Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization: New Design, Greater Security

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued an announcement for new, redesigned Citizenship and Naturalization certificates. The change comes after a successful pilot launch of the improved certificates at several field offices across the country. These eight certificates will have a new design to provide a fresh look and, more importantly, greater safeguards against document fraud.

Redesigned Certificates

Although certificates of naturalization are widely known, certificates of citizenship are less common. Certificates of citizenship are issued to those with U.S. citizenship who obtained status without being born in the United States or through the naturalization process. Certificates of Citizenship included in the redesign are:

  • N-560A; issued to an applicant who derived citizenship after birth;
  • N-560AB; issued to an applicant who derived citizenship at birth;
  • N-645 and N-645A, issued to the family of an individual who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces during a designated period of hostility and died as a result of injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by that service (Form N-645 is issued if the decedent was a male, and Form N-645A if the decedent was a female)
  • N-561, issued to replace a Certificate of Citizenship when the original certificate is lost, mutilated, or contains errors.

The newly redesigned certificates of naturalization are:

  • N-550, issued to an individual who obtains U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process;
  • N-578, issued to a naturalized U.S. citizen to obtain recognition as a United States citizen by a foreign state; and
  • N-570, issued when the original Certificate of Naturalization is lost, mutilated, or contains errors.

New Look

The new certificate look will help to deter counterfeiters from producing fake documents. Now, the certificates are printed on a “complex patterned background,” with a central image on each certificate. The image is unique to each certificate and is only visible under ultraviolet light. USCIS notes that the agency will continue to change the design every couple of years to insure the highest security of important immigration documents.

Request Naturalization Hearing/Replacement Naturalization Certificate Online

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced yet another initiative to bring immigration filings into the twenty-first century. Now, applicants can request a replacement naturalization certificate (Form N-565) and a naturalization hearing (Form N-336) online. The change follows several other programs for online filing of some of the most requested immigration documents. Says USCIS director L. Francis Cissna, “USCIS is making the process of applying for immigration benefits more efficient, secure and convenient.”

Online Features

The Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document, or Form N-565, allows applicants to replace a naturalization certificate, certificate of citizenship, a repatriation certification, or “to apply for a special certificate of naturalization as a U.S. citizen to be recognized by a foreign country.” In contrast, Form N-336 helps those without U.S. citizenship or naturalization documents, who have been denied naturalization benefits, the opportunity to request a hearing before an immigration officer if USCIS denies their application for naturalization.

To file the above documents online, in addition to Form N-400 or Form I-90, applicants must create an online profile through the USCIS online filing system. Applicants can access the online system through their smartphone, tablet, or computer. In addition to the option to file online, the website provides a series features that streamline the filing process. Through the online filing portal, applicants can:

  • Check case status;
  • Receive notifications and case updates;
  • Access tailored case completion date estimates;
  • Respond to RFE;
  • Edit contact information;
  • Change address;
  • Pay filing and biometrics fees.

Form N-565 applicants, however, must mail the original certificates and photos to the Nebraska Service Center after filing online. Applicants for a naturalization hearing (Form N-336) are only required to file online and wait to be schedule for their hearing. If you require any assistance with online filing, please feel free to schedule a consultation. With the new USCIS online filing system, attorneys may file forms online on your behalf.

FOIA Requests Now Online

On May 30th, USCIS announced the launch of an online processing system, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Immigration Records SysTem (FIRST). The online platform will allow users to submit, manage, accept FOIA requests online. Previously, FOIA requests only were processed through mail, fax, and email; documents were then transferred via mailed compact disc. USCIS will phase in the new processing system in the next coming months.

FOIA Requests

The FOIA allowed for greater government transparency and provided individuals with greater autonomy with their personal records. FOIA requests can be especially helpful for individuals who need a copy of their personal records, that may have been lost or damaged over the years. A FOIA request can also provide essential evidence for status renewal or adjustment of status. Files received from FOIA requests may also contain notes from adjudicating USCIS officers, which can be helpful for pending cases. Those with a coming appearance before an immigration judge will receive expedited documents if the requester presents evidence of the notice of appearance.

