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Can Biometrics be Completed at a USCIS Office Outside of US?

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|January 5th, 2017|

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.

Conclusion

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.

New (and Higher) USCIS Filing Fees Effective December 23, 2016

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|October 24th, 2016|

The Department of Homeland Security has just released the final rule announcing the increase of most of the Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) application filing fees. The weighted average of the increase is 21 percent and USCIS is adding one new fee.  The filing fee increase will become effective for all USCIS filings starting mailed, postmarked or otherwise filed on or after December 23, 2016.   (more…)

Happy New (Fiscal) Year – The New Government Fiscal Year and Immigration

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|October 6th, 2016|

While few, if any, of our clients and readers spent too much time planning and celebrating, October 1st is an important date as it marks the beginning of the new government fiscal year.     This has new fiscal year turnover has immigration implications for many — for example, H-1B cap petitions are becoming effective and the quotas for green card visa numbers are being reset for the new fiscal year.

Approved H-1B Cap Petitions (and Change of Status) Becoming Effective

October 1st is the earliest starting date for an H-1B petition filed in April under the annual cap.     As a result, almost all H-1B cap petitions have a starting date of October 1.

Notes for H-1B Employers.   Employers who have sponsored H-1B cap cases and have received approvals with change of status can now employ their workers on H-1B status.      In fact, such H-1B employers must provide employment to H-1B beneficiaries whose status was changed to H-1B on October 1st — not offering employment and pay may cause issues due to possible benching without pay claims.

If the H-1B cap petition was approved on the basis of “consular processing” (no I-94 card issued as part of the approval), then H-1B employers will need to have their workers either (a) obtain H-1B visa stamp at a US Consulate abroad and travel to the U.S. on H-1B status or, if the worker is in the US, (b) file for a change of status to H-1B  from within the U.S. and wait for an approval before H-1B employment can legally start.

Notes for H-1B Workers.   Workers who have received H-1B cap approval with change of status (I-94 card attached to the bottom of H-1B approval notice) should understand that on October 1 their status in the U.S. would automatically change to H-1B and they would be expected to start (or continue) working for the H-1B employer to maintain valid status.     In certain situations, for example holders of L-1 or L-2 status, or if the worker is not ready to start employment, the fact that the status would change automatically to H-1B on October 1 is a significant problem.   For example, L-1 holders will have to stop working for their L-1 employer and start working for their H-1B employer.        Our office can help analyze this situation and provide solutions or suggestions – a phone consultation is a quick and effective way to do so.

As noted above in the employer’s section, if the H-1B cap petition was approved with “consular processing” (no I-94 card), then the H-1B worker will either need to enter the U.S. using H-1B visa or apply to change status from within the U.S.

H-1B Cap Pending?  Cap-Gap Work Authorization Ends on September 30.   Another important consideration is that the automatic cap-gap OPT extension ends on September 30 even if the H-1B cap petition remains pending beyond October 1.    As a result, such F-1 OPT cap-gap applicants for H-1B cap may remain in the US while the H-1B cap petition remains pending but they may not be able to work.   More details in our article on this topic.

Annual Visa Quotas Reset – Green Card Approvals to Continue

Another important aspect of the new government fiscal year starting on October 1st is the fact that the annual green card visa numbers reset.    Many of our readers may be aware that normally, in September, USCIS uses up all of the available immigrant visa numbers for the fiscal year and, as a result, no green card applications could be approved until the next fiscal year begins and the quotas are reset.   As of October 1, the new quotas reset and we expect USCIS to continue to issue approvals of pending I-485 cases with a current priority date.

Additionally, the beginning of a new fiscal year allows the government to allocate a new set of visa numbers for the entire fiscal year but depending on the demand and the pending applications for each category, the government makes different decisions as to how to allocate these numbers and how to advance or retrogress the cutoff dates.    The Visa Bulletin for October 2016 suggested, at least initially, confirmed out expectations that the government is planning to be aggressive with allowing more people to file I-485s.    We are hoping that the Visa Bulletin cutoff dates will move forward aggressively, at least in the first few months of the fiscal year, as the annual visa quotas were reset on October 1.

Diversity Visa Lottery Opens

As the new fiscal year starts, the Department of State will open the DV-2018 Diversity Visa (a.k.a. “green card”) lottery on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.   The entries for this year’s lottery must be submitted electronically between noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), Tuesday, October 4, 2016, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5), Monday, November 7,  2016..   Please see our article for more details.

