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Updates from the May 2015 Texas Service Center Open House

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On May 19, 2015, attorneys from Liu & Associates attended the Open House at the Texas Service Center (“TSC”) in Dallas and toured the Service Center. Our attorneys regularly attend these events to maintain an open dialogue with TSC officials and keep abreast of procedural changes. The Open House provided an opportunity for our attorneys to inquire about issues regarding employment-based I-140 petitions and I-485 applications with representatives from the Business Premium Team and the Employment Adjustment Team.

The following is a summary of key points from the Open House:

Hundreds of New Immigration Officers

At the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year in October 2014, there was a re-organization of the TSC due to the increasingly large size of teams. As a result, TSC separated the team for I-140 petitions and I-485 applications and created two new teams called Business Premium and Employment Adjustment for I-140 petitions and I-485 applications, respectively. TSC also hired about 200 new employees, including two associate center directors to head the new teams, and TSC expects to hire more employees to fill the vacancies.

As our firm has experienced in the past, when USCIS hires a large number of new adjudicators, we usually see a wave of abnormal adjudication (e.g., increased Request for Evidence, denials, inconsistent decisions among officers, etc.) due to improper training issues. This year has not been an exception. Since late 2014, we have seen an increase in RFEs/NOIDs and denials from the TSC combined with processing times that are many months outside of the 4-month processing goal. Indeed, TSC officials admitted that there have been “growing pains” with the large influx of new adjudicators. These issues have not gone unnoticed by the CIS Ombudsman office, which has been in talks with TSC officials regarding the decline in quality of adjudications, increase in inconsistency of RFEs and adjudications, and slow processing time.

Form I-140 Immigrant Petition Processing

As head of the Business Premium Team, which comprises about 40 employees, Associate Center Director Chris Humphries explained that his team handles the adjudication of both regular and premium processing service for Form I-140 petitions. To resolve the backlog that is delaying many I-140 petitions beyond the processing times, Mr. Humphries stated that TSC is filling multiple officer positions and providing training for these new officers. With additional officers, he mentions that TSC has made progress in the processing times, as the processing of Eb-1A extraordinary ability cases has moved forward one month while the processing of National Interest Waiver (NIW) cases has moved forward two months. Further, Mr. Humphries emphasized that we should see an improvement in the processing times as they provide additional resources but would not provide a definitive time when this would occur.

Answering a question that our clients frequently raise, Mr. Humphries confirmed that upgrading to premium processing service after two weeks from the initial filing date of the I-140 petition does not make a difference to the case. If a request is made to upgrade to premium processing service, the same officer, who was assigned the I-140 petition, continues to adjudicate the case. This means there is no greater likelihood of RFE with direct premium processing or avoiding RFE by upgrading later.

Additionally, confirming past procedures, motions and appeals are first reviewed by the original officer assigned to the case and then automatically reviewed by senior officers who should review all supporting documents, not just the opinion of the adjudicating officer. Senior officers are often “subject matter experts” who are knowledgeable in immigration law, policies, and legislations. Although they do not have expertise in scientific fields, USCIS has resources such as intranet to check certain claims.

Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status Processing

In the second half of the Open House, Associate Center Director Rick Dashner of the Employment Adjustment Team emphasized that mandatory background checks, including FBI Fingerprint Check, FBI Name Check, and TECS Check, must be completed before adjustment. Officers also review other systems for potential violations, criminal records, warrants/protection orders, or information relating to the applicant’s admissibility to the U.S. In response to inquiries regarding the long processing times for I-485 applications, Mr. Dashner pointed out that the delay could be from the above mentioned security checks.

In cases where the USCIS denies the concurrently filed I-140 petition, the USCIS will also deny the I-485 application if there is no other basis for adjustment of status. However, if the decision for the I-140 petition is overturned and approved on a motion or an appeal, the USCIS will reopen the I-485 application on Service motion at no cost to the applicant and resume processing the I-485 application. If the USCIS grants the motion to reopen and approves the I-485 application, the time between the initial denial and the decision on the I-485 application after reopening will not count toward the time for unlawful presence.

Regarding the medical exam required for the I-485 application, Mr. Dashner said that USCIS is currently working on extending the validity date of the medical exam. He clarified that presently the medical exam is valid for one year (from the date the civil surgeon signed the exam) to submit with the I-485 application. Once USCIS receives the medical exam, it is valid for one year from the receipt date. Mr. Dasher recommended submitting the medical exam with the I-485 application instead of waiting for a RFE to send in the medical exam.

Mr. Dashner also discussed that the TSC will not handle the I-765 applications for H4 status holders and that they will go to the California Service Center.  

Following the meeting, we are optimistic that the influx of new officers and the restructure of the TSC will result in faster processing times of I-140 petitions and I-485 applications. In response to concerns over the significant backlog and slow processing times, TSC appears to have made considerable efforts to improve this process.

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