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Nebraska Service Center Stakeholder Teleconference: Asylee and Refugee Issues

By Allison Posner

On Thursday, March 14, the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) conducted a conference call with stakeholders to discuss refugee and asylee issues.  The following are the questions submitted and the NSC’s responses.  Note that this was an informal call with NSC staff.  Nothing shared on the call should be construed as agency policy.

I-730:

Q.  We received a finger print notice for an I-730 beneficiary living in Eritrea.  What should we do in a case like that?

A. Such situations are often caused by the wrong box being checked on part 2 of the form I-730.  Representatives or petitioners should contact the National customer Service Center and verify that the case is being processed as an “outside the U.S. case.”  If that is confirmed, there is no need for the beneficiary to appear for biometrics and no adverse action will be taken if the beneficiary does not appear.

Q.  Please clarify what the procedure is, and what the criteria is, for determining whether an approved I-730 case will be routed through the NVC or sent straight to the post?  It is often difficult to determine post approval where the case is at.  In our experience lately some cases go through the NVC, others seem to be going directly to the post.  Of the cases routed through the NVC, sometimes we receive a generic NVC notice advising us the case has been received there and is being forwarded to the post.  Other cases never receive this letter. 

As it stands, the post contacts only the derivative (beneficiary of the I-730) which is often unsuccessful given that they are on the run, don't have access to a phone, or have a stable address.  We would like the process to be standardized such that the principal (petitioner) and the representative of record is notified each time the case is transferred or action is requested on the case.

A. All approved I-730s for consular processing are routed through the NVC. 

Q.  This issue has been raised on numerous occasions in the past, but I believe the answers have been varied.  We continue to see problems when I-730 cases are denied overseas (now particularly in Cuba), but the file never makes it back to the US for NOID issuance or reaffirmation of the initial approval.  In one case involving a March 2012 denial at the US Interests Section, the file has not yet been sent back to the NVC.  These delays and the unwillingness of the service centers (NSC and TSC) to try and get these files back to the US is very detrimental to the petitioners and beneficiaries.  The only apparent method to get these files back to the US is through a Congressional inquiry, and the results vary depending on how assertive the Congressional office is.  Is there any policy that can be set up so that CBOs can contact the NSC or TSC after a certain number of months from the denial date to ensure the file is sent back to us for eventual review by the service center?

A. Multiple reasons may cause a delay in returning a file to the service center.  Consulates, due to security concerns, may only be sent via diplomatic pouch.  Further, service centers have limited ability to request petitions back from consulates.  Inquiries may be made to the Nebraska Service Center by email at: ncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov.  Email the Texas Service Center at:tsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov.  The office of Service Center Operations at USCIS headquarters can be reached at: scopsscata@uscis.dhs.gov.

Q.  For submission of an I-730 refugee relative petition: what day would be used in a refugee case to determine the age of the child for CSPA purposes? Is it the date of admission to the US as a refugee? Is it the date of approval of refugee status from the Department of State? Or is it rather the date that the form I-590 is completed? If the latter, what’s the best way to request a copy of this form from USCIS and to whom do we submit such request? Does this vary post by post or has this process been uniformed?

A. The date used is the date the principal refugee signed the form I-590.  Copies of forms may be requested via the FOIA process.

I-485:

Q.  The online processing timeframes have consistently indicated a 4 month processing timeframe for refugee I-485 cases.  However, we have now started to see a number of cases, particularly Burmese, still pending in excess of 6 months.  Do calls or emails to the NCSC re: case is past processing timeframes really result in movement on a case?  Also, are there still more recently filed Burmese refugee I-485s that are being held for material support reasons?

A. The NSC strives to maintain a four month processing time frame for refugee I-485 cases, though it is not always possible in every case.  Some cases may be delayed due to biometrics scheduling, security issues, TRIG issues, or other reasons.  Inquiries may be made through the National Customer Service Center for cases pending longer than four months. 

Q.  Many years ago, an asylee derivative who had to go through the nunc-pro-tunc (NPT) process could file the I-485 first, was notified of the need to go through the NPT procedure, and the I-485 would remain pending while the asylum NPT procedure was resolved.  Now, the NPT procedure/grant of asylum has to occur first and only then can the I-485 be filed.  The problem is that in some locations, asylum officers circuit ride to some cities and appear to be overloaded with cases – resulting in lengthy delays in excess of 6 months.  While one CBO is trying to ask that NPT case decisions be expedited since they are not “full blown” asylum cases, we are uncertain whether this issue has really been addressed at the US CIS Asylum Division meetings – which are also not accessible by teleconference and notes are posted many, many months after the meetings. NPT delays of this magnitude will result in many elderly and disabled asylees who are on SSI being cut from benefits because they literally cannot file for US citizenship in enough time to prevent those cuts. 

