As we described in a prior update, USCIS announced it will begin to phase in interviews for employed-based adjustment of status ("green card") applicants effective October 1, 2017. The USCIS press release left a lot of questions unanswered, including whether every applicant for a green card based on an employer's petition would be interviewed, whether this would apply for only applicants who file after October 1, 2017, and how USCIS would be managing these interviews in a timely manner based on current staffing levels. Last week the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman hosted a stakeholder call and answered some questions about these new interview requirements.
The CIS Ombudsman's office clarified that cases filed before March 6, 2017 will be adjudicated by USCIS Service Centers under prior procedures, so while it is possible for those cases to receive interviews, applicants who filed before that date only have a 5-10% chance of being called for an interview, as was customary before the new interview policy took effect. For applicants who filed on or after March 6, 2017, USCIS notes it is taking an "incremental approach" to maximize the number of visas allocated this fiscal year. USCIS Field Operations Directorate Dan Renaud did not state each and every case would receive an interview, nor are any categorically exempt, as he noted both principals and derivatives will be required to appear, though USCIS will consider waiving interviews in cases where applicants are under age 14.
In the stakeholder call, the CIS Ombudsman's office described how it is undertaking training for field officers on Supplement J and how to coordinate with Department of State to manage visa numbers. The agency has instructed and trained officers not to adjudicate I-140 petitions but will assess validity of supporting documentation to ensure it was accurate, bona fide and credible. Applicants should expect to answer questions regarding admissibility and eligibility for a green card, including details about where they work, what they do, and educational background to ensure it matches information previously disclosed to USCIS. Dependents should expect questions regarding their relationship to the principal and should plan to bring evidence of the bona fide nature of their relationship to the interview, as USCIS states the purpose of these interviews is to ensure integrity of the immigration system.
Finally, the CIS Ombudsman's office touched on processing times, noting it expects employment-based adjudications to comprise approximately 17% of Field Operations workloads. In the short-term, USCIS stated it expects processing times will be affected with the greatest impact felt among family-based petitions and applications for naturalization, particularly for cases filed in the top ten busiest field offices: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Newark, San Jose, San Francisco, and Seattle.