Many USCIS applications (normally those which result in the production of a “secure document”) require the applicant provide digital biometrics at a USCIS office. In most cases, the biometrics process includes digital fingerprinting and a digital photo.
Many applicants who need to submit to the required biometrics are able to do so in the closest USCIS application support center (“ASC”) in the U.S. However, some applicants, especially those applying for I-131 Reentry Permit, often have very limited options to stay or travel to the U.S. for the required biometrics appointment. USCIS has recently announced that in “rare circumstances” they will use their discretion and try to accommodate taking biometrics appointments at a USCIS Field Office outside of the U.S.
The Need for Completing Biometrics on Time
As noted above, certain applications which result in the issuance of a “secure document” by USCIS require the applicant to submit to biometrics as part of every application. Among the most common USCIS application types which require biometrics are I-485, Application to Adjust Status, I-131, Application for Travel Document (Reentry Permit) (please see our specialized Expedited Reentry Permit site), and I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card.
Following the filing of such application, USCIS will normally schedule the applicant for an appointment to submit biometrics at an ASC in the U.S. (normally closest to the address of the applicant). USCIS has indicated that failure to complete the biometrics process will be considered an abandonment of the application and lead to a denial. For many applications, such as Reentry Permits, USCIS will allow 120 days after the filing of the application for the biometrics to be completed. Therefore, the requirement to complete the biometrics and the timing must be considered carefully when making travel plans.
Can Biometrics be Completed Outside of US?
Until recently, USCIS refused to permit biometrics to be completed abroad. They used to cite the lack of the specialized equipment at foreign field offices. Starting late 2016, USCIS has announced that they have very limited ability to process biometrics at certain USCIS field offices outside of the U.S.
First, USCIS has indicated that they will allow biometrics to be processed outside of the U.S. only in rare and exceptional circumstances and each case will require exercise of the local field office’s discretion and specific permission. Each international USCIS field office will, on a case-by-case basis, make a determination whether to allow biometrics to be completed outside of the U.S. after review of the case’s circumstances.
How to Request Biometrics to be Processed Abroad?
While there is slight variation among various USCIS international field offices, the process generally involves reaching out to the field office via email and presenting a compelling case as to why the biometrics cannot be completed at an ASC in the U.S. The request will have to demonstrate (and document) the circumstances of the case.
While most of the field offices are very responsive, not all requests for biometrics abroad are granted. If the request is granted, the international field office will provide instructions on how to complete the biometrics. Often, they will advise the applicant to schedule an appointment at the international field office and then confirm the appointment date and time.
What are the Criteria for Requesting Biometrics Collection Outside of U.S.?
USCIS takes the position that only rare and exceptional circumstances will warrant biometrics collection outside of the U.S. Generally, the criteria for successfully asking for biometrics abroad for applicants who reside in the U.S. are:
- the applicant must have an application pending and with an outstanding ASC appointment in the U.S. (in other words, the case must be ready for biometrics collection);
- the applicant must be able to explain and document the exceptional circumstances and hardship which prevent the applicant from completing the biometrics in the U.S., including the need for departing the U.S. and inability to travel to the U.S. for biometrics;
- the applicant must also be able to show that a request for expediting the biometrics was made prior to departing the U.S. or, if such request was not made, the applicant must explain the failure of making such request.
USCIS warns that the expense of having to travel to the U.S. for biometrics, in and of itself, will not normally be considered a sufficient hardship to grant such a request.
When our office files such requests, we normally attempt to present a background of the case, including description of the application process and our attempts to secure biometrics on an expedited basis (which we almost always do for our clients). We also provide evidence of the exceptional circumstances preventing the applicant from being able to travel to the U.S. Most of our successful international biometrics cases have been health- or personal circumstance-related.
Recommendation: Focus on Completing Biometrics in US; Rely on Biometrics Abroad as Last Resort Only
Since USCIS has made the international biometrics option available, our office has been able to assist a number of reentry permit clients complete their biometrics abroad. However, our experience confirms that USCIS will grant such requests only in rare and exceptional cases. As a result, our recommendation is for applicants who must travel abroad, especially in reentry permit cases, to plan the application and biometrics well in advance in order to complete the required biometrics in the U.S. prior to departing. In many cases when expedited biometrics are requested, the biometrics can be completed within two or three weeks after filing or the biometrics may be postponed for a future U.S. trip. We urge applicants to rely on international biometrics only as a last resort.
Our office has a special reentry permit division where we handle reentry permits on a daily basis for a variety of green card applicant situations and we will be delighted to discuss and, possibly, help throughout the application process. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments or complete the case evaluation and quote form if we can be of any assistance with this or related immigration-related issues. We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.