On August 25, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will be implementing across the board in-person interviews at local field offices for a broadened range of permanent residence applications. This new policy will go into effect on October 1, 2017.

This announcement affects the following two categories: 1) adjustment of status applications based on employment and 2) refugee/aslyee relative petitions for beneficiaries in the U.S. petitioning to join a principal refugee/asylee applicant.

This new program reverses a policy that has been in place for many years in which personal interviews have been largely waived for employment-based cases for permanent residence. The underlying theory to this previous policy was that between the use of extensive electronic background checks and the historically low rate of fraud in employment-based cases, USCIS can determine a foreign national’s eligibility for permanent residence without a face-to-face meeting. As a consequence, nearly all employment-based adjustment cases over the past 25 years have been adjudicated without interviews by the Regional Service Centers rather than the local field offices, with the result being a substantial saving of time and resources. Similarly, in-person interviews were not previously required for applicants with refugee/asylee relative petitions (Form I-730) for beneficiaries in the U.S. petitioning to join a principal refugee/asylee applicant.

The new policy of requiring in-person interviews for these cases is part of a stated USCIS strategy “to further improve the detection and prevention of fraud and security risks to the United States.” But it will likely result in increased delays in the issuance of permanent residence in employment-based cases and refugee/asylee relative petitions (both of which are already experiencing a substantial backlog in processing times). In addition to increased wait times for applicants, their families and employers, the new policy will further tax an overburdened agency and result in the diversion of valuable resources including personnel, time and government funding. Many argue that the security of the country has been well served by the existing system of remote electronically-based reviews and believe the agenda of this new program is unclear

Despite this change, it is important to note policies that remain intact. There were rumors that interim benefits would be revoked, such as advance parole and work authorization granted during the pendency of adjustment of status applications. However, the announcement made by USCIS regarding the expansion of interview requirements made no mention of changes to the issuance of interim benefits. Nor did it suspend or terminate the option of concurrently filing an adjustment of status application and immigrant visa petition. Adjustment portability, or the ability of an applicant to change from one job to another without having to file a new I-140 immigrant visa petition, also remains in place.

In light of these new interview requirements, our office is working out an arrangement with ABIL (the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers) to ensure that all of our clients will be represented at in-person interviews by legal counsel in cities across the nation.