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USCIS Announces Interviews for Employment-based Green Card Processes

19:44 29 August in News Updates
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USCIS Announces Expansion of the Interview Requirement To Employment-based Green Card Processes

Effective Oct. 1, USCIS will begin conducting 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

Why the change?

USCIS advises that this change “complies with Executive Order 13780, ‘Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” and is part of the agency’s comprehensive strategy to further improve the detection and prevention of fraud and further enhance the integrity of the immigration system.”   See USCIS Press Release USCIS to Expand In-Person Interview Requirements for Certain Permanent Residency Applicants.

The “Travel Ban” Executive Order, revised on March 6, 2017, mandated among other things that various federal agencies develop “uniform screening and vetting standards” to identify terrorists or people who “present a risk of causing harm.”

Are there any security measures already in place in the green card process?

Yes.  The I-485 Adjustment of Status Application is the last stage of the green card process.  Currently, every I-485 applicant between the ages of 14 and 79 is required to have full biometrics taken (digital photo and fingerprints), which are used to run a background check with a number of agencies, including the FBI and Interpol.   The prints (and record) must clear before the I-485 will be approved.   In family-based cases, a security check is also run on the LPR or USC petitioner, a measure initially instituted as a precaution against international human trafficking and the exploitation of children.

Additionally, since 2008 USCIS has utilized a controversial program called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or “CARRP.”   CARRP is an official, documented USCIS policy for identifying, screening, and adjudicating applications for immigrant benefits, including naturalization, adjustment of status, and asylum, from individuals it considers a “national security concern.”   CARRP may be applied to any I-485 applicant, regardless of the eligibility category.  CARRP directs adjudicating officers to flag applicants for immigration benefits as national security concerns if certain criteria apply to them, or if they have “any reason to suspect” the person presents a security concern.   CARRP then directs USCIS officers to indefinitely delay and/or ultimately deny the application.   During this time, applicants whose cases are subject to CARRP are not informed of that fact, nor are they given an opportunity to present information which may allay the alleged national security concern.   Both the criteria used to identify the concern, and the fact that CARRP has been applied primarily to applicants who are Muslim or from Muslim-majority countries, has made the program very controversial and a subject of litigation and monitoring by groups such as the ACLU.  However, it remains in effect.

As for in-person interviews, they are currently required for all marriage-based green card processes (a category which sees a higher degree of fraud); for some immediate relative-based cases (for example, an adult U.S. citizen applying for a parent); and for the initial grant of all refugee/ asylee applications.   USCIS also calls some employment-based cases for interview for random quality-control purposes, or if the applicant had any interaction with law enforcement (for example, any arrest; or conviction for any crime, including misdemeanor DUI).  Absent these criteria, for at least the past 20 years, the in-person interview was waived for the vast majority of employment-based green card processes, as USCIS recognized it was not an effective use of resources.

How will the interview requirement impact the employment-based green card process?

Our (LAC’s) take on this is that while the benefit of the additional vetting is uncertain, it is certain that the additional step will slow the already painfully lengthy process of obtaining a green card. 

As reported in Politico.com, “Stephen Legomsky, USCIS chief counsel from 2011 to 2013, said it’s difficult to say whether the interviews will be worth the effort.  ‘It probably does add some marginal value,’ he said, ‘but whether that value is enough to offset that additional work is hard to say.'”    

The employment-based green card process is already lengthy.  Depending on the category of eligibility and the country of the applicant’s birth, after the employer has gone through the required process of recruitment of U.S. workers (if applicable), and all other eligibility criteria are met, the applicant may still face a wait of many years for an immigrant visa to become available before they can complete the green card process.  For example, for a person born in India, in the employment-based third preference category, visas are currently available for those who began the process earlier than October 15, 2006 – that’s an eleven (11) year wait. September 2017 U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin 

Generally, an interview for a green card takes place only once an immigrant visa number becomes available, or is within 60 days of availability.

There is no information yet on which USCIS offices will be charged with interviewing employment-based cases.  Currently, employment-based cases are filed with the USCIS Regional Service Centers in Nebraska or Texas.  If a case is called for interview, it is then transferred to a local USCIS District Office in the jurisdiction where the applicant resides.  The local USCIS offices handle primarily family-based cases.  As a result, lack of training in employment-based matters is already a factor when employment-based cases are interviewed at the local offices.

For an idea of volume, in FY2015, 122,000 applicants completed the green card process in an employment-based category.

Currently, the wait for interview at the local USCIS offices run six months to a year.  For example, USCIS San Diego is taking approximately 10 months to schedule I-485 interviews; Los Angeles, 9 months; San Jose, 12 months; New York City, 13 months.   USCIS (the benefits arm of the various immigration-related agencies within the Department of Homeland Security) is funded by user fees (filing fees paid by the applicants).  While USCIS states that the agency plans to take measures to speed up the interview process through additional training and streamlining operations, it is unlikely that additional funds will be allocated to staff or train the local USCIS offices.  With the significant additional workload, it follows that the wait times will increase significantly.

What does this change say about the direction of U.S. immigration policy with respect to lawful immigrants? 

It is clear that the change, and the reason given for it, reflects the current administration’s view that foreign nationals present a greater threat to national security than do native-born Americans, and that “extreme vetting” is necessary to ensure safety and national security.

The change may also reflect a larger policy of economic nationalism, the economic approach which “favors policies emphasizing domestic control of the economy, labor, and capital formation, even if this requires the imposition of tariffs and other restrictions on the movement of labor, goods and capital.”

The interview requirement is the latest in a number of policy changes which make the lawful employment-based work visa and immigration process more difficult.  If it is harder for employers to go through the process, that will be a disincentive to hiring foreign nationals.  And if it is harder for foreign nationals to get through the process, that may give them an incentive to contribute their skills in their home country, or another country which is more immigrant-friendly.  Despite the global economy, a more isolationist approach to trade and employment is in-line with the “America-First” policy espoused by the current administration.  The interview requirement for employment-based applicants appears to be another move in that direction.

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