Benefits to Users

Through this new system, those who need to request a file permitted by the FOIA may create an account within myUSCIS to receive their file digitally. Through myUSCIS, users will receive notices regarding the status of their request. This online system will lower the associated costs of receiving and responding to FOIA requests through mail. This service is currently activated for those with myUSCIS accounts

The next phase of implementation, expected to roll out in the coming month, will feature an independent online service. Through this digital delivery option, the system will be open to all FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Once USCIS build out the digital platform, all stages of the FOIA request process will be available online (from initial request to document delivery). The announcement follows a series of initiatives from USCIS to increase paperless processing.

Social Media Screening Included in State Department Efforts towards ‘Extreme Vetting’

On March 30th, the State Department released a proposal that would greatly slow processing for all visa classifications and provide sensitive data to the State Department officials. In response to the Trump Administration policies towards ‘extreme vetting’ of foreign nationals entering the United States, the State Department announced that it would begin to screen the social media accounts of all visa applicants.

New Procedures

The proposal, if approved by the Office of Management and Budget OMB, would require those who fill out any type of nonimmigrant visa application to list all identifiers (i.e. handles, account names, etc.) used within the last five years. According to The New York Times, applicants would have to provide social media handles used for any of the following social media platforms: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube, Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, Youku,  Twoo, and Ask.fm. The proposed changes would affect nearly 14 million foreign nationals who enter the U.S. annually for a variety of reasons.

Implications

If approved, the new screening procedures would likely slow the visa allocation processes. The data collection processes requires consular officers to collect years of data of social media content. Although the provision would not impact foreign national visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program, it would impact millions of visitors annually. Many groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU, have openly opposed the new proposal because the screening procedures infringe upon the privacy and rights of foreign nationals. If the State Department receives funds for the new procedure, the change would be yet another move from the Trump Administration to curb legal immigration into the U.S.

USCIS to Destroy Returned Green Cards, EADs, & Travel Documents after 60 Days

USCIS announced recently that, beginning April 2nd, all Permanent Resident Cards, Employment Authorization Cards (EADs), and Travel Documents returned as undeliverable by the United States Postal Service (USPS) will be destroyed after 60 business days unless USCIS is contacted by the recipient. A change of address, without proper reporting to USCIS, could result in a destroyed document

Change of Address

According to the USCIS website, if a non-U.S. living in the United States moves domestically, that individual must report their change of address within 10 days. Exceptions include:

  • Diplomats (visa status A),
  • Official government representatives to an international organization (visa status G), and
  • Certain nonimmigrants who do not possess a visa and who are in the U.S. for less than 30 days.

Those not included in the above circumstance must report any change of address to remain in compliance with U.S. law. Penalties for failure to comply with reporting requirements include a fine up to $200 and a misdemeanor charge. To report a change of address, and to insure that important immigration documents are not destroyed by USCIS, non-citizens must submit a Form AR-11. The form can be completed online, or through mail. If a non-citizen opts to report their change of address through the paper method, USCIS recommends using a certified mailing system. A paper Form AR-11 will not update your address on any pending USCIS applications, so applicants must call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 to update the address on the pending applications. The online method of reporting an address change allows users to report an address change and also to update it on the pending applications.

The announcement to destroy return documents will prove to be an added burden on foreign nationals. Although the measure ensures security, those who do not contact USCIS to report a problem with receiving sensitive documents will be greatly impacted by a destroyed green card, EAD, or other travel document.

USCIS Processing Times Gain Transparency

USCIS recently announced exciting news for those with pending USCIS cases. A new pilot website now offers a user-friendly platform that estimates the processing time for your application. The website is still in the testing stages and will first offer the service to four types of forms.

Clearer Processing Times

Several factors impact the processing time of any given USCIS application or petition. Location, type of application, backlogs, among other limitations can impact processing times by several months. With the new pilot website, those who file the following forms will have access to automated, personalized processing estimations:

  • Form N-400, Application for Naturalization;
  • Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card;
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; and
  • Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.

