USCIS recently announced that, beginning October 1, 2017, it will expand in-person interviews for employment-based Form I-485 applications for adjustment of status (“AOS”). Since the 1990s, common practice was for USCIS to adjudicate employment-based AOS applications at service centers, without in-person interviews. However, as part of USCIS’s efforts to comply with Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” all employment based AOS applications will now be scheduled for in-person interviews at local field offices.
On September 28, 2017, the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office held a teleconference with USCIS to discuss this new policy. Here are five things we learned from this call.
- What cases will be scheduled for interviews? All employment-based AOS cases based on an approved Form I-140 petition will be scheduled for an interview if the AOS was filed after March 6, 2017. USCIS will take an incremental approach to this rollout, so it is possible that some AOS cases filed after March 6, 2017 may still be approved without interview until this new policy is fully enacted. Notably, USCIS specifically mentioned only Form I-140 based AOS applications in the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 categories. Although EB-5 AOS applications based on an approved Form I-526 petition were not mentioned, USCIS has indicated it can interview EB-5 applicants at both the AOS and removal of conditions stages.
- What questions will applicants be asked? USCIS stressed that the purpose of the interview is to verify the supporting documentation and information presented in the approved I-140 petition, not to re-adjudicate the petition. Nevertheless, applicants must accurately describe their employment, explain their job duties, and how they meet the experience and education requirements that qualified them for the Form I-140 petition. Officers will seek to ensure that the approved Form I-140 petition was credible. Additionally, as with all other AOS interviews, applicants must demonstrate they are otherwise admissible and do not have any criminal issues, immigration violations, or other facts that would preclude becoming a permanent resident.
- What training have local immigration officers been given? It is important to remember that most immigration officers in local field offices routinely conduct family-based AOS interviews or naturalization interviews. Officers assigned employment-based AOS interviews have received training on these cases but many will not have extensive experience adjudicating them in the past.
- How will this affect processing times? USCIS estimates that these cases will represent a significant increase in the Field Office workload. Despite optimistic statements that USCIS will adjust staffing as needed, the increased number of interviews will necessarily lengthen processing times for all types of AOS applications. Premium processing service is only available for certain Form I-140 petitions but not for any Form I-485 applications. Monitoring underlying visa validity, employment authorization documents, and advance parole documents will be increasingly important.
- Where can we expect to see most interviews scheduled? It is no surprise that areas of the country with large immigrant populations, particularly in the high tech industries, will see a disproportionate increase in the number of employment-based AOS interviews. Specifically, USCIS expects the San Jose, San Francisco, Newark, New York City, Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles Field Offices will be the ten most affected offices.
An adjustment of status interview is an official proceeding before an immigration officer and applicants have a right to counsel. Thorough preparation is vital for any case and foreign nationals are encouraged to consult an experienced immigration attorney before attending an AOS interview. Because interviews are administered under oath, and any statement or admission can be used to deny a case, it is advisable to have in-person attorney representation in most cases.
With U.S. offices in Los Angeles and New York, Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP provides attorney representation before USCIS at both family and employment-based AOS interviews. If you have been scheduled for an interview and would like to discuss being represented by counsel, please contact us.