When applicants contact USCIS to request a status on an application, they are sometimes informed that their case is under “extended review.” This generally means that the case is still undergoing required security checks that must be completed before an application can be approved.
All applicants who seek immigration benefits are subject to government security checks. Such background investigation is designed to screen out criminals and national security threats during the immigration process.
Currently there are a vast number of green card and citizenship applications that have been delayed by security checks for one year or more. For most people, all security checks eventually come out clear. But the processing delay can cause great anxiety and frustration.
The USCIS typically conducts four types of background checks, but may perform other reviews on a case by case basis.
IBIS Name Check
The Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) is a networked database from multiple agencies primarily designed to effectively control the entry of persons into the United States. It is an electronic system that can be quickly accessed by immigration officials at a port of entry (POE), as an inspection tool to identify high-risk and inadmissible travelers on the spot. IBIS name check is sometimes called TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communication System, maintained by CBP) name check.
USCIS is now checking an applicant's name against this system to detect crimes, fraud schemes, and other illegal activities. For example, one component of the IBIS is the National Immigration Lookout System (NAILS) that stores millions of records created by USCIS and other law enforcement agencies. By running an IBIS name check, the USCIS is able to identify certain national security and public safety concerns before granting immigration benefits.
Because of the nature of the IBIS, this process normally takes very little time. In most cases the result of an IBIS name check is available immediately. However, if a person's name matches a record, or otherwise reveals information that requires further review, it may take additional time. But the IBIS name check is rarely a bottleneck that is slowing down the security check process.
FBI Fingerprint Check
Fingerprint checks are performed by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) located in West Virginia. People are often confused, but it is important to note that FBI fingerprint check is completely different from the FBI name check, which is conducted by the National Name Check Program in Washington DC.
An applicant will receive a fingerprint notice from the USCIS soon after properly filing an immigration petition. The notice contains an appointment date, time and location (usually an Application Support Center - ASC) where the applicant needs to have his/her finger prints, signature and digital photo taken. The information is then electronically transmitted to the CJIS to check for any criminal records, using the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This is another quick process, and result is usually sent back to the USCIS within a couple of days.
FBI Name Check
From 2002 to 2008, FBI name check was a bottleneck in the immigration process. Hundreds of thousands of applicants were "stuck" for years because of FBI name check delays. However, the situation has improved significantly since then.
IDENT Fingerprint Check
The Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) is used for the storage and processing of biometric and certain biographic information. IDENT was initially developed for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1994, but has since become a DHS-wide system for biometric identification and verification of individuals.
Fingerprints and all biographic data collected at the Application Support Center (ASC) are automatically sent to IDENT, in addition to the FBI. The result from an IDENT fingerprint check is also used in determining whether an applicant or petitioner is eligible for the immigration benefit.
If USCIS informs us that your case is under “extended review,” we ask that you contact us every 90 days so that we can follow up. Most applications placed under extended review will be completed within 18 months of the filing date.