For applicants in the above categories, the new USCIS website will provide an approximate processing date range following a series of questions regarding the circumstance of your application. The website generates a range starting with a lower bound estimation, representing the median processing time, and an upper bound estimation, representing the period of time taken to process 93% of cases. For example, an individual would check the processing time for their application for naturalization by entering their type of form (N-400), and processing center location. The website will produce an easy to read range, for example 6 months – 9.5 months, representing regional estimates for processing similar applications. This tool will allow for a more precise timeline for individuals who are often left with vague response regarding the processing time of their case.

Case Inquiries

 According to the USCIS website, the agency asks that applicants wait the entire period of the upper end estimate provided by the new website to make an “outside normal processing time” case inquiry. Drawing from the previous scenario, the individual applying for naturalization would have to wait 9.5 months after filing their N-400 before submitting a service request or contacting USCIS. 

 

Scheduling an InfoPass Appointment: Online Services Could Soon End

InfoPass is a free online service that allows individuals to schedule an appointment with a USCIS immigration officer. The online platform offers 12 different languages to make scheduling an in-person appointment easier. InfoPass is accessible from both computers and mobile devices to make scheduling available anywhere. The appointments scheduled through InfoPass are intended for specific inquires, while routine matters are typically handled through the phone or online. Nevertheless, recent reports warn that the InfoPass online scheduler could soon be obsolete. Under the new program, the USCIS National Customer Service Center would first handle all requests for an in-person appointment.

Regional USICIS offices in Hartford, CT; El Paso, TX; Jacksonville, FL; Sacramento, CA; and San Francisco, CA may be the first centers included in the new pilot program for scheduling InfoPass appointments. Under the program, scheduling InfoPass appointments at the above mentioned USCIS field offices will now be facilitated through the USCIS National Customer Service Center. If implemented across the nation, the program would eliminate the self-scheduling InfoPass appointment feature online. The new change comes in conjunction with new efforts to increase efficiency by decreasing self-scheduled InfoPass appointments for inquiries better addressed by the USCIS National Customer Service Center or through the USCIS website.

To make an InfoPass appointment at one of the selected pilot USCIS field offices, one must now first call the Service Center (1-800-375-5283), speak to a Tier 1 officer, and request to schedule an InfoPass appointment. The call will then be escalated to Tier 2 officer who will review the case and will confirm if the issue is appropriate for an InfoPass appointment before scheduling the appointment. The reports of the new pilot program are not yet confirmed online by USCIS; however, we will continue to monitor the situation.

New USCIS Requirements: Valid Signature

Last week, USCIS released a memo outlining stricter requirements for petitioners and applicants seeking immigration benefits. The memo outlines that a petitioner or applicant must provide a “valid signature” to receive approval from a USCIS. A valid signature is defined by USCIS as any handwritten mark or sign by an individual to signify his or her knowledge of the contents of the request. It is not required that the valid signature be legible or in English, nor is it required to be in cursive handwriting. An individual unable to write in language may use “X” or a similar mark as a signature. As per USCIS, a signature created by a typewriter, world processor, stamp, auto-pen or similar device is not acceptable.

Previous Policy

According to a previous memorandum, petitioners or applicants previously could use power of attorney (POA) signatures for applications for immigration benefits. This was allowed under general agency principles[1]. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that signatures from POAs “create an additional evidentiary burden, making it more difficult to litigate or prosecute immigration fraud when the filing is signed and filed by a POA.” Additionally, USCIS found that adjudicating officers did not treat applications with POA signatures with consistent scrutiny.

New Changes

According to USCIS, the petitioner must write an authorized signature. Failure to comply may result in a rejected form. For example, a petition for a high skilled worker (H-1B) must include the signature of an authorized employer. The new requirement excludes applications on behalf of minors under the age of 14 and applicants who are mentally incompetent. USCIS will reject and return any request for immigration benefits not accompanied by a valid signature. Additionally, USCIS reiterated that a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, does not authorize a representative to sign the forms on behalf of the petitioner or the beneficiary.  

Conclusion

While it is good news to see USCIS bring in consistency among USCIS officers and offices while increasing efforts to crack down on immigration fraud, this new requirement will put an additional burden on the businesses who, at times, are unavailable to sign the forms at a short notice. For corporations utilizing legal entities for administrative ease, the new requirement will present a hassle starting March 17th of this year when the guidance becomes effective.

