to show the response was received by USCIS. However, this portal can help applicants be on the lookout for important notices sent by mail, and it is typically updated to show when a decision has been made in a case.
  2. 2. The “Check Case Processing Times” Tool. The USCIS website has another page where you can see an estimate of how long the agency is taking to issue decisions in the majority of cases in your category. This can give you an estimate of how long it might take for your case to be decided. Additionally, if you type in your receipt date, USCIS will let you know if your case is far enough outside of normal processing times for you to be able to submit a case inquiry. The estimated processing times change frequently, and it is important for applicants to bear in mind that their case might pend longer than anticipated. For one, the timelines USCIS posts change frequently, so checking one day might show an estimated 6-month processing time, and checking a month later might show an estimated 12-month processing time. Even if USCIS’s general processing time estimate is fairly accurate for most applications, there might be case-specific factors for why a specific person’s application is taking longer than the estimated processing times – for example, many family and employment-based applications for a green card through adjustment of status require that a visa number be available for approval in a category. If there is not a visa available in a category, then it will not be able to be approved even if the case has been pending well outside predicted processing times. The processing times estimator does not always account for those factors.
  3. 3. The “Emma” Virtual Assistant. On the homepage, there is a small box with a photo of a woman that says “Need help? Ask Emma.” Clicking on this will open up a chat window, where you can type prompts to be directed to webpages with guidance or information about your question. Sometimes you can even be connected with a live agent to message a USCIS officer questions about your pending case.
  4. 4. On-line USCIS Accounts for Applicants and Petitioners. In recent years, USCIS has been expanding the categories of benefits requests that can be filed online. For immigrants with on-line accounts with USCIS, certain applications might have “myProgress” a tool that USCIS uses to help give a personalized estimation of what the upcoming steps in a person’s case might be. Even if you didn’t file your application through your on-line account, you might be able to link your paper-filed case to an on-line account to monitor its status through your individual USCIS account. Anecdotally, many of MMH’s clients who have USCIS accounts with this feature have seen that it is often inaccurate. They report for example, that the progress tab suggests a case might be decided in three months, but after those three months, the account just says that no update is available on when USCIS expects to take action on the case. However, hopefully USCIS will be able to fine-tune this feature so immigrants can have better information on individual case status in the future. Even if the myProgress feature has shortcomings, having an on-line USCIS account provides numerous benefits – applicants can typically see PDFs of notices from USCIS instantly, without having to wait for a paper copy to come by mail. For some application categories, applicants can respond to any “Request for Evidence” from USCIS by uploading a PDF into their USCIS account rather than having to mail in a physical packet.

In addition to website tools, USCIS also has a customer service line (1-800-375-5283) where applicants can request information about their case status using their case-specific receipt number.

It can be overwhelming having to wait for a response from USCIS and to go months or years without any case status update. These tools can provide useful information for applicants to monitor their pending benefits request. In appropriate cases, a person might want to consider inquiries with USCIS or escalating to a supervisor, congressional office, or even filing a lawsuit. If you have questions on an immigration process, please reach out to schedule a call with one of the attorneys at Minsky, McCormick, & Hallagan at 312-427-6163.

The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

© 2023 Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. All rights reserved. Information may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express prior written permission of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

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