By Brianne Donovan, Sumner Immigration Law Clerk
If you’re a foreign national navigating the U.S. immigration system, it’s likely you’ve had to adopt the patience of Job. The U.S. immigration system is a waiting game, which can be immensely frustrating for applicants whose livelihoods depend on USCIS approval notices. Even with the knowledge that immigration decisions are usually not a speedy process, it’s normal to ask: Is there anything I should be doing in the meantime?
In this blog post, we hope to answer some common questions and concerns we get from our clients to provide a little peace of mind and empowerment to take action. Please note that each case is different, and these are general responses.
A receipt notice is a letter that USCIS mails to applicants confirming the office has received the petition and assigning a unique case number. Typically, applicants receive this notice within 30 days of submitting their application, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some serious delays. USCIS instituted lockbox facilities for receiving information in response to social distancing measures required for employee safety. However, delays from this system have been delaying receipt notices by 4 to 6 weeks.
If you have not received a receipt number within 60 days, the first step is to reach out to the agency’s Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283. You will not be able to submit an electronic service request without a receipt number.
During your call, you should record the time and date of the call, the name (or ID number) of the staff member you’re speaking with, and the service request referral number. You may need to call the Center more than once.
If calling USCIS does not resolve your issues, and more than 90 days have passed, you may submit a request to the CIS Ombudsman. The CIS Ombudsman is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office that can provide assistance to applicants. Please note that a requirement of contacting the CIS Ombudsmen is having evidence you have contacted USCIS first through the steps above. Evidence includes the time and date of the call, the name (or ID number of the staff member you spoke with), and the service request referral number.
The CIS Ombudsmen will intervene on your application’s behalf to request that USCIS reviews the issue.
Similar to delays in receipt notices, the processing times for biometrics appointments have been delayed too. In fact, your biometrics appointment may have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If that’s the case, you should have received notice of rescheduling within 45 days of cancellation or notice that USCIS is able to reuse previous biometrics records.
If you have not received a notice asking you to reschedule your biometrics appointment or notice that your previous biometrics are sufficient, then you can call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.
In response to increased wait times, the Call Center has recently instituted a new phone-tree system with speech-enabled Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. This means, that when you call the Center, you will be met with an automated message and not a real person, so it is important to correctly phrase your request to be connected with a live agent. For rescheduling biometrics, you will want to say “reschedule interview” or “reschedule biometrics appointment” to be placed in a queue to speak with a live person.
Calling earlier in the week poses a greater chance of being connected and having your inquiry answered. If you have to leave a call-back number, ensure that it is not a number with an extension and that your phone receives calls from “Unknown Callers.”
You may also put a request in with the CIS Ombudsmen, but the agency has stated that there are only limited instances it may reach out and most requests are closed.
If you’re still waiting to receive an appointment for your biometrics, you may call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 and follow the Call Center steps above.
If your employment authorization application is based on a Form I-539 application, then you will first need to see if the Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status is beyond processing times. To determine which date to count from, read the case inquiry date on the USCIS website and compare it to the receipt date on your receipt notice. If the inquiry date is BEFORE your receipt notice date, it means your case is outside of normal processing times and you can place a service request with USCIS. For information on placing a service request, the USCIS website provides more information here.
USCIS will not make a decision on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) until it has made a decision on your I-539 application.
In March 2019, USCIS made biometrics mandatory for nonimmigrant dependents (H-4, L-2). Before this rule, many nonimmigrant dependents had their applications approved along with the principal applicant. However, the new biometrics requirement has extended the time of approval. For many dependents, this delay affects work authorization, licenses, health insurance, and travel ability.
Because of these excessive processing delays, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Wasden Banias, LLP have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), challenging the biometrics requirements and delays. We will be sure to update you once this lawsuit develops on how it may affect your case.
Until then, you may submit a request to the CIS Ombudsman by filing an electric Form DHS-7001. If you’re unable to submit an electronic request, then you may email the office at email@example.com.
If you have further questions, please contact our office today to see how we may be able to assist you! You may reach us at 804-396-3412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!