If you would like to track your immigration application as it moves along the immigration process or if you are wondering how to check if your application's processing is outside the expected processing timeframes, we've got you covered! This article will explore how to check your application case status - both with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the National Visa Center (NVC) - and what to do if your application processing falls outside the normal processing time.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written May 25, 2022
How Long Will It Take To Process Your Immigration Application?
Depending on the type of application you are submitting, either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the National Visa Center (NVC), or both will handle your case. The length of the processing time will depend on the following two primary factors:
Your application type, and
The service center, field office, embassy, or consulate handling your application
USCIS Processing Times
If USCIS is handling your application, either one of the five USCIS service centers or the numerous USCIS field offices will process your case. How long it will take to process your case primarily depends on the amount of backlog the USCIS office working on your case is experiencing.
You can find the current average processing time for your application type using the USCIS processing times online tool. You will need to enter your form type and the service center or field office processing your case. You can figure out the service center using your receipt number. Your receipt number is at the top left corner of the receipt notice (Form I-797C) that USCIS sent you. It is 13-characters long — three letters, followed by 10 numbers. The first three letters represent the service center handling your case:
EAC/VSC means your case is with the Vermont Service Center
WAC/CSC means your case is with the California Service Center
LIN/NSC means your case is with the Nebraska Service Center
SRC/TSC means with your case is with the Texas Service Center
NBC/MSC means your case is with the National Benefits Center
YSC means your case is with the Potomac Service Center
IOE means your case is an E-filing case (ELIS)
It can take USCIS anywhere from a few weeks to 20 years to process an application. That means that the best way to know how long your application to take is to familiarize yourself with the application process and timelines for your unique case. Check out our article on immigration application processing times to learn more.
If you are submitting an application for temporary status, like a tourist visa, for example, the NVC will handle your whole case. If you are submitting an application for permanent status your case will be handled by both USCIS and the NVC. An example of this would be submitting a family green card application through consular processing.
USCIS handles the initial processing of the case. Once USCIS finishes their portion of the case, they hand the files over to the NVC. The NVC then processes their portion of the case before sending everything to the embassy or consulate that will make the final decision on your visa.
The amount of time it takes the NVC to process your case primarily depends on whether you have paid all of the required fees and filed all necessary paperwork. The required paperwork generally includes:
Forms for your application type (for example, a DS-260)
Petitioner's affidavit of support
Supporting financial information
Applicant's required supporting documents
The longer you take to submit these items, the longer it will take for the NVC to process your case. You can check out the most recent updates on NVC processing time frames on the State Department's website. The National Visa Center processes most cases within 2.5 months, but timelines vary by case. The faster you start your application, the faster you will get a final decision from USCIS or the NVC.
How Do I Check the Status of My Case?
USCIS and the NVC allow you to monitor your application's progress online. For both USCIS and the NVC, you will need the welcome letters that these agencies sent to you when they received your case. In this section, we will walk you through how to check your case status step-by-step for USCIS and the NVC, depending on which of them has your application.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Checking Your USCIS Case Status
You can check your USCIS case status online. You will need information from the receipt notice (Form I-797, Notice of Action) that USCIS sent to your mailing address when they received your application. On the receipt notice, you will find your unique receipt number on the top left corner. Your receipt number is 13 characters long and has three letters, followed by 10 numbers.
Step 1: Open the USCIS online case status tracker.
The first step is to log onto the USCIS online case status tracker. You can access the tracker by visiting www.uscis.gov and selecting the "check your case status" feature. You must have your receipt number on hand to use the case tracker.
Step 2: Type in your receipt number.
When you have successfully navigated to the USCIS online case tracker website, you will need to enter your receipt number to check your case's status. You must type in all 13 characters of the receipt number into the box field shown on the web page. When you're typing the receipt number in, make sure only to include the 13 characters provided. You should not type in any dashes with your receipt number.
Step 3: Review your case status.
After typing in your receipt status and hitting enter, you should see your current case status displayed on the screen. USCIS will tell you where your application is in its process here. This includes information about any notices they may have mailed out to you that you need to respond to. The updates here do not always tell you exactly what your next steps are, but they will give you a sense of where your application is in the overall filing process so that you can decide what you might need to do next.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Checking Your NVC Case Status
The NVC has a similar process to USCIS’s for checking your case status. Instead of a receipt number, you will need to have the visa case number they assigned to your case early in the application process. You can find this information in the welcome letter you received from the NVC when they began working on your case.
Step 1: Open the U.S. Department of State's Visa Status checker.
The first step to checking your NVC case status is to open the Department of State's Visa Status Checker webpage. On the webpage, you will see options to check your immigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa status. Click the link that applies to you, depending on whether you're applying for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.
Step 2: Enter your immigration visa number.
When you have opened the relevant case status tracker, the next step is to enter your immigrant or nonimmigrant visa number. The NVC sends you a welcome letter once they begin processing your application. Your visa number is on the welcome letter, along with other important information about your case.
An immigrant visa number is 13 characters long. It usually has three letters in the beginning, followed by 10 numbers.
There are a few different formats for nonimmigrant visa numbers, but the number is always eight characters long. It could be eight numbers or one letter followed by seven numbers.
