Starting on October 1, 2017, USCIS will require an in-person interview for anyone moving from an employment-based status to permanent residency (I-485 adjustment of status interviews), as well as for family members of refugees or asylees applying for derivative refugee or asylee status (I-730 refugee/asylee relative interviews). A public announcement by USCIS was just released today.
USCIS currently requires interviews for family-based green card and naturalization processes but waives the interview requirement for the above-referenced categories most of the time. While interviews for those transitioning from employment-based visa status to green cards were standard a decade ago, waivers have been regularly granted since then. Under the new policy, there will be no further waivers.
This policy change is part of the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” plan, and was specifically referenced in the President’s Executive Order instituting the travel ban (Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, issued in January and revised in March). Section 5 of the revised EO requires the “development of a uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures, such as in-person interviews . . . .” Much of the focus of the “extreme vetting” plan has thus far been placed on the Department of State and Customs and Border Protection, but attention has now turned to USCIS in the implementation of this plan.
The result will likely be over a hundred thousand more USCIS in-person interviews per year, which will certainly lengthen wait times for green card applications, especially since USCIS is already taking a very long time to process several types of nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions and applications.
USCIS has confirmed that it is engaging in “a multiphase approach” that will eventually mandate in-person interviews across several other categories, with a present focus on those pursuing permanent residence. The details are unclear at this time, but we will report back as we receive updates.
With the in-person interview, USCIS’s clear goal is to identify security risks and prevent fraud. However, critics are pointing out that the lack of any pervasive fraud in the above categories, the fact that the beneficiaries are already in the U.S., the continuing use of fingerprint screening and extensive security checks, and the new I-485, Supplement J to confirm the continued presence of a bona fide job offer, make USCIS’s policy change even more unnecessary.
In the employment-based context, the worst consequences will likely be much increased wait times to finalize the green card. The policy change will not affect adjudications of I-140 petitions or EADs (employment authorization documents) through the pending green card process. Therefore, the change should not impact status or work authorization within the U.S., unless the increased interview workload ultimately impacts adjudications in other areas. Should there be an expansion into other categories, the impact may be even more substantial. With respect to derivative refugees and asylees, consequences will include delays in receiving such status as well as the ultimate green card.
To prepare for the interview, the applicant must have a solid understanding of the benefit for which he or she is applying, as well as why he or she is eligible for the benefit. The employment-based green card applicant must be able to describe the employer, the position (including specific job duties, location, pay, etc.), and his or her credentials. The family member of a refugee or asylee must be able to explain the basis for their relative’s refugee or asylee status and be able to establish the family relationship, especially the bona fides of a relationship based on marriage. All applicants must be thoroughly familiar with the contents of their application.
Our office conducts detailed interview preparation with our clients to familiarize them with the timeline, steps, and environment of the interview, as well as with examples of what the adjudicating officer may ask. We often play the role of the officer and ask tough questions to point out and prepare the client to respond to any weaknesses in the case. We also strongly prefer in-person or video interview preparation to gauge the applicant’s mannerisms and facial expressions.