On August 28, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that as of October 1, 2017, employment-based adjustment of status applicants will be required to attend in-person interviews. The notice references Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” and states in-person interviews are “a part of the agency’s comprehensive strategy to further improve the detection and prevention of fraud and further enhance the integrity of the immigration system.” The EO claims to keep America safe by requiring DHS to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or denial of immigration benefits. That rhetoric may resonate, but the policy approach misses the mark.
This additional step would be added at the very last stage in a journey which has likely taken many years if not a decade. So why is it that USCIS doesn’t already have the access or means to discover relevant information and verify credibility? The answer is simple – it does.
Employment-based adjustment of status applicants are a special group because of one key factor: they are already in the U.S. with valid nonimmigrant status. This means the applicant has already applied for a visa at a U.S. consular post, been interviewed by a Department of State (DOS) consular officer, had fingerprints taken, undergone background and security checks, and had their application approved. The applicant has already been inspected by and admitted to the U.S. by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and again undergone background checks. The applicant has been a beneficiary of an immigrant petition filed by a U.S. employer and approved by USCIS. The applicant has, in fact, already filed an adjustment of status application and undergone background checks and had biometrics taken by USCIS.
In sum, the federal government wants to add in-person interviews for people who have already been vetted by DOS, CBP, and USCIS, and who are already living and likely working in the U.S., having passed employment-based background checks, established a U.S. residence, likely applied for and been issued a U.S. driver’s license, been issued a Social Security number, and filed federal, state, and local taxes.
These applicants have been vetted, followed the rules, and stood in “line” until they finally have a chance to adjust their status.
Of course, if someone might pose a threat or have raised concerns of fraud, an in-person interview would make sense. But guess what? USCIS already has the power to require an in-person interview of any adjustment applicant. So the protection that this announcement purports to add is already built into the existing system. And when something doesn’t look right or USCIS has questions or concerns, requiring in-person interviews is exactly what they have done. USCIS has wisely used their limited resources to approve straightforward cases without interviews and incorporated an interview process when concerns cropped up.
In my nearly two decades of practicing immigration law, I have advised a few employment-based clients who were required to attend an adjustment of status interview. One, a critically acclaimed British author, is an avid gardener who also prefers to write her drafts with pencil. As a result, her fingerprints are faint and after several unsuccessful attempts by USCIS to capture her fingerprints, she was called in for an interview – an in-person background check. The case was approved.
What will USCIS officers be charged with under the new requirements? They will be required to use limited resources to interview more than 100,000 adjustment applicants annually who, with the best technology and security, have been found to be eligible for lawful permanent resident status. Officers will be charged with interviewing thousands of law abiding, qualified people who are already here. The Trump Administration is adding another expensive and wasteful layer of bureaucracy instead of spending the time, energy, and funds on more meaningful background, security, and anti-fraud measures or using the system they already have available.
The scheduling process, the unnecessary traffic through USCIS offices, and the additional case work for officers will add hundreds of hours of additional time to already pressed budgets.
It’s true that in-person interviews can be valuable tools that DHS has available and uses when necessary. But requiring all applicants to attend interviews dulls these tools. This new policy offers an illusion of security, no more, and will harm our shared prosperity and weaken our ability to attract people who will contribute to our national success.