Once you have located your visa number from the NVC welcome letter, enter the number in the portal without any dashes between the characters.
Step 3: Review your case status.
After typing in your immigrant visa number into the tracker, you should see your NVC case status. This will be the latest update for your application. It will not tell you exactly what to do next, but it should give you an idea of where your application is at in the process, and what your next steps will probably be.
If you get an error message, make sure you entered your visa number correctly, and that you are using the tool for the right visa category. For example, you will get an error if you enter an immigrant visa number in the nonimmigrant visa tracker, and vice versa when you enter a nonimmigrant visa in the immigrant visa tracker.
What Should I Do if My Case Is Taking Too Long?
Immigration applications can take a long time. Sometimes. though, what feels way too long is actually normal. The best way to know if you should take action to look into your case is to have a clear understanding of the application process and estimated timelines for the type of case that you filed.
After reading our article on application processing times, checking your case status with USCIS or the NVC, and comparing how long your application is taking with USCIS's average processing times or the NVC’s processing times, you may realize that your case is taking an exceptionally long time. There are a handful of things you can do in that situation, and you should do them in order. The process is slightly different for applications that are with USCIS, the NVC, or a U.S. consulate or embassy
If Your Case Is With USCIS...
If your case with USCIS is taking too long, you should start by calling USCIS to check your case's status. You can also submit a USCIS e-Request. If this doesn't work, you can move on to submitting an expedite request. If this also fails to work, you can contact your member of congress or submit an ombudsman inquiry. We cover how to do each of these more in detail below.
One of the first things you should do when your application is delayed is to call USCIS to check on your case's status. You can reach USCIS by dialing 800-375-5283. You will need to enter your receipt number to have it on hand when you call. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for in the automated phone system, follow the prompts to speak with a live representative who can answer questions about your application.
If the representative cannot answer your questions in as much detail as you would like, you can ask to speak with a second-tier officer. The USCIS phone number gets a lot of calls, so it's best to call in the morning when the lines are less busy.
Submit a USCIS e-Request
If calling USCIS doesn’t work and your application is outside of normal processing times, the next step is to submit a USCIS e-Request. This is a formal request for a case update, and USCIS will send you a response by mail within 15 days. You can file a USCIS e-Request in two ways:
Ask the live representative you speak to when you call USCIS to submit a service request on your behalf if your case has been processing for longer than the time estimated on the USCIS website.
Submit it yourself online. Note that you may only file this form if your case falls outside regular processing times. If you submit an online case inquiry while your case is still in the estimated processing timeframe, USCIS will send you a generic message informing you that your case is still within normal processing time.
Submit an expedite request
If an e-Request doesn’t move your case along, submitting an expedite request might. This can be a great option if you meet the USCIS case expedite criteria. If you meet the criteria, you can submit an expedite request for your case with the requested supporting documentation. USCIS typically responds to these requests within 30-45 days.
Contact your congressperson
Many U.S. senators and representatives are willing to help with immigration issues in exceptional circumstances. They don't have unlimited power, but sometimes they can get USCIS to work a bit harder to take care of your case. If you have exhausted the options above and you still can’t figure out why USCIS hasn’t processed your application, call your local congressperson.
You probably won’t speak directly with your senator or representative, but their staff will pass along your message. Congressional offices are often very busy, so make sure that you are prepared to give all of the information they may ask about your case when you call. If you are clear, respectful, patient, and sincere, your congressperson just might be able to give you the help that you need!
Submit an Ombudsman Inquiry
If your application has been pending for an unreasonably long time and you have not been able to figure out why from the USCIS office handling your case, you can consider submitting an Ombudsman inquiry with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is usually a last resort option — one that you would consider after running through all the above options without helpful feedback from USCIS.
If Your Case Is With the NVC...
If your case with the National Visa Center is taking too long, start by calling the NVC to get more information. You can also submit and Ask NVC request. Here's more info on each option.
Call the NVC
You can also call the NVC to find out what the hold up may be with your case if it’s beyond the processing timeframes. For immigrant visa inquiries, call (603) 334-0700 to speak with a Customer Service Representative. Wait times may be as long as 30 minutes, so you should make sure you have enough time to make the call. You should also have your NVC case number and USCIS receipt number on hand while making the call.
Submit an Ask NVC request
If you have done the research on NVC timeframes and believe that you should have received a response but have not, you can submit an Ask NVC request on the State Department website. You will need to provide your NVC case number or USCIS receipt number, so be sure to have both on hand when you are ready to make this request.
If Your Case Is With a U.S. Consulate or Embassy...
Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate that is handling your case if your case is taking too long.
After the National Visa Center transfers your case to the embassy or consulate that will make the ultimate decision about your visa, that embassy or consulate will be your go-to for information about your case. You can find the contact information for your embassy or consulate on the notice they sent you to schedule your interview. You can also find it in the Foreign Embassy and Consulate directory on the State Department’s website.
What Should You Do if You Get Stuck?
If you try all of the relevant options above and still can’t get any traction with USCIS, the NVC, or your consulate or embassy, it would be a good idea to speak with the lawyer. Immigration can be complicated, and skilled immigration attorneys can sometimes find ways to move your case along when the normal channels have failed. If you can't find a lawyer you can afford, you may qualify for legal aid.