USCIS announced today that, beginning May 17, 2021, they will suspend biometrics requirements for H-4, L-2, and certain E nonimmigrant categories, as the agency works to reduce the unprecedented backlog it is currently faced with. It is no secret amongst immigration practitioners (and their affected clients) that USCIS has experienced unprecedented delays and that processing times have ballooned tremendously across almost all immigrant and nonimmigrant categories in recent years. Part of these processing delays can certainly be attributed to COVID, which caused widespread disruption to operations nationwide. However, a rather significant contributing factor was the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, which saw USCIS and related agencies set up roadblock after roadblock to those seeking immigration benefits. Requiring biometrics for those individuals filing I-539 applications to change or extend their status in the above-referenced categories (which previously did not require biometrics) was one such insidious move. According to USCIS estimates, there are currently approximately 123,000 unadjudicated I-539 applications for H-4 and L-2 spouses!
The agency’s announcement of this policy change is welcome news indeed, and another step in the right direction to unwind all of the damage done by the previous administration. It is set to take effect on 05/17/2021 and remain in place for at least two years, at which point the USCIS Director can decide to extend or revoke the policy as he/she sees fit. It is assumed that the $85 biometrics fee that used to previously be required by these applications will no longer be required as well. More updates to come as they are available.
Copied from USCIS declaration (no link available at this time):
- Recently, USCIS has undertaken a variety of adjudicative actions to aggressively address the backlog. Service centers currently have approximately 120 officers adjudicating Form I-539 for the H-4 and L-2 classifications with another 33 officers scheduled for training in May 2021. In the past 60 days, service centers completed approximately 25,000 related to H-4 and L-2 spouses.
- Additionally, USCIS is finalizing a policy that will temporarily suspend biometrics submission requirements for individuals filing Form I-539 to request an extension of stay in or change of status to H-4, L-2 and certain E nonimmigrants due to the extended processing times resulting from limited ASC capacity due to ongoing COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
- Expected to begin on May 17, 2021, the new policy suspending biometrics submission requirements for the H-4, L-2 and E nonimmigrants is intended to be in effect for 24 months, and is intended to automatically expire after May 17, 2023, subject to affirmative extension or revocation by the USCIS Director.
- The suspension of biometrics is intended to apply only to H-4, L-2 and E-1, E-2 and E-3 categories of Form I-539 applications that are pending as of the effective date of the policy and have not yet received a biometric services appointment notice, and new applications received by USCIS after the effective date of the policy through the stated expiration date, subject to affirmative extension or revocation by the USCIS Director.
- I-539s for the H-4 and L-2 categories will generally be assigned for adjudication based on filing date, a process known as First In First Out (“FIFO”). The FIFO methodology permits applicants who filed earlier in time to reserve their place in the queue based on the receipt date of the respective application. Although service centers strive for comparable processing times, there may be deviations from strict FIFO policy based on individual center workloads, expedite requests and other mitigating circumstances.
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