Is there any way that NSC and TSC can play a role in getting NPT decisions expedited in these cases so I-485s can be filed? Or, can we go back to the old system of allowing the I-485 to remain pending while the NPT procedure goes on – which hopefully will put “pressure” on asylum divisions to make NPT decisions in a more timely manner.

A. In the last month, the Nebraska and Texas Service Centers have returned to their previous procedure of initiating the nunc-pro-tunc process after the Adjustment of Status application has been filed.  Derivative applicants who must go through the process receive RFEs for form I-589, which is then forwarded to the local asylum office.  The Service Centers then complete adjudication of the I-485s.

Q.  What can we do about asylee-based adjustment cases that are beyond the normal processing times?   We have attempted sending a formal letter and e-mail to NSC but have not received any clear answers in some of these cases where there is an apparent delay.

A. The recommended procedure for inquiring on cases that are outside of normal processing times is to call the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283.  If no response is received after 30 days, email the appropriate Service Center.

If no response within 21 days, contact USCIS headquarters at scopsscata@dhs.gov.

TRIG:

Q.  Do NSC reps participate in USCIS TRIG quarterly meetings?  If so, is it possible for NSC epresentatives to discuss TRIG issues that were discussed/resolved at these meetings?  The TRIG meeting notes are posted many, many months after the meeting dates and since there is no teleconference participation, it is often impossible to get answers to TRIG issues in a timely manner.

A. Representatives of the NSC participate in monthly TRIG teleconferences with Service Center Operations, but they do not participate in the quarterly meetings.  NSC representatives cannot discuss any issues from those meetings.

Q. If minutes of meetings cannot be discussed until notes are published, what TRIG information can NSC reveal – statistics on numbers of TRIG cases pending, etc.? Can NSC discuss any “directives” from Field Operations that deal with TRIG cases?

A. All questions relating to TRIG should be directed to the TRIG point of contact at headquarters’ Service Center Operations:  scopsscata@dhs.gov

Asylum:

Q.  If a husband and wife each filed an Asylum case, each including the rest of the family in the case and the husband case was scheduled first and he was granted Asylum along with his family.  What is the proper procedure for the pending wife’s case?  Can we inform the service that the husband was granted Asylum including his wife and ask them to cancel the wife’s case or withdraw the case?

A. The NSC is not involved with applications for asylum.  Questions on this topic should be directed to USCIS’s Asylum Division.

Q.  We have several individuals pretend to be Asylum Experts in our area that prey on Asylum seekers.  When the Asylum seekers come to us for a 2nd opinion we discover the problems in the case that it had been sent to the Service.  We sent a request to the service and requested to withdraw the case so we can have time to prepare the case properly and we also send an affidavit signed by the client explaining that he has been a victim.   Is this a proper procedure for this scenario?  And if not, what is the proper procedure in this kind of situations?

A. The NSC is not involved with applications for asylum.  Questions on this topic should be directed to USCIS’s Asylum Division.

Q.  Can NSC work with EOIR and coordinate a stream-lined and efficient way to deal with scheduling biometrics appointments for asylum applicants who are before EOIR? EOIR in LA  hands out notices telling asylum applicants that they should contact Nebraska to issue a biometrics request for an appointment for any asylum cases that are in Court. But Nebraska does not deal with these requests promptly and that can impact a case if the biometrics are not completed in time for the next court hearing.  It seems that  InfoPass at the local level is a more efficient way to handle these matters.

A. These questions should be directed to EOIR.

I-765:

Q.  In a situation where an asylee was granted asylum in 2004 and whose case was reopened due to an identity issue and then granted asylum again in 2012 under the new name, if this person was to apply for his first Employment Authorization Document under such new name (same Alien Number), would this person be eligible for a free first Employment Authorization Document?

A. No, if applicant has received an A5 EAD for free and has since changed names and is applying for another A5, the application will be treated as a renewal, and a fee will be required.

I-131:

Q.  Would it be possible to get more up-to-date processing times for the I-131, Travel Document for Refugees and Asylees? The processing times given on the USCIS website for NSC are from December 31, 2012.  It says three months; is that in fact how long it's taking?

A. Processing times for Refugee Travel Documents are about 3 months. 

Q.  Considering that both documents are so similar, why does the processing time of Reentry Permits is substantively faster than that of a Refugee Travel Document?