Conclusion

The new government fiscal year has some possible (and sometimes important) implications to many H-1B employers and workers, in addition to a significant number of immigrant visa applicants.     Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

USCIS Proposes International Entrepreneur Parole Rule

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|August 26th, 2016|

After years of anticipation, the Department of Homeland Security has proposed and released the draft text of a rule which would allow international entrepreneurs parole to be able to remain and work in the U.S. while developing and growing their startup companies.    The rule aims to stimulate foreign entrepreneurs to attract capital and create U.S. jobs by allowing up to five years of staying and working in the U.S. (more…)

USCIS Publishes Rule Seeking to Raise Filing Fees

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|May 11th, 2016|

The Department of Homeland Security has just released a proposed rule seeking to amend (increase) most of the Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) application filing fees. The weighted average of the increase is 21 percent and USCIS is adding one new fee.  The proposed fee increase rule is under a comment period until July 5, 2016 with an anticipated effective date for the new fees around Fall of 2016.

Update October 24, 2016:  the final filing fee increase rule has been published with an effective date of the new fees December 23, 2016.

(more…)

H-1B Fees Dramatically Increased for H-1B/L-1 Dependent Employers

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|December 19th, 2015|

In a sudden and surprising move, a number of immigration-related provisions were inserted into the must-pass government funding bill, titled “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016”   The bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.  One of the more significant immigration-related provisions is the significant filing fee increase for H-1B and L-1 employers who have more than 50 employees of which 50% are on H-1B or L-1 status.    The additional filing fee is $4,500 for L-1 petitions and $4,000 for H-1B petitions. (more…)

Public Law 111-230 Sunset Means Lower H-1B Filing Fees for Certain Employers

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|October 4th, 2015|

September 30, 2015 was the last day on which the additional filing fee required to be paid by certain H-1B dependent employers was required.     The Public Law 111-230 additional filing fee of $2,000 was required to be paid for certain H-1B petitions or $2,250 for certain L-1A or L-1B petitions filed by employers which have more than 50 employees and of which 50% or more are on L-1 or H-1 status.    Public Law 111-230 had a sunset date of September 30, 2015 and since it has not been renewed, the fee is no longer required. (more…)

Happy New (Fiscal) Year – Immigration Implications of the New Government Fiscal Year

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|September 30th, 2015|

While few, if any, of our clients and readers will be planning major celebrations, October 1st is an important date as it marks the beginning of the new government fiscal year.     This has some immigration implications for many folks — for example, H-1B cap petitions are becoming effective and the quotas for green card visa numbers are being reset for the new fiscal year.

Approved H-1B Cap Petitions (and Change of Status) Becoming Effective

October 1st is the earliest starting date for an H-1B petition filed in April under the annual cap.     As a result, almost all H-1B cap petitions have a starting date of October 1.

Notes for H-1B Employers.   Employers who have sponsored H-1B cap cases and have received approvals with change of status can now employ their workers on H-1B status.      In fact, such H-1B employers must provide employment to H-1B beneficiaries whose status was changed to H-1B on October 1st — not offering employment and pay may cause issues due to possible benching without pay claims.

If the H-1B cap petition was approved on the basis of “consular processing” (no I-94 card issued as part of the approval), then H-1B employers will need to have their workers either (a) obtain H-1B visa stamp at a US Consulate abroad and travel to the U.S. on H-1B status or, if the worker is in the US, (b) file for a change of status to H-1B  from within the U.S. and wait for an approval before H-1B employment can legally start.

Notes for H-1B Workers.   Workers who have received H-1B cap approval with change of status (I-94 card attached to the bottom of H-1B approval notice) should understand that on October 1 their status in the U.S. would automatically change to H-1B and they would be expected to start (or continue) working for the H-1B employer to maintain valid status.     In certain situations, for example holders of L-1 or L-2 status, or if the worker is not ready to start employment, the fact that the status would change automatically to H-1B on October 1 is a significant problem.   For example, L-1 holders will have to stop working for their L-1 employer and start working for their H-1B employer.        Our office can help analyze this situation and provide solutions or suggestions – a phone consultation is a quick and effective way to do so.

As noted above in the employer’s section, if the H-1B cap petition was approved with “consular processing” (no I-94 card), then the H-1B worker will either need to enter the U.S. using H-1B visa or apply to change status from within the U.S.

