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Tips and Updates From The National Benefits Center

By Susan Schreiber

On August 12, 2011, CLINIC was happy to welcome five staff from the National Benefits Center (NBC) to speak to participants at a training on family-based immigration issues in Kansas City, Missouri.  The NBC officers attending the training were Ya-Mei Chen, Community Relations Officer; Cynthia Einhellig, Supervisor, Congressional Liaison Team;  Michael James, Supervisor, Hague Adoption Team; Norma Limon, Assistant Center Director,  Customer Relations Division; and Teresa Schaedel, Supervisor, Program and Management Analyst.  After a brief presentation about the work of the NBC, the officers responded to a list of questions submitted in advance of the training as well as to questions from the participants.  A summary of practice tips and updates provided by the NBC officials follows.  Note that these are not official minutes and were not reviewed by the NBC prior to publication. 

Submissions to Lockbox. The lockbox is staffed by private contractors who review the case submission for compliance with required criteria (e.g. signature, visa availability). If the criteria are not met, the lockbox will reject the case and return it to the applicant. If the criteria are met, the fee will be accepted and a receipt notice will be sent to the applicant and representative.  The physical file will then be assembled and sent to the NBC. In a case where an applicant’s eligibility for adjustment of status may not be apparent to lockbox staff (e.g. applicant asserts eligibility for an earlier priority date), the applicant can avoid rejection of the application in the mailroom by marking box (h) – “Other” – on the I-485 as the eligibility category, and then writing in “ Insist to File.”

All application submissions to the lockbox are scanned, even if the submission is rejected and returned to the applicant.  If you think your client’s case was improperly rejected at the lockbox, you can contact the lockbox at lockboxsupport@dhs.gov.

Evidence Review.  Once the case file is received at the NBC, a biometrics appointment is scheduled and a review is conducted to ensure that all required initial evidence has been submitted. If the required evidence is incomplete, a Request for More Evidence (RFE) will be issued, and no applications for ancillary benefits (e.g. advance parole, employment authorization) will be processed until a response to the RFE is submitted.  Applicants are given 87 days to respond to an RFE; if no response is submitted and the reviewing officer determines that the RFE was needed, the case will be denied due to abandonment.  Advocates who receive RFEs that are not clear should bring this to the attention of the NBC; this can be done by sending in correspondence asking for clarification of the RFE.

An applicant who does not have documentary proof of admission but asserts eligibility for adjustment of status under INA § 245(a) based on his or her affidavit will get a “system-generated” RFE, but the case should still be forwarded to the District Office for interview, and assessment of the applicant’s asserted eligibility.  Similarly, if the applicant asserts eligibility for adjustment of status under INA § 245(i) based on grandfathering, but doesn’t have proof of the prior petition, the NBC will issue an RFE. If the applicant responds with an affidavit in the absence of additional proof, the case should be forwarded to the District Office for interview and consideration of the asserted eligibility for 245(i).

An applicant issued an RFE for proof of parent/child relationship may decide to submit DNA evidence; this can be done on the initiative of the petitioner and cannot be required by CIS in any event.  If an applicant decides to reply to the RFE with other evidence of parent/child relationship, the applicant will not get a second opportunity to supplement the record with DNA test results.

The NBC does not review any waivers of inadmissibility nor make requests for submission of a waiver

Security Checks. The NBC is also responsible for consolidating the application with any other existing files relating to the applicant and doing security checks.  The “IBIS” security checks are conducted using the name and date of birth of petitioners, beneficiaries and applicants and running them through various law enforcement data bases.  In most instances, even where there is a “hit”, the case will be forwarded to the district office for review at the interview.  Where the IBIS security check raises an Adam Walsh Act issue regarding the petitioner, the NBC will issue a biometrics appointment notice to the petitioner.  In the event that the NBC determines that the petitioner has a listed offense against a minor, a Notice of Intent to Deny/Request for More Evidence will be issued to the petitioner, giving the petitioner 87 days to submit proof that the she or he does not have a conviction for a specified offense against a minor or that approval of the petition will not pose any risk to the beneficiary.

Surviving Relatives. INA § 204(l) cases are forwarded by the NBC to the District Office for adjudication.  These are cases where the petitioner died while the I-130 was pending or the adjustment of status application was pending.

An applicant who qualifies for humanitarian reinstatement may apply for this relief concurrently with an application for adjustment of status. The NBC will forward the application, including the request for humanitarian reinstatement, to the District Office for consideration

Hague Convention Cases.  There is no electronic processing available for Hague cases, and applications are filed with the lockbox.  The Lockbox reviews the submission to determine that the form is complete and signed and that the fee is paid; the case is then forwarded to the NBC and assigned a case number and a SIM receipt number. If the case is approved after evidence review, a Form 800A is issued which constitutes provisional approval; final approval only takes place after the Department of State decides to issue a visa to the adoptive child.

Visa Retrogression.  The NBC is the holding center for case files of adjustment applicants who have been interviewed and found approvable but for visa retrogression.

Priority date checks are run every three weeks to determine if a waiting case now has a current priority date.  When a date becomes available, the NBC staff checks to see if the biometrics and IBIS checks are current.  If so, the application is approved at the NBC.

Watch Out for these Filing Errors: The NBC noted that  common filing errors include: (a) marking the wrong eligibility category on the I-485 form; (b) failing to submit an Affidavit of Support for the petitioner when using a joint sponsor because the petitioner lacks sufficient income; (c) double-counting an immigrating spouse in the affidavit of support household size; (d) failing to submit an SSA 1099 to prove social security earnings; and (e) failing to provide a physical address, in addition to a PO Box address.