On August 28, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will begin expanding in-person interviews for certain immigration benefit applicants whose benefit, if granted, would allow them to permanently reside in the United States. This is a change from prior practice and is a result of the new administration’s policy to implement additional vetting procedures.
Effective October 1, 2017, USCIS will begin to implement in-person interviews for the following:
- Adjustment of status applications based on employment (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).
- Refugee/asylee relative petitions (Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition) for beneficiaries who are in the United States and are petitioning to join a principal asylee/refugee applicant.
All individuals who filed on or after March 6, 2017 adjustment of status applications (Form I-485), based on a pending or approved employment-based I-140 petition, will be interviewed at a USCIS Field Office in their area of residence.
According to USCIS, conducting in-person interviews would provide immigration officers with the opportunity to verify the information provided in an individual’s application, to discover new information that may be relevant to the adjudication process and to determine the credibility of the individual seeking permanent residence in the United States. Field offices are directed to assess the validity of the supporting documents upon which the Service Center relied in approving the I-140, and to evaluate whether the evidence submitted to support the petition was accurate, bona fide, and credible. The applicant will be asked to explain where they will work, what they are going to do, and their educational background and experience. USCIS will also confirm that the employer still intends to employ the applicant and that the applicant still intends to take up employment. If the field officer finds the evidence does not support the approval, he or she must send it and all associated I-485s back to the Service Center with a recommendation to revoke the I-140.
It is possible that processing times will increase for affected permanent residence categories as a result of this change. In order for an in-person interview to take place, the case must be transferred from the regional USCIS processing center to a local USCIS Field Office in the area of the applicant’s residence where the interview will be conducted. Local USCIS Field Offices are already working at a high capacity. Mandating that they conduct additional interviews is likely to increase waiting times, unless USCIS plans to simultaneously increase staffing levels. USCIS has indicated that it plans to meet the additional interview requirement through enhancements in training and technology as well as transitions in some aspects of case management.
A mandatory in-person interview could result in a change in the documentary requirements and strategy for affected cases. For example, while only photocopies of civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, are generally required for applications submitted with USCIS regional service centers, originals must generally be presented when appearing at an in-person interview. Additionally, if delays extend beyond one year from the time of filing, any accompanying medical examination performed by a government-approved “civil surgeon” would expire and a new one will be required at the time of the interview. Delays could also result in the need to timely apply for a renewal of the individual’s Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and Advance Parole (AP).
Attorneys should accompany employment-based clients to their interviews. This is especially important during the first few months of the new interview requirement, as training and procedures are still fairly new. At a minimum, it is recommended for individuals to consult with an immigration attorney familiar with employment-based petitions in order to analyze strategy and to determine document requirements.