On Wednesday, June 9, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the most recent policy updates to the USCIS Policy Manual. Specifically, the updates are intended to improve the following immigration procedures: expedited processing; request for evidence (RFE) and notice of intent to deny (NOID); and employment authorization documents (EADs).
This is part of the Biden administration’s broader goal of reducing barriers to legal immigration for noncitizens who may be eligible for immigration benefits.
Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, made the following statement regarding these updates:
“We are taking action to eliminate policies that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system and will continue to make improvements that help individuals navigate the path to citizenship, and that modernize our immigration system.”
Let’s look at the three main categories these updates impact in more detail.
USCIS is aiming to “clarify the criteria and circumstances for expedited processing” by issuing an update to the policy manual.
According to the June 9, 2021 policy alert regarding this topic, guidance is being updated as to whether a case warrants expedited treatment. It also restores the ability of nonprofits organizations, whose benefit request is one that promotes the cultural and social interests of the U.S., to request an expedited adjudication of their case even if premium processing is available.
USCIS considers expedited processing a “special-situation service” for beneficiaries who urgently need to have their case adjudicated. Each expedited request is considered on a case-by-case basis and must be supported by adequate documentation to prove that an urgent need exists.
Some additional reasons for expedited requests can include severe financial loss to a company or person; emergencies and humanitarian reasons; U.S. government interests; and clear USCIS error.
Special note for noncitizens in removal proceedings or noncitizens with a final order of removal: expedited requests are coordinated between USCIS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny
USCIS is also rescinding a July 2018 memo that allowed USCIS adjudicators to deny an application, petition, or request without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). This policy was applied to incomplete or ineligible petitions and applications for immigration benefits.
Because the 2018 policy denied benefit requestors the ability to provide additional evidence to prove their eligibility for the requested immigration benefit, USCIS is returning to the guidance provided in a June 2013 memo instead.
According to USCIS:
“This updated policy will ensure that benefit requestors are given an opportunity to correct innocent mistakes and unintentional omissions. In general, a USCIS officer will issue an RFE or NOID when the officer determines additional information or explanation may potentially establish eligibility for an immigration benefit.”
USCIS has stated that, in certain circumstances, “the use of an RFE or NOID, rather than a denial, generally saves both benefit requestors and USCIS time and money.” This is because when a case is denied and the benefit requestor has sufficient additional evidence to prove their eligibility, they will generally petition to reopen their case or file a new one in order to submit the additional evidence. This involves more time and money spent by both the government and the benefit requestor which could have been avoided if an RFE or NOID was issued in the first place.
Employment Authorization Documents
Lastly, USCIS is updating its guidance concerning employment authorization documents (EADs). The new guidance will increase the validity period of initial and renewal EADs from one year to two years. EADs are provided to applicants who are awaiting the adjudication of their adjustment of status petition, so that they may work legally in the U.S. while they wait.
In the current environment and with a longer processing time, certain adjustment of status cases are taking close to one year, if not longer, to process. Therefore, this will provide less of a burden on both the beneficiary and the agency: individuals can keep working without interruption and the government won’t need to process inevitable EAD renewals. In just 2020 alone, USCIS received almost 370,000 adjustment-related employment authorization requests. Considering the backlogs in the immigration system, this guidance will allow officers to shift their efforts to other higher priority cases.
For more details, please refer to the official USCIS news release.
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