Small Wins, With Big Impacts For Some

While the U.S. immigration system is still a hot mess overall, you take any small victories you can get, right?!…

Over the past week or so, the USCIS immigration agency announced three notable changes in policy/procedure. Each of those changes impact a relatively small population of people in the country. But, for each of those groups impacted, it’s welcome news to celebrate:

  1. First, a long-running, class action lawsuit against the USCIS, on behalf of H-4 and L-2 spouses of H-1B and L-1 foreign workers in the U.S., reached an important settlement agreement and court order. Going forward, H-4 and L-2 family members’ applications to extend their stay and work authorization in the U.S. will be “bundled” with the concurrently filed petitions of their spouse’s employers. For several years now, the USCIS had been separating the family’s filings from the principal worker’s filings, and the adjudication backlogs for the family filings ballooned. That often triggered large gaps in U.S. work authorization for the H-4 and L-2 spouses, many of whom are themselves highly-educated professionals. With this change in procedure, most of those spouses should now be able to avoid devastating gaps in employment, via carefully planned and timed concurrent filings with the USCIS.
  2. Next, the USCIS changed its policy for the automatic extension of temporary (or “conditional”) greencard validity, for spouses of U.S. citizens applying for regular, 10-year greencards. After timely filing the requisite petition form with the USCIS, these spouses will now see the validity of their temporary, 2-year greencard automatically extended for an additional 4 years. That will avoid them having to make special appointments to appear in-person at their local USCIS office, to request proof that they are still in lawful immigration status in the U.S., despite their apparent greencard expiration. That proof is critical for things like driver’s license extensions, job changes, banking, etc. Of course, this begs the question of whether a 4-year, temporary greencard extension is actually a smart or absurd “solution” to the USCIS’ massive backlogs of these petitions. And, most of these spouses become eligible to apply separately for U.S. citizenship after 1 – 2 years, if they want, which would only compound the USCIS’ application backlogs. However, either way, if you have ever had to ring the private call center company which answers the USCIS’ phone lines, in order to schedule a visit at a local USCIS office, you will likely be jumping for joy at this news!
  3. Finally, the USCIS announced yesterday that it is extending through late-March a COVID-era policy, allowing an extra 60 days for people to respond to its all-too-frequent requests for additional evidence, notices of intent to deny, etc. Given the lingering ubiquity of those USCIS requests and notices, even under the current Administration, the additional time to fully prepare a complete and proper response can be crucial to securing approval of an application or petition which may have been originally filed many months ago. Again, for those unlucky folks in an unexpected “fight” with the USCIS over an immigration benefit to which they are clearly entitled, this extended flexibility is always news to rejoice.

It clearly would have been even nicer to hear that the USCIS at long last had a viable plan to eliminate all of these unprecedented processing backlogs, delay tactics, and pointless eligibility arguments. However, in the current world of U.S. immigration, each of these small victories is a cause for celebration for the people and companies they impact. So, cheers to each of you!

As always, if you or your employees have any questions about this week’s developments, feel free to reach out to us for further help, at any time.