In a teleconference on March 9, 2012, USCIS announced plans to transition all usually foreign filed I-601 applications for unlawful presence, criminal, misrepresentation, and other kinds of inadmissibility waivers to one central Lockbox filing location in the U.S. The practice now is to submit the waiver filing with the USCIS office connected to the foreign consulate. The current process has resulted in a lot of delays and longer wait times for a final decision at certain consulates who have less adjudicators available to decide the waivers. In theory, this will be better for applicants if they can reduce the average wait time and the efficiency of adjudication.
Please note: This new process Foreign-Filed Waiver Lockbox procedure has nothing to do with the provisional waiver process that should be in effect by late 2012 and proposed earlier in the year.
What this new process would do:
Waiver applications can only be submitted to the Lockbox in the US after the applicant has attended the immigrant visa interview abroad at the consulate and the consulate officer determines that the applicant is eligible to file a waiver. The waiver would be filed with the Lockbox, in Phoenix, which forwards the petition to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center for adjudication. USCIS expects to train 26 officers on waivers to handle the expected increased workload.
Proposed Benefits to this new process:
- Should be faster for applicants – Goal is adjudication in 6 months. They also hope a new centralized place to submit the foreign filed waivers should stop great variations on processing times at different consulates; overseas offices cannot grow easily – some USCIS offices abroad only have one officer to decide these case and the backlogs created are inevitable. In contrast, service centers are huge (can pull staff from other units) and can respond quickly to increases in receipts of applications to avoid backlogs. 14 officers will start at NSC and will add more for a total of 26 to handle over 23,000 waivers submitted each year. Right now there are 4 adjudicators in Mexico and in some cases 1 in other offices.
- Case status info will be available online through USCIS’s website once the application is filed and receipted. This is a great addition and only available currently with some offices.
- All cases will be adjudicated in order of being received.
- Process applies to all I-212s (Advance Permission to Reapply After Removal Packages) filed with Inadmissibility Waivers as well. I-212 waivers can be sent to the Lockbox or still filed with the local offices.
- E -notification will be available – if you provide email address – can get receipt number emailed to you.
- Implementation of this new policy is expected in late spring, early summer 2012, around Memorial Day.
Other important notes:
- Estimates of 23,000 waivers per year with 26 adjudicators allows 885 waivers to be reviewed per adjudicator per year. 885 waivers in 252 business days in a year is an average of 3.5 waivers per day, per adjudicator, or about 2.5 hours spent on each case. A great improvement on certain offices now with 1 adjudicator.
- Concurrent I-130 and I-601 filing is not available.
- The concurrent I-485 and I-601 filing procedures will not change – Follow the local filing instructions.
- Applicants cannot apply from Havana – must file with intrasection there (only 10 cases a year)
- There could be certain situations overseas where USCIS offices are available and could be faster for expedites than lockbox decisions which are expected to take no more than 6 months on average.
- Transition period for CDJ (Juarez) cases – between 75-79% are filed at CDJ. Now takes two months to review if instantly approvable. If not, the case referred to another office to adjudicate. For the first six months of this new process, the applicant will have the choice to file at a Lockbox or at CDJ. After this, will then all go to Lockbox filings. So the CDJ Pilot Program will be over within 6 months of this procedure coming in effect.
- As of today’s teleconference, USCIS is not sure if it will be transferring pending cases from consulates at the time the new procedure becomes effective or if USCIS offices abroad will continue to decide those pending cases.
- Refiles as the Lockbox if the NBC denies the case will be available if the applicant chooses this route instead of appealing the denial to the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office which could take over a year.
- [email protected] – for questions and to inquire about the lockbox status.
- The main reason the waivers will be rejected will be for lack of signatures (must be original), lack of proper fees, and missing information like name, address, and DOB. Must follow directions for submitting form with most recent directions.
- Do not file the waiver before the interview or it will be denied. An applicant may not file the waiver until they are given permission at the visa interview.
- Officers conducting the visa interview will send inadmissibility and case information visa an electronic database to the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) so adjudicators will have the case information readily available.
- If waiver submissions are duplicated (ex: one foreign filed and one US filed), the duplicated waiver will be sent to NSC so one officer will adjudicate the two waivers.
- Additional evidence should be sent to the NSC, not to the Lockbox.
- Not all of the officers are experience adjudicators, but they will be receiving training. If outside support is necessary, the support team will also receive training before they start adjudicating.
- Applicant will receive decision by mail.
- If waiver is denied and person chooses to refile instead of appeal, they applicant will not need a second interview but will be able to send a new waiver to the Lockbox.
- Requests need to be made in writing and sent to the Lockbox.
- Expedite request requirements will be the same as before.
- No notification will be provided if denied
- Cases needing immediate attention to adjudicate the I-601 will have to be discussed with eh consulate interviewing officer.
This is a positive step in streamlining how waivers are adjudicated and we hope that the decreased wait time will allow families to be unified faster than before.
Ruby L. Powers – I-601 Waiver Attorney – Houston Immigration Attorney