Many of our clients often ask us what is entailed in the biometrics appointment process. Biometrics are required for any H-4 change of status or extension and for adjustment of status petitions. This is one reason for the delay in adjudication of H-4 petitions/extensions. Prior to the implementation of biometrics, the H-4 petitions were typically approved at the same time the H-1B principal petition was approved; however, we are now seeing H-4 petitions take 6 months or longer to be adjudicated.
Applicant are required to personally appear at and Application Support Center (ASC), by appointment, to provide biometrics (fingerprints and photograph) for various immigration benefits. This includes, but is not limited to, employment authorization documents (EAD), advance parole (AP), applications to adjust status, naturalization, and I-539 applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status.
On March 13, 2020, USCIS temporarily closed its ASCs and field offices nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in June 2020, ASC offices began a phased re-opening adhering to social distancing, occupancy capacity, and in personnel staffing capabilities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and both USCIS field office and ASC closures, many appointments were canceled and must be rescheduled while many initial biometrics appointments have yet to be scheduled. USCIS has indicated that it will automatically reschedule any necessary ASC appointments that were canceled due to temporary office closure, or send notification of biometrics reuse to eligible individuals.
Many practitioners continue to experience significant delays in biometrics scheduling. USCIS acknowledges the tremendous backlog with biometrics scheduling noting approximately 1.3 million applicants still waiting for biometrics appointments as of mid-December. USCIS is scheduling approximately 10,400 appointments per day.
USCIS is authorized to reuse previously submitted biometrics under limited circumstances to verify an individual’s identity and perform security checks. If USCIS is able to reuse previous biometrics, USCIS will mail a Form I-797 notice to the applicant, which states, “USCIS is able to reuse your previously captured fingerprints and other biometrics […] it is not necessary for you to appear at a USCIS Application Support Center”. Not all applications meet the requirements for biometrics reuse.
If you must reschedule a biometrics appointment, you should call the USCIS Contact Center at least 2 weeks before the scheduled appointment date (or as soon as possible) as the USCIS representative may be able to reschedule your client on the spot. If the date for the biometrics has passed, you should ask the USCIS representative to place the client back into the biometrics scheduling queue.
Tips for DELAYED, CANCELED OR NO BIOMETERICS SCHEDULED
The following are a collected list of suggestions from practitioners. In lieu of published guidance, perseverance is the best recommendation as each ASC and USCIS local office has different local and state COVID protocols and varying results in discretion do occur.
- If more than 90 days have passed since filing an application and a biometrics appointment has yet to be scheduled, call the USCIS Contact Center and request the Tier 1 USCIS representative escalate your call to a Tier 2 USCIS Officer. When speaking to the Tier 2 Officer, ask to put your client in the biometrics scheduling queue for the next available biometrics appointment since it is outside normal scheduling times.
- Since USCIS Officers may call after hours and on weekends, it is recommended that you provide your cell phone number.
- USCIS Tier 2 Officers generally call back within 2-7 business days. If no call-back is received, it is recommended that you call back after 7 full business days and provide the Case Inquiry Number issued during the previous call.
- You may file a Case Inquiry online through the USCIS website using the “Case outside normal processing time” option, if the application is outside of processing time or “Did not receive notice by mail.”
- It is best practice to confirm the mailing address in the system is correct for the biometrics appointment. For I-485 applicants, it is recommended you use the underlying I-765 or I-131 receipt number to request a biometrics appointment.
- Some AILA Chapter USCIS liaisons have contact with the local ASC. If your local chapter has a liaison relationship, the local ASC may have the ability to contact the national scheduling service or schedule appointments if the file is present at the local office. AILA Chapter liaisons may be found here.
Tips for EXPEDITED BIOMETRICS
In certain urgent scenarios, clients will need to make an expedite request. USCIS entertains expedite requests on a case-by-case basis if it meets one or more of the following criteria. To expedite certain benefits, including advance parole, the applicant must first have their biometrics taken. To expedite a biometrics appointment, call the USCIS Contact Center, say “Place Expedite Request” or “Expedite Biometrics Appointment” and request the Tier 1 representative escalate your call to a Tier 2 USCIS Officer.
- If possible, the original application filing should have included the expedite request with any available supporting documentation.
- You should dictate the basis of the expedite and have the Tier 1 representative read it back to you. Some representatives may not escalate the request, in which case it’s easier to call back and make the request to a new representative.
- Since USCIS Officers have in some instances called back after hours and on weekends, it is recommended that you provide your cell phone number.
- USCIS Tier 2 Officers generally call back within 2-7 business days. If no call-back is received, we recommend you call back after 7 full business days and provide the Case Inquiry Number issued during the previous call.
- If you are requesting an expedite of an I-765 Application or other benefit, you should ensure that you meet the criteria found on the USCIS website: How to Make an Expedite Request. Please note that as of May 10, 2019, the USCIS website indicates that “USCIS is not required to provide justification and is not required to respond regarding decisions on expedite requests.”
- USCIS has indicated that “[b]ecause of our COVID facility constraints, we cannot process walk-ins for biometrics collection except for military applicants and their family members when the principal applicant is scheduled for an appointment.” IF, AND ONLY IF, there is truly an urgent ‘life or death’ need, you could consider discussing with your client the option of attempting to attend their local ASC with strong evidence of the urgent need including plane ticket, doctor’s note, and any other helpful documentation, and warn them it is discretionary with the local ASC. Your client should never say “my attorney sent me,” rather, you must prepare them to respectfully request the benefit in light of the urgent need to travel.
- Always bring valid photo identification, although some members report that their clients have been able to present an expired passport, together with a letter or receipt from the home country’s embassy stating the passport renewal is in progress.
Please note that if the expedite request relates to an application for employment authorization or student status, the need to obtain employment authorization or student status, standing alone without any evidence of other compelling factors does not typically warrant expedited treatment.