The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Texas Service Center, one of two main offices that handle immigration cases for foreign-born researchers, has started a pilot program through which they will approve a specific set of Green Card cases (the set known as "concurrently-filed 140/485 cases" because, well, forms 140 and I-485 are filed concurrently) in as little as 3 months.
The Texas Service Center handles cases from along the East Coast and the South, including the Southwest–Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The Nebraska Service Center, which handles the Midwest out to California, is not participating in the pilot program. The "140" is the "Immigrant Petition" and the I-485 Form is the application to become a Permanent Resident. The I-485 form can’t be approved until the 140 is approved.
The U.S. government prioritizes employment-based immigration cases into three categories. EB-3-level cases are for jobs that require a bachelor’s degree; currently, there is a long backlog for Visa numbers that would allow beneficiaries of EB-3 level cases to submit I-485 applications. EB-2 is for jobs that require a Master’s Degree (including the ‘National Interest Waiver,’ which is used in petitions by many researchers), and EB-1 is for immigrants with "extraordinary ability" (EB-1A) and "outstanding researchers" (EB-1B). The great advantage of most of these is that they do not require the assistance of, and are not bound to, a particular employer. The EB-1B, however, does require employer sponsorship.
The 90-day Pilot Program is especially useful for researchers because currently, with few exceptions, only people who file EB-1 and EB-2-level immigration cases can file I-485 applications (the last step in the Green Card process); the backlog for the other (non-researcher) categories is long. There is also a backlog in the EB-2 category for individuals from China and India. So anyone from the East and South who files an EB-1-level case, and EB-2 filers who are not from China or India, can take advantage of the new program.
What’s more, the Texas Service Center seems to have extended the rapid service, without announcement, to cases where the 140 and I-485 are not filed concurrently. "I’ve recently handled a few I-485 cases for researchers who had previously filed 140 cases," says Harrington. "These new 485 cases where not concurrently filed with a 140 Form. Nevertheless, in the past few weeks I’ve received approvals on 485 applications that were only pending for 3 months." Such cases routinely take 6-12 months, or even longer.
So, right now, there’s potential for a certain subset of researchers — the subset described above — to get a green card much more quickly than usual.