[1] Under general legal principles, an individual or entity may authorize another to act on his or her behalf, and that person becomes an “Agent.”

 

Do ASCs take Walk-in Biometric Screening Appointments?

Sometimes. Although an application support center (ASC) may refuse a walk-in, some applicants for permanent immigration benefits have successfully completed biometric appointments at a local ASC on a date before their scheduled appointment notice. If you decide to walk-in to your nearest ASC, you may have to wait for few hours because the center will prioritize appointments scheduled for that day. Although unlikely, your local ASC maintains the power to refuse to process biometric screenings if the screening occurred on a date other than the date on the appointment notice. Therefore, if you can make your assigned appointment date, it is advised to prioritize that date. In case the beneficiary is travelling or is unable to make it to the appointment, they do have the ability to reschedule the ASC appointment.

Can I go to another ASC, other than my assigned location?

Yes. If you are not able to make it to the center indicated on your appointment form for your biometric processing, some individuals have had success at other ASCs near them. For example, if your scheduled screening is in a location close to your residence, but you are in another town for a business trip, you may be able to visit the closest ASC to you. Like with walk-in appointments, the center will prioritize appointments schedule for that day.

What should I take to my Biometrics Appointment?

Regardless if your biometric appointment occurs at the time or location listed on your notice, you must bring your original ASC appointment notice and a valid photo ID (e.g. green card, passport, or driver’s license). If you do not have a valid form of identification, then the ASC will not be able to complete your biometric screening. Additionally, before your appointment USCIS suggests reading your copy of the completed application, petition, or request. 

What happens after my biometrics appointment?

After the biometrics appointment, your information will be sent for processing at a USCIS service center. Due to increased waiting times, it may be a couple months after your biometrics appointment before you will receive a notice for an interview or the next steps for your interview.

Public Charges Must Go: Changes to FAM

While the debate over immigration continues in Washington, a lot of questions have emerged regarding “public charge” non-citizens. Last week, the White House released proposed guidance for DACA recipients in which “Status is subject to revocation for criminal conduct or public safety and national security concerns, public charge, fraud, etc.” The announcement comes in addition to rumors that legal immigrants, who receive government assistance, could soon be at risk for deportation. The measure signals yet another attempt by the Trump administration to curb legal immigration.

Public Charge Definition

According to USCIS a public charge is “an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” However, there are a few exceptions that exempt recipients of federal aid of public charge status. Until recently, adjudicating officers considered “past or current receipt of public assistance of any type” as grounds for inadmissibility for pending visa applications. Many life events, including recent college graduation, can account for the need for public assistance. In these instances, the INA allows officers to use discretion in adjudication if the applicant appears to have circumstances to overcome public charge status (i.e. recent job offer). Conversely, if an applicant does not have positive circumstances to overcome dependence on public assistance, an adjudicating officer has the liberty to classify the applicant as inadmissible.

Implications

Previously, the public charge grounds for inadmissibility primarily impacted low-wage green card applicants. The updated and reorganized changes to FAM (Foreign Affair Manual) put out via a Policy Memo by the Department of State (DOS), however, instructs consular officers to consider other factors while adjudication applications for immigrants who depend on certain government programs. For example, an applicant’s past receipt of public assistance could be very significant where the applicant’s spouse was the family’s primary income earner, but recently died. In such a case, the applicant’s recent change in family status and likely change in financial status would weigh heavily in considering the totality of the circumstances. Additionally, the revision provides that a “properly filed and sufficient non-fraudulent” Affidavit of Support by itself may not satisfy the public charge requirement. So even though a properly filed and sufficient Affidavit of Support is essential, it does not preclude denial on public charge ground. The consular officers have been instructed to factor in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances by taking into consideration other factors like if the applicant is in very poor health, is unable to work, and is likely to incur significant medical costs.  The change to FAM originates from political distaste for immigrant dependence on public assistance, regardless of the low rate of public assistance for non-citizens. Those who are legally in the US and are beneficiaries of certain public assistance programs are typically in short-term financial stress. These changes could severely impact those living in the US under already dire circumstances.