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USCIS Stakeholder Engagement on Centralized Form I-601 Filing

On May 31, 2012, USCIS held a teleconference to discuss the transition to centralized lockbox filing of Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, filed by applicants outside the United States.  This new process is separate and distinct from the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that was announced on March 30, 2012, which outlines a proposed process for provisional unlawful presence waivers.  CLINIC’s notes from the teleconference are below.

USCIS’s Service Center Operations (SCOPS) began by establishing that no policy is being changed with this centralization of filing.  The only change is in where an application is filed and where it is adjudicated. Currently, applicants for immigrant visas outside the U.S. must file waiver applications at a U.S. Embassy or consulate if a consular officer finds the applicant inadmissible on a ground that may be waived. USCIS is undertaking this change to more efficiently centralize operational processes and improve customer service with standardized filing and adjudication procedures. 

Effective June 4, 2012, waiver application forms I-601 and I-212 will be filed within the United States, at the USCIS lockbox facility in Phoenix, Arizona.  The applications will be adjudicated by officers at the Nebraska Service Center. 

There will be two exceptions – individuals from Cuba, who may not be able to send mail to the United States (it was noted that there are generally less than 10 such applications filed in Cuba each year); and individuals filing in Ciudad Juarez, who will have a six month transition period (until December 4, 2012) to switch over to lockbox filing.  Until December 4, applicants filing in Ciudad Juarez may either file by mail at the Phoenix lockbox or in person in Ciudad Juarez.  Individuals who already have an appointment scheduled at the consulate will have the option to cancel their appointments and file with lockbox if they so choose.  Every year, 70-75% of the total number of waiver applications filed comes from Ciudad Juarez. 

Individuals everywhere else have a 30-day grace period for proper lockbox filing.  If an individual has an appointment scheduled before July 3, 2012, USCIS/Department of State will accept and process it, or applicants may choose to cancel their appointments and file by mail at the lockbox.  Consular offices have discretion to accept applications by mail or walk-in for 30 days. 

Waiver applications already in process (most in Ciudad Juarez, and approximately 500 from elsewhere) will be prioritized.  USCIS’s International Adjudications Support Branch in Anaheim will get help from officers from other locations to timely process waiver applications that are currently pending overseas. 

Centralized filing was recommended in 2010 by the CIS Ombudsman in order to make processing times around the world more consistent.  USCIS has 28 offices outside the United States that previously accepted waiver applications.  In countries where there is no USCIS office, waivers would be filed with the Department of State, which would forward the application to USCIS.  USCIS offices abroad are often not well staffed, which led to long and unpredictable processing of waiver applications.  Centralized filing will ameliorate this problem.  All applications will be entered into USCIS’s CLAIMS case management systems, so individuals will be able to get their case status information online. 

The Nebraska Service Center has set up a specific unit for I-601 and I-212 waiver applications.  The unit is currently staffed with 12 officers; by the time the Ciudad Juarez exception ends after 6 months, the unit will have 18 officers.  The officers have been trained and have practiced in adjudications.  The CLAIMS system has been tested and a new correspondence generator has been developed for notices and Requests for Evidence (RFEs) related to waiver applications.  The Nebraska Service Center has many more resources than USCIS’s overseas offices and will be able to shift officers/staff as workload dictates.  USCIS’s goal for adjudication is 3 months from the date the waiver application is received until a response is sent out.  

USCIS overseas field offices will still have the discretion to accept applications filed in-person in cases of urgent humanitarian need, including but not limited to urgent medical emergencies, including pregnancy; threats to personal safety; individuals who are within a few weeks of aging out of visa eligibility; and U.S. citizen adoptive parents who must travel with a foreign born child in need of a waiver.  The Nebraska Service Center will have a process, posted on the USCIS website, for requesting expedited processing of applications filed at the lockbox.

The Department of State’s interview process will not change.  Individuals must still appear for their interviews and be found ineligible for admission.  An officer will then instruct the applicant to file a waiver application at the Phoenix lockbox. 

USCIS’s Office of Intake and Document Production (OIDP) urges applicants to read the new form instructions carefully, and to use the forms on its website, as they are the most up-to-date.  The most common reasons that applications are rejected are: lack of/incorrect fee (the fee for both the I-601 and I-212 is $585); lack of signature; missing required information.  See the tips below from OIDP for more information.  Email questions about the filing change to lockboxsupport@dhs.gov.  Remember to include the receipt number of the case you are inquiring about, but do not include sensitive information.  For more information about centralized filing, see USCIS’s website.