How Long Do Immigration Cases Take?

Some last a few months, others take years; it depends on your circumstances

By Amie Stager | Last updated on January 26, 2023

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The immigration process is neither quick nor easy. It is not a process one should rush through—a mistake could have serious consequences and, depending on the circumstances, it can take several months or even years before a case is heard. “The funny thing about immigration is sometimes you want the delay just because you’re buying your clients time,” says Angie Garasia, an immigration attorney in Edison, New Jersey.

Last In, First Out

Garasia often works with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to handle her clients’ immigration cases. In 2018, USCIS began using a last in, first out approach to address the delays and backlog of pending asylum claims. Last in, first out means that priority will be given to the most recent applications instead of older ones. If someone applies for asylum, their interview may be scheduled ahead of those who came before them. An immediate hearing makes it harder to obtain a work authorization to stay in the U.S. “If there are no merits, they want to be able to dispose of your case and send you back,” Garasia says.

Buying Time

Cases at the border are treated differently than cases in other parts of the United States. At the Mexican border, people voluntarily submit themselves to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In those cases, nonprofit agencies and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) connect immigrants with attorneys who can help them, free of cost. In places like New Jersey, where someone has already been in the U.S. for a while, the process is different. If someone is charged with being in the U.S. illegally, a few months can pass before the first hearing. Similar to an arraignment, you contest the charges or agree to them. You can deny the allegations and wait for a trial date or an individual hearing. (You can read about some common defenses used in removal proceedings here.) But it all takes some waiting. “If you could have bought your client the extra four years for some other law to come into place, then you did your client a great service,” Garasia says. “The timing of everything is very critical.” Even though it’s based on federal laws, how immigration law is applied varies from state to state, officer to officer, and even judge to judge, Garasia says. “It’s kind of a luck issue like, ‘Who is going to call my case?’… as opposed to the law being applied uniformly,” she says. One of the most difficult parts of immigration is preparing the client for unexpected discoveries by a customs officer. “In the wrong hands … an officer can find anything.”

Even More Waiting

After someone is deported, they must be outside of the country for at least 10 years before applying to reenter the country. They can apply with the I-212 form, the Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal. You can apply for a waiver to reapply before 10 years, but its effectiveness will depend on the circumstances of the deportation. It is important that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible to secure your immigration case and ensure the protection of your rights. For more information on this area of law, see our immigration overview.

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