Starting October 1, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require that all applicants for permanent residence through employment attend in-person interviews at USCIS Field Offices. This was recently confirmed by USCIS, as reported in a recent Politico article, and is considered part of President Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” initiative. There are likely similar policy changes to come, and the result will be processing delays for many applicants.
For the past decade, it has been common practice for USCIS to waive interviews in most employment-based cases, which helped to keep down costs and processing times. Now, applicants for all types of benefits can expect to see longer processing times as the resources at local Field Offices strain to accommodate the load of applications. Even under current conditions, Field Offices are frequently burdened with low staffing levels and difficulty hiring new staff.
Green card applicants will be required to travel to the Field Office with jurisdiction over their residence regardless of whether the office is the most convenient. This can mean driving long distances and incurring the costs of hotels in order to arrive at early morning interviews. For example, applicants who live in Monroe, Louisiana, must attend interviews in New Orleans despite the existence of closer offices in Jackson and Dallas, and applicants in Mobile, Alabama, must attend interviews in Atlanta, despite the existence of the much closer office in New Orleans.
This change will also raise complications in timing, which are difficult to predict. Processing will slow across the spectrum, but each Field Office manages different caseloads in addition to scheduling, prioritizing, and processing applications differently. Field Office adjudicators are not typically well trained in employment-based cases, which could mean further delays as adjudicators are trained in an entirely new and complex area of the law, or even worse, a rise in inconsistent or erroneous adjudications.
As the immigration landscape becomes more difficult to navigate, it is critical to hire counsel familiar with the local field office and the employment-based immigration process.