On August 28, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will begin requiring in-person interviews for certain applicants who apply for permanent residence. Effective October 1, 2017, USCIS will begin phasing in interviews for the following categories:
- Applicants for Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) based on an approved employment-based immigrant petition (Form I-140); and
- Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (Form I-730) applicants who are in the United States and are petitioning to join a principal asylee/refugee applicant.
The regulations, 8 CFR § 103.2(b)(9), state that “An applicant, a petitioner, a sponsor, a beneficiary, or other individual residing in the United States at the time of filing an application or petition may be required to appear for fingerprinting or for an interview.” The USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual reiterates this regulation, but, historically, USCIS has waived the interview requirement for most employment-based adjustment of status applicants due to associated delays created in adjudication.
The interview mandate is part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to implement “extreme vetting” of immigrants in accordance with the “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” Executive Order, popularly known as the “travel ban,” released earlier this year. According to Section 4(a) of the Executive Order, “Implementing Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs”:
The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall implement a program, as part of the adjudication process for immigration benefits, to identify individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission. This program will include the development of a uniform screening standard and procedure, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be; a process to evaluate the applicant's likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant's ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.
In USCIS’s announcement of the change on August 28, it indicated that “Conducting in-person interviews will provide USCIS officers with the opportunity to verify the information provided in an individual’s application, to discover new information that may be relevant to the adjudication process, and to determine the credibility of the individual seeking permanent residence in the United States.”
The change, as stated by Acting USCIS Director James W. McCament, “reflects the Administration’s commitment to upholding and strengthening the integrity of our nation’s immigration system. USCIS and our federal partners are working collaboratively to develop more robust screening and vetting procedures for individuals seeking immigration benefits to reside in the United States.”
USCIS has indicated that it is working to implement “enhancements in training and technology” to accommodate the added caseload, but employers and beneficiaries should expect that the change will cause delays on current employment-based immigrant petition wait times.