A. Processing times for Reentry Permits are about 3 months.  The NSC tries to keep both applications at the same processing time frame.  If an applicant has not appeared at an appointment, then his or her application will not be adjudicated.

Fee Waivers:

Q.  Does NSC review the I-912 or is this done by the Lockbox personnel in AZ? We have seen an alarming number of wrongful denials in the last months in cases where we have submitted clear evidence of clients receiving means-tested public benefits.

A. If the application is filed at the lockbox the lockbox handles the fee waiver.  For those few applications that are filed directly with the Service Center, NSC will make the determination on the fee waiver request. 

Please note that the letter describing the means-tested benefits must be valid at the time of filing. For example, if a request for a few waiver is filed on February 1, 2013, and the accompanying letter was valid through December 31, 2012, the fee waiver will be denied. 

There is no fee waiver for Reentry Permits or Refugee Travel Documents 

Q.  When a customer files an adjustment application (based on asylee status) and requests a fee waiver via the I-912 form, what is the general procedure for processing that request?  If it is rejected, how does the processing center handle this?  We understand that normally, the entire submission is returned to the customer along with a request for additional evidence and that the entire package should be resubmitted with the additional evidence.  Is this still the standing policy?  If a customer gets the RFE but the original packet is NOT returned to him, how should he respond?

A. Normal procedure is to return the packet to the applicant with instructions to send additional information.  If the entire packet is not returned to the applicant, he or she should re-send the contents of the original packet along with eligibility evidence for a fee waiver.

 

Q.  If an I-912 fee waiver is approved for an asylee adjustment application fee, does it also cover/waive the fee for the refugee travel document as well, or must that be paid separately? The instructions indicate that if a fee is paid for an asylee adjustment, and an I-131 is filed in conjunction with the I-485, the RTD is included at no additional cost.  However, if the fee is waived by the fee waiver, it is unclear if the customer can still apply for the RTD at no additional cost.  Could you clarify the policy on this?

A. When an asylee files Form I-485 and pays the $1070 fee, the Refugee Travel Document is included in that fee.  If the fee for the I-485 is waived, the asylee must pay for the Refugee Travel Document.  That fee is not waived.

Miscellaneous:

Q.  Since our office only deals with clients who are on public assistance, many of my clients are homeless or precariously housed.  As a result I use a post office box for their mailing address for USCIS or they use a relative's address.  We indicate a c/o in the address (or in the mailing address field if there is a separate one).  Yet the mail from USCIS does not include a c/o, especially for the I-765s, and the post office returns the mail as undeliverable.  Is there some way to assure that c/o will be used in the address when notices and documents are sent, so that clients can get their mail from USCIS.  General delivery does not work for mailings from USCIS.

A.  If an application is submitted with a c/o address, that is the address NSC will use.  It would only not be used if someone calls in to the National Customer Service Center to remove the c/o.

Q.  I am wondering if USCIS can provide more information about the new Affidavit of Relationship Program.  It is extremely difficult to find information on this program.  I tried looking on uscis.gov and it provides a small amount of info and then refers me on to DOS’ page.  When I click on that link, however, it leads to a page that cannot be found.  I recognize that refugee resettlement agencies are the entities that can assist with the AOR paperwork, but I need the information so that I can refer clients on to those agencies to fill out the AOR.  Many of my clients are either secondary migrants, and were not resettled through a local agency so don’t have that information, or they arrived in the U.S. through an agency that no longer does resettlement work.  The information I’m looking for are the specifics; which countries qualify, which family members residing overseas can be listed on an AOR, are there timelines/deadlines for filing?

A. The Affidavit of Relationship DS-7656, is a form used by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, under the Department of State.  The NSC is not involved with this form or this program. 

Q.  We continue to see the trend from officers at the National Customer Service Center denying information to the attorneys of record in cases of asylees and refugees, alleging that due to privacy concerns, on asylee, refugee, VAWA, U and T cases the information can only be discussed with the applicant directly. We’ve raised this issue in previous calls and thought it was an isolated incident. At our last call with NSC, we were told that there is no such policy but that you’d check with HQ. Could you please advice what to do in such cases where we’re trying to communicate with USCIS for different reasons, such as change of address on pending cases; inquiries on cases over processing times; requests to expedite RTDs due to emergencies.

A. NSC is not involved with the policies of the National Customer Service Center.  NSC is still awaiting response from Headquarters.  In the interim, directly send inquiries toncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov.

Q.  If we send documents to you (via the lockbox) that are double-sided, do you receive all of the pages?  We do not know if we need to make copies of the back side to include with the packet.

A. Yes, NSC receives all the pages from the lockbox.