Annual Visa Number Quotes Reset – Green Card Approvals to Continue

Another important aspect of the new government fiscal year starting on October 1st is the fact that the annual green card visa numbers will reset.    Many of our readers may be aware that on September 25, USCIS used up all of the available immigrant visa numbers for the fiscal year and, as a result, no green card applications could be approved.   As of October 1, we expect USCIS to continue to issue approvals of pending I-485 cases.

Additionally, the beginning of a new fiscal year allows the government to allocate a new set of visa numbers for the entire fiscal year but depending on the demand and the pending applications for each category, the government makes different decisions as to how to allocate these numbers and how to advance or retrogress the cutoff dates.    The Visa Bulletin for October 2015 (and the subsequent revision) suggested, at least initially, confirmed out expectations that the government is planning to be aggressive with allowing more people to file I-485s.    We are hoping that the Visa Bulletin cutoff dates will move forward aggressively, at least in the first few months of the fiscal year, as the annual visa quotas were reset on October 1.

Diversity Visa Lottery Opens

As the new fiscal year starts, the Department of State will open the DV-2017 Diversity Visa (a.k.a. “green card”) lottery on Thursday, October 1, 2015.   The entries for this year’s lottery must be submitted electronically between noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), Thursday, October 1, 2015, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5), Tuesday, November 3,  2015.   Please see our article for more details.

Conclusion

The new government fiscal year has some possible (and sometimes important) implications to many H-1B employers and workers, in addition to a significant number of immigrant visa applicants.     Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

USCIS Receipt Numbers Explained (LIN, SRC, EAC, WAC, IOE)

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|June 4th, 2015|

The USCIS receipt or case number is one of the most commonly used numbers, by immigrants and lawyers alike, to track the progress or identify a particular immigration case or filing.

These receipt numbers start with three letters followed by a series of numbers, for example EAC-15-123-45678.  Here is how to understand what the numbers mean.
(more…)

Immigration Relief Options for Nepal Nationals Impacted by the Recent Disaster

By Dimo R. Michailov, Esq.|May 6th, 2015|

After the recent earthquake in Nepal, our office is receiving a number of inquiries by Nepali nationals regarding relief options and alternatives in various U.S. immigration situations.   USCIS has also indicated that they would provide relief in a number of situations understanding that a disaster may affect the ability of an individual to maintain status in the U.S. or to otherwise comply with the relevant immigration regulations.

As a result, there are a number of options for Nepali nationals who are impacted by the recent disaster.   Please note that other foreign nationals may also be able to claim relief under these options if they can show that their ability to comply with immigration regulations has been impacted by the disaster.

Application to Extend (or Change) Status from within the U.S.

Nepali nationals can now obtain relief by having an application for extension or change of status approved after such application is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired.

Advance Parole – Expediting and Extending

USCIS permits re-parole of individuals already granted parole.  Also, extension of certain parole grants and expedited processing of advance parole applications is available.

Employment Authorization

USCIS would allow expedited adjudication and approval, where possible, of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students experiencing severe economic hardship.  As a result, Nepali students who are on F-1 status and would otherwise qualify for financial hardship EAD work permit can apply to do so on the basis of the disaster.   Similarly, USCIS would review favorably expedited processing of other pending EAD applications.

Fee Waivers

USCIS would entertain requests to have certain immigration fees waived based on the applicant’s inability to pay or similar hardship.

Immediate Relatives Immigrant Petitions

USCIS may permit expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) where either the petitioner or the beneficiary are Nepali nationals impacted by the recent events.

Foreign Assistance to LPRs Stranded Overseas

USCIS and Department of State are also willing to provide assistance to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) who are stranded overseas without immigration documents such as green cards.

Immigration Relief Options Are Not a Temporary Protected Status

We would like to add that these immigration relief options are not equivalent to a measure granting protetion from removal and work authorization such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS).     For example, the announced relief measures do not allow Nepali nationals who are in the U.S. without status to obtain status.   Similarly, the relief measures to not grant a right to a work permit (perhaps with the exception of F-1 EAD based on hardship).    We know that USCIS is considering a number of requests for introducing a TPS for Nepali nationals but such relief has not been granted yet and at this time we do not know if TPS will be granted to Nepali nationals.

Conclusion

We applaud USCIS’ willingness to accommodate the needs of certain Nepali nationals who are impacted by the earthquake.   Our office stands ready to assist affected Nepali nationals who need help with their immigration options.  Please contact us for a free initial consultation and analysis of your options.