EMPLOYMENT-BASED GREEN CARD PROCESSING UPDATE: AOS APPLICATIONS GETTING TRANSFERRED TO USCIS FIELD OFFICES VIA NATIONAL BENEFITS CENTER
by Rabindra Singh
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has directed Nebraska Service Center (NSC) and Texas Service Center (TSC) to cease adjudication of all Employment-Based (EB) Form I-485 cases other than those based on 4th preference petitions (religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, etc.).
In order to expedite processing of long-pending employment-based Adjustment of Status Application (AOS) applications, NSC and TSC have started transferring AOS applications to the National Benefits Center (NBC) in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
Note that the EB cases transferred to the NBC will generally be relocated to USCIS field offices for final adjudication, which may include an interview if deemed necessary. There are some cases that may be adjudicated at the NBC if the case has already been deemed interview waived and previously reviewed for eligibility.
Processing of 4th preference-based Forms I-485 will remain at NSC. USCIS is reallocating all other EB-based Form I-485 officers and resources at the NSC and TSC to Form I-140 adjudications and backlog elimination.
EB Form I-485 cases already with officers will continue to be adjudicated at the NSC and TSC, as will Requests for Evidence (RFEs) that have already been issued.
USCIS has not provided a timeframe for how quickly individual cases will be transferred to NBC, but they informally indicated that approximately a thousand cases per week are already being shipped and that the number is expected to rise sharply.
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) members have reported receiving transfer notices for their clients’ I-485 applications followed by the online case status update.
AILA’s USCIS Case Assistance Liaison Committee reached out to the USCIS to request more guidance on this transfer process for the benefit of our members and their clients and received the following responses:
Question: As this new adjudication procedure will affect large numbers of Forms I-485 filed by our members, please provide more detailed information with respect to the scope and duration of this processing change so that our members are fully advised and can manage their clients’ expectations properly. While we greatly appreciate USCIS backlog reduction efforts, prior notification of significant procedural changes is mutually beneficial in terms of reducing status inquiries and concerns of stakeholders.
Response: Service Centers have a standing shipment schedule to send visa available EB I-485s with approved I-140s for which biometrics have been collected and security checks have been initiated to FOD for final adjudication for FY-2022.
Question: In communications with AILA, USCIS noted that “Live EB I-485 cases” will continue to be processed at the TSC or NSC as appropriate. Could you please clarify what is meant by “Live EB I-485 cases?” Does this refer to those cases that the TSC or NSC officer is actively adjudicating because the applicant’s priority date is now current under the “Final Action Date?” Also, would this include those Form I-485 cases filed with an EB-3 based Form I-140 for which a previously approved EB-2 Form I-140 is now current under the “Final Action Date” category?
Response: “Live cases” are cases for which the center has already begun review and may have taken action such as when an RFE was issued that is awaiting a response. Centers may relocate such cases to FOD when responses or other pre-processing is completed. I-485s that are concurrently filed with Form I-140 will also be relocated upon approval of the Form I-140 when a visa is available. Please note that service centers are continuing to work EB-4 I-485s based on approved I-360s. For visa regressed cases, applicants will have to send a transfer request in writing to have their I-485s transferred from one category to another.
Question: For those cases transferred to NBC, if the priority date is current under the “Final Action Date,” please advise how an applicant could follow up with the USCIS. When will the National Benefits Center begin reporting Form I-485 processing times? Applicants require this information so they can file a Service Request if the Form I-485 is now outside normal processing times for the specific EB-based I-485 category.
Response: The process for submitting an inquiry through the Contact Center or online remains the same. The inquiry will be forwarded to the file location for response.
Question: For those current Form I-485 applications transferring to NBC, should applicants anticipate any changes in how those cases will now be adjudicated by the NBC? Besides relocation of responsibility for adjudication to the NBC, are there any other procedural or administrative changes we can share with our members? For example, will cases still potentially be transferred to the applicant’s local office for an interview or will cases transferred to the NBC receive adjudication without an interview?
Response: EB cases transferred to the NBC will generally be relocated to field offices for final adjudication, which may include an interview if deemed necessary. There are some cases that may be final adjudicated at the NBC if the case has already been deemed interview waived and previously reviewed for eligibility.
Question: Given the anticipated significant increase in workload at NBC, could the USCIS provide any updates on its plans to provide staffing, training, and other administrative resources to NBC to facilitate the swift processing of transferred cases?
Response: Since these cases are not receiving pre-processing by the NBC, but rather accepted from TSC & NSC and immediately made available for the Field Offices to order, there is no need for additional staff or processing for NBC staff.
Question: How does USCIS plan on ensuring this work stoppage on EB-AOS adjudications at the TSC and NSC does not diminish the government’s ability to use all of the available EB preference visa numbers available in FY2022 (approx. 290,000 per Charles Oppenheim) before September 30, 2022?
Response: USCIS’ top priority are EB I-485 adjudications and as result, USCIS expects to utilize a significant number of the available FY22 visas.