On July 23, 2012, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a Policy Memorandum to its employees and contractors outlining its policy for accommodating religious beliefs while at the same time complying with its legal obligation to photograph and to capture the fingerprints of individuals who file applications and petitions with USCIS.

The Memorandum reiterated that, under its policy regarding photographs, USCIS will ask individuals to remove non-religious headwear but that it will allow religious headwear to be worn “if a reasonable likeness can be obtained, . . . the full face is visible and the religious headwear does not cast a shadow on the face.” If the religious headwear does not allow for the required level of visibility, USCIS will ask the person to remove or to adjust his or her headwear. However, in an effort to accommodate the individual’s religious beliefs, USCIS will offer the person a private room or screened area to take the photograph if such a location is available. Additionally, USCIS will attempt to use a photographer who is the same gender as the person being photographed. If neither of these options is available, USCIS will reschedule the appointment. USCIS will not, however, waive the photograph requirement based on a religious objection.

The Memorandum also made clear that USCIS would take steps to accommodate an individual’s religious beliefs during the fingerprinting process. It acknowledged that many religions prohibit their members from physically touching a person of another gender. However, fingerprint technicians and officers often must hold the person’s hand to obtain a usable print. Accordingly, USCIS will accommodate people who request a same-gender fingerprint technician or officer, and if no such person is available at that time or at that location, the appointment will be rescheduled for a different day and/or office.