Biometrics Appointment Backlog

Updated on August 11, 2023
At a Glance: Biometrics refers to unique biological information, such as fingerprints, eye retinas, voice patterns, and facial features, that is used to identify individuals. In the U.S. immigration process, biometrics are required for applications such as green cards, travel authorization, and employment authorization documents. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a severe backlog in biometrics appointments, causing significant delays in processing applications. Applicants affected by the backlog include those seeking visa extensions, employment authorization, change of status, and re-entry permits for green card holders. While waiting for appointments, it is important to stay updated and have contingency plans in place.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a pause on everyone’s lives in 2020 and continues to do so in 2021. Few people have felt it as acutely as legal immigrants waiting for their applications to be processed. 

Unfortunately, one of the key processes in the U.S. immigration process is collecting biometrics information, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is struggling with a huge backlog. This backlog is causing delays in the process for more than a million applicants. 

Read on to find out what this backlog means, whether it is affecting you, and what to do if your biometrics appointment is delayed. 

What Are Biometrics?

If this is your first time dealing with the U.S. immigration process, it’s important to understand what biometrics is and why you can’t have a successful application without it.

Every human in the world is made up of various biological information that’s unique to them and can be used to identify them. These identifying features are normally made up of fingerprints, eye retinas, voice patterns, and facial features.

These markers are analyzed, scanned in, and categorized by certain technologies into digital information – which is then called biometrics. A person’s biometrics go into a database that can be used to find all the information on the person the biometrics belong to, protecting their identity and potentially matching them up to biometrics recovered at crime scenes. It will also reduce fake visas being used and ensure you are who you say you are.

In the U.S., those exempt from having their biometrics taken in the immigration process are children under the age of 14, persons over the age of 79, foreigners on an A, G, or NATO visas, and certain Taiwanese, Canadian and Mexican citizens.

Biometrics are very difficult to fake and one of the world’s best security tools.

What Are the Biometrics Requirements for Immigration?

This kind of biological information is very important to immigration officials of any government – including the United States of America. They use it to track those crossing their borders and flag any potential threats, like criminal records or ties to terrorist organizations.

The following applications require biometrics:

  • Applications for Green Cards
  • Change of status
  • Travel authorization
  • Adjusting permanent residence status
  • Extending nonimmigrant status
  • Employment authorization documents (EAD).

The only biometrics you need to submit with your application are scans of your fingerprints, which have to be taken at your nearest Application Support Center (ASC).

Normally, you will receive an appointment notice for your biometrics around four to eight weeks after you’ve received a receipt for your application package from the USCIS.

What Is Causing the Biometrics Backlog?

Unfortunately, the biometrics process has been severely backlogged due to the pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the U.S. and the world.

Covid-19 regulations had shut down many USCIS field offices and ASCs have had to function with smaller staff numbers and enforced social distancing policies. They have also had to cancel around 300,000 biometrics appointments last year between March and June, and operations only resumed to 60% of their capacity in July.

In turn, this has badly hampered their processes, including taking biometrics, causing severe delays.

At the moment, applicants are only being issued biometrics appointments between 7 and 11 months after receipt of their application. Normally you wouldn’t have had to wait more than 8 weeks for an appointment.

While the USCIS is trying hard to play catch-up, there are still 1.3 million applicants waiting for their biometrics appointments. In some instances, the USCIS can reuse older biometrics for certain applications, like using a main Green Card application’s biometrics for a Status Change application.

However, this can’t be done for major applications.

Who Is Impacted by the Biometrics Delays?

Want to know if your application might be affected by this extreme delay?

Here are the main application types applicants should be worried about that have been impacted by the pandemic-fuelled backlog:

  • B2 Visitor Visa Extensions: If you’re a foreigner stuck in the U.S. due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, you won’t be penalized for overstaying your visa as long as you apply for an extension on your visa. However, these I-539 applicants face indefinite delays with biometrics.
  • I-765 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Processing: One of the most important applications affected by the backlog is EAD applications. This means you won’t be able to work while waiting for a renewed EAD if you’re an H4 EAD worker.
  • Change of Status: Currently the waiting time for a change of status application is six months, especially for H4 and L2 dependent visa holders who have to provide their biometrics outside of the primary visa holder. Those in this category are also not allowed to use premium processing.
  • Re-entry permits for Green Card holders: This applies to Green Card holders who need to leave the U.S. for an extended period of time, yet want to retain their status. They have to apply for an I-131, but unfortunately, this requires biometrics. This means that you won’t be able to leave the U.S. until you’ve had your biometrics appointment and your application is successful.

If you’re unsure if this applies to you, contact the nearest USCIS branch to find out.

What to Do if Your Biometrics Appointment is Delayed

If you do happen to fall under one of those categories, there’s not much you can do besides wait. The USCIS’s offices and ASCs are currently scheduling 10,400 appointments a day, and they are making plans to try to increase this number and get ahead of the backlog.

What you can do in the meantime, is to have all your ducks in a row on your end and ensure all your paperwork is filed as timely as possible. Also, try to have a contingency plan in place for the delays.

If you haven’t seen any progress on your application or haven’t heard from your ASC after six months, make an InfoPass appointment at your nearest USCIS field office to double-check the status of your application. Things might fall through the cracks with the pandemic and it’s important to stay on top of these possibilities.

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We know you’ve waited a long time for your U.S. immigration application to get processed and it can be quite disheartening when you’re faced with delays and backlogs. 

The pandemic has affected almost all facets of our daily lives. If you’re waiting on your biometrics appointment the best thing to do is to take this time to get your documentation in order and get them filed where they need to be. 

Another handy tip is to try to stay on top of any notices published by the USCIS which might give you a better idea of how much longer you’ll have to wait to make your American dream come true.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.