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With little prior notice — at least none that our program was aware of — USCIS announced Monday a new program to bolster security and combat fraud at key immigration appointments. The initiative, called Customer Identification Verification or CIV, seems at first glance to be a sensible, appropriate step to ensure the integrity of immigration processes. But the way the news has gotten out suggests missteps in the unveiling of CIV.
The first mention our Immigration Assistance Program heard about CIV was from a panicked call from a potential client on Tuesday morning. She had been watching the noticias on Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and she came away with the impression that, effective immediately, all visits to USCIS offices would require visitors to submit to biometrics capture including fingerprinting and photo.
The reality is more benign — and most likely it is a good development. Beginning on May 6, 2013 USCIS will begin requiring fingerprint and photo processing for individuals present for an immigration interview or in order to receive evidence of an immigration benefit. What this means is that individuals who arrive for a naturalization exam or a marriage-based immigration interview will have their identity verified to ensure that someone is not testing/interviewing in someone else’s place.
Similarly, when someone goes to receive an I-551 stamp (e.g. temporary proof of Permanent Residency while a Permanent Resident Card replacement is pending) or another form of immigration documentation verification will be done to make sure that some other individual is not standing in to have his or her passport stamped or I-94 issued.
To the extent that the new CIV process can be implemented without adding undue delay or complexity to existing protocols, this seems like a reasonable development and a good way for USCIS to preserve the integrity of its procedures. Time will tell if this new layer of security will impose delays and costs that are appropriately in line with the security risks posed by brazen fraud such as is described above.
Whatever the merits of the new CIV initiative, it is worth noting that this seems to have been dropped on the public with little advance notice even to service providers. We remain hopeful that this development helps rather than hinders USCIS functions, but we are worried that the way in which news about CIV is spreading that it may reignite sentiments of fear surrounding USCIS operations, InfoPass appointments, and other key elements of the relationship between USCIS and the community of immigrants it serves.
A technical but important event occurred earlier this month when the upcoming April 2013 Visa Bulletin was released. For many Central Americans who have been waiting patiently since 2001 for the opportunity to gain lawful immigration status, the release of this document has unlocked a door that has been closed to them for over a decade.
Some of our readers may be familiar with adjustment of status under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 245(i) is important because it offers an alternate path to adjustment of status (“fixing your papers within the USA”) even if the applicant entered the country without permission, even if s/he worked without authorization, and even s/he entered with a visa which s/he overstayed or violated.
Section 245(i) was created in the 1990s but many potential applicants did not take advantage of it. The window for using this process was extended in the late days of the Clinton administration and included a filing deadline of April 30, 2001. Applicants pay a fine of $1,000 in order to utilize this alternate process, but they (like all visa applicants) must wait for a visa to become available.
That wait is not insignificant — it can take years and years, even ten, 15, or 20 years for a visa to be made available. In fact, what makes the April 2013 Visa Bulletin significant is that it reflects the first time* that the F-4 category (visas through U.S. citizen siblings) has been available to countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and others for applicants with the filing date of April 30, 2001.
The largest group of undocumented immigrants — from Mexico — still have a long wait before that fabled period of early 2001 reaches current visa availability. Mexico’s visa line is still so far backlogged that visas in the F-4 category are only available for applicants who filed prior to September 1, 1996. You can review the April 2013 Visa Bulletin here.
When our conversation centers on the requirement that undocumented individuals “get in the back of the line,” it is important to remember what that means. For thousands of long-patient applicants from Central America, the back of the line has finally reached fruition.
* A note: visa availability for these categories actually came available in late 2010 but quickly retrogressed because the Department of State realized that it had moved the line forward to aggressively. Most individuals who filed for their visas during this period had their cases processed and then held in abeyance. Approval notices and interview notices for eligible cases on hold from this period are being issued now.
Earlier today USCIS announced that it will publish a final rule tomorrow (03.Jan.2013) detailing the new provisional waiver process. We provided some preliminary information about this proposal earlier this year during other coverage of the I-601A provisional waiver. A pre-release version of the rule is available here.
We will continue to monitor this exciting development as new details emerge. USCIS will likely be holding informational conference calls in the coming weeks.