U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it will begin expanding in-person interviews for certain immigration benefit applicants whose benefit, if granted, would allow them to permanently reside in the United States.
Effective Oct. 1, the change complies with a March executive order — commonly referred to as President Donald Trump’s “travel ban” — which the White House says is designed to “protect the Nation from terrorist activities by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.”
According to a USCIS statement, the agency will begin to phase in face-to-face interviews for adjustment of status applications based on employment, and refugee or asylee relative petitions for beneficiaries who are in the U.S. and are petitioning to join a principal asylee or refugee applicant. According to the agency, this order won’t impact other categories of individuals that are typically exempt from interviews, such as fiancés and parents of U.S. citizens.
In the same statement, the organization says that conducting these in-person interviews “will provide USCIS officers with the opportunity to verify the information provided in an individual’s application, to discover new information that may be relevant to the adjudication process, and to determine the credibility of the individual seeking permanent residence in the United States.”
Calling the change a reflection of the current administration’s “commitment to upholding and strengthening the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” Acting USCIS Director James W. McCament described the new requirement as an effort to “develop more robust screening and vetting procedures for individuals seeking immigration benefits to reside in the United States.”
Some experts see it more as a move that will just prolong an already lengthy procedure for employers and the employees they’re looking to hire from outside the U.S., and will likely wind up costing those same companies significant time and money.
“Employment-based green cards are going to take even longer to process, as USCIS will now have to conduct thousands of additional interviews each year,” says Courtney New, the Boston-based lead of Nixon Peabody’s global immigration practice.
And, as would-be employees wait to be scheduled for interviews, “it’s very possible that their non-immigrant visas, employment authorization document and advance parole documents will have to be renewed,” she adds, “to maintain their ability to work in the U.S. and travel internationally while they wait.”
Oftentimes, these workers are in the U.S. for “a period of a few years before their employers will undertake green card sponsorship — the lengthy, time-consuming and expensive process that it is — and green-card processes are typically multi-year processes even without the new interview requirement.”
In that time, she says, “employees put down roots in the United States — they have children, they make friends, they buy a home — but they are always anxious about whether they will be allowed to stay permanently.”
Given these realities, “it will be important for employers to work with [legal] counsel,” says New, “as these interviews can be an intimidating experience, and employees will come into them feeling like the rest of their lives is riding on the outcome.”
These required appointments will also increase the backlog of adjudications, says Jorge Lopez, a Miami-based attorney at Littler, and chair of the firm’s global mobility and immigration practice group.
Trying to avoid such bottlenecks “was the initial reason for past decisions to waive [in-person interviews] in employment-based [immigration benefit application] cases,” says Lopez, adding that employers will need to manage increased delays in their recruitment and investment of time and effort on their employee retention efforts.
“[This also] means that the HR department will need to manage their budgets to increase expenditures for the future processing of immigration benefits.”
Theda Fisher, a New York-based attorney at Withers Worldwide, where she focuses on corporate immigration law, points out that this interview requirement isn’t altogether new, as the Immigration and Nationality Act permitted USCIS to schedule employment-based immigrant visa applicants for interviews.
Historically speaking, however, these interviews were “almost always waived for employment-based petitions, given the limited resources of USCIS,” says Fisher.
Reviving this mandate imposes a “substantial burden” on an already-strained agency, she says, noting that requiring interviews of employment-based petitions will delay the green-card process for “hundreds of thousands” of foreign workers.
Ultimately, the delay will translate to U.S. employers feeling the pain financially as well, “due to the need to file additional work permit extensions unnecessarily.”
At the moment, the waiting period for green cards without an interview typically take 12 to 16 months, says Fisher. “With an interview requirement, employers can expect the process to take at least two to three years.”