On June 9, 2021, USCIS issued three new Policy Alerts in the USCIS Policy Manual. These updates support Executive Order (EO) 14012, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” directing federal agencies to identify strategies that promote inclusion and identify barriers that impede access to immigration benefits, issued by President Biden on Feb. 2, 2021. The Policy Updates outline those changes that USCIS made, including:

  1. Clarifies the criteria and circumstances for expedited processing, including providing benefit requestors and USCIS officers further guidance on when expedited processing may be warranted as well as clarifying what USCIS considers an emergency situation, (e.g., a critical need to travel to obtain medical treatment in a limited amount of time). USCIS considers all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and generally requires documentation to support such requests. A benefit request may be expedited in the following circumstances: it will cause severe financial loss to a company or a person; it is for emergency and urgent humanitarian reasons; it is for the interest of the U.S. government or it is to clear USCIS error. In addition, nonprofit organizations (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States may request that a benefit be considered for expedited processing, even if premium processing is available for that benefit. The Policy Alert also clarifies that expedited requests for noncitizens with a final order of removal or noncitizens in removal proceedings are coordinated between USCIS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (ICE).
  2. Improves request for evidence (RFE) and notice of intent to deny (NOID) guidance. USCIS now returns to the adjudicative principles of a June 2013 memo that instructed agency officers to issue an RFE or NOID when additional evidence could potentially demonstrate eligibility for an immigration benefit. The Policy Alert provides guidance on when and how officers should issue RFEs and NOIDs as well as timeframes and options for benefit requestors to respond to RFEs and NOIDs. Only if the totality of the evidence submitted does not meet the applicable standard of proof, and the adjudicator determines that there is no possibility that additional information or explanation will cure the deficiency, then the adjudicator shall issue a denial. Pursuant to this update, an officer should generally issue an RFE or NOID in cases involving insufficient evidence before denying such cases. This reverses the previous administration’s more restrictive RFE and NOID policy.
  3. Increases the validity period for initial and renewal employment authorization documents (EADs) for applicants seeking adjustment of status under Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This is expected to reduce the number of employment authorization requests USCIS receives, allow the agency to shift limited resources to other priority areas, and ease an unnecessary burden on individuals waiting on the adjudication of their adjustment of status applications. This is particularly important for those applicants who may be stuck in a visa backlog and have a long-pending I-485 application. The guidance is effective immediately.

The changes by USCIS are consistent with the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the legal immigration system and reduce burdens on noncitizens who may be eligible for immigration benefits, according to Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud.