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Expansion of the In-Person Interview Requirement for Employment-Based I-485 Applicants and Refugee/Asylee Adjustments

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On August 28, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would begin expanding the requirement of in-person interviews for certain immigration benefit applicants whose benefit, if granted, would allow them to permanently reside in the United States. Specifically, USCIS will start to phase in interviews beginning October 1, 2017 for applicants applying for employment-based adjustment of status (Form I-485) and for applicants applying for refugee/asylee relative petitions (Form I-730).

This policy is part of an incremental expansion of interviews to other benefit types beyond these categories, and is in compliance with the Trump Administration’s Executive Order 13780 “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” USCIS states that the purpose of this expansion is to improve the detection and prevention of fraud in an effort to enhance the integrity of the immigration system within the United States. These interviews will provide more robust screening and vetting procedures, allowing USCIS officers to more reliably verify the information provided with the application, gather additional relevant information, and ascertain the credibility of the applicant seeking permanent residency within the United States.

Prior to this new policy, the applications for the above categories could be adjudicated without an in-person interview. In fact, interviews for these categories have been waived with discretion since the 1990s, with only a small percentage being transferred to the local USCIS Field Offices for interview during the past couple of decades.

On September 28, 2017, the CIS Ombudsman held a teleconference with USCIS representatives to discuss how the interview requirements for employment-based I-485 applications will be implemented. Following this new guidance, 5,000 trained officers will conduct interviews in more than 80 offices nationwide. To handle the initial additional case load, adjudication will be shared between USCIS Field Operations under the direction of Deputy Associate Director Mr. Daniel Renaud and the USCIS Service Center Operations. For I-485 applications filed before March 6, 2017, these cases will continue to be adjudicated by the Texas and Nebraska Service Centers for Fiscal Year 2018 and forwarded to the Field Office on a case by case basis; for I-485 applications filed after March 6, 2017, these cases will be adjudicated by the Field Office for Fiscal Year 2018. The workload will be phased in using an incremental approach, beginning first with the employment-based I-485s and then adding I-730s.

The goal of the interview will be to validate that the evidence submitted in support of the I-140 petition was bona fide, accurate, and credible. USCIS officers will be instructed not to readjudicate the I-140 but instead are instructed to give deference and “full faith and trust” that the I-140 was properly adjudicated based on the evidence in the record. For example, the applicant will be expected to validate credentials that qualify him for the I-140. In the case of a gross error in the approval of an I-140 or if the validity of the evidence is called into question during the testimony at the interview, the Field Office will return the I-485 and I-140 to the service center with the recommendation that the I-140 be revoked; the service center will then issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke (“NOIR”) for the I-140. If the NOIR is overcome, the service center will affirm the I-140 and complete I-485 adjudication. If the service center revokes the I-140, the I-485 will be denied. A similar standard will be applied to I-485 Supplement J and the INA § 204(j) job portability provisions to avoid repetitive transfer of the case and unnecessary delay.

Every applicant will be scheduled for an interview, though some exceptions may be considered for waiver if the applicant is under the age of 14. Efforts will be made for families to be scheduled for interviews together, though this cannot be guaranteed if the applications were filed separately. After the I-485 applications are filed, the case will be transferred to the National Benefits Center (NBC), which will review the file for pre-processing. The NBC will then schedule an interview slot at the local USCIS Field Office. Applicants should receive an Interview Notice about 30 days before the scheduled interview date.

During the interview, the applicant may expect to be asked questions regarding any of the statements that appear on the I-485, information relating to eligibility and admissibility, and information such as the background and intentions of the applicant. The I-140 file will be part of the record of proceeding at the interview, and the applicant may be asked questions related to the evidence to verify its credibility. Derivatives of employment-based applicants should expect questions regarding the details establishing their qualifying relationship with the principal applicant. Providing the requested documents at the earliest time will help unnecessary delay of the case; supplying the required documentation with the initial filing and during the interview is in the interest of timely adjudication of the case.

USCIS does not predict this new policy change will have a major impact on processing times of employment-based I-485 applications because the goal is to exhaust all employment-based visa numbers each fiscal year. USCIS indicated that there may be a small impact on the workload and processing times of family-based I-485 and N-400 naturalization applications in San Jose, San Francisco, Newark, New York, Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles because those Field Offices have higher levels of filings. USCIS hopes to streamline the process and improve processing times for Fiscal Year 2019. At that time, the annual EB-485 workload will comprise 17% of Field Office cases.

Our office will continue to monitor the implementation of this new interview requirement to help prepare clients adequately for their interviews.

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