Q&A With a Former USCIS Officer


Erik, a former USCIS consular officer and adjudicator, answers questions about the immigration process

Mar 28, 2022


I want to welcome everybody back. It’s been a couple of weeks. We’re here to do another Boundless Immigration live Q&A with a former USCIS officer. As always, my name is Erik Finch. I am a former USCIS officer and a former Department of State Consular officer. I’m here to talk about some of my anecdotal experiences and give a little bit of insight into the immigration system from my perspective.

Just once again, I want to remind everybody I am not an immigration lawyer, and I am not a U.S. Government official currently. So, please do not misconstrue anything that we talk about today on this Q&A as legal advice. As always, if you have questions specific to your immigration journey, we always recommend that you seek the advice of a legal professional. Or, if that’s not available, then use the government resources that are available to make the best decision you can about your case. Everybody’s case is different, and we want to make sure that people get the most appropriate and useful help that they can.

Now that being said, there are some general things around immigration that I think are great, informative discussions that we can have. We have quite a few questions that have come in this week, and I will go ahead and start on those in just a moment.

The Refugee System

Before I do that, I wanted to talk for a minute about a topic that has come up recently in a lot of questions and give people a little bit of insight into something that I don’t think we’ve talked about on these Q&As before, which is the refugee system.

So with the news about the unfortunate events in Ukraine, and earlier this year, or last year with the pullout of American forces from Afghanistan, many people have been asking about refugee status, asylum, and how you can approach that system, understand it, and provide support and information for those who are going through the refugee process.

The topic of refugees is quite complicated, and I won’t be able to go into a lot of detail here, but I did want to just briefly mention that for folks who were overseas and are interested in resettling to the United States through the refugee process. [The refugee process] is for folks who are in a foreign country and for some reason, it’s no longer possible for them to live there safely or peacefully, and they want to go to another country and resettle there. The way that system works is not specific to the US. It’s a program administered by the United Nations, and it’s administered by a section of the United Nations called the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.

For folks who are in a foreign country and don’t have any other legal way to immigrate to the United States or another country, they can approach the UNHCR and file an application to be included in a program that will give them a number of opportunities to resettle at a certain point, sometimes including the U.S., sometimes in other countries. That is the way the process works, and for folks who want to learn more information, I recommend you go to the UNHCR website. There, they can give you a lot more resources and guides about how people enter the refugee process, about how the process plays out, and ultimately, opportunities to settle in a new country where they can feel safer and more secure to begin their career or other life journey.

So, I hope that’s helpful. I’m happy to answer any follow-up questions about that, but in the interest of answering the questions that people did submit for this particular Q&A, I will go ahead and start to talk about those.

Now, I’m going to prefer to answer the ones that came in early because I want to make sure that those folks are rewarded for giving us those questions ahead of time, but we will answer some of the other questions that are coming in as we can.

What can we do to expedite a background check for an I-485?

Basically, the answer to that question is nothing. The background check is an internal U.S. government process by which they go through the databases and public law enforcement information that they have access to and make sure that there is no issues or discrepancies that haven’t been uncovered elsewhere in the process that would cause a problem with the green card application or the other immigration application that’s being filed. So I say nothing.

The fastest way that you can expedite this process is just to submit all the government’s requested forms and carefully follow the instructions with those forms to make sure they’re valid and they have not expired so that when the government gets the opportunity to look at your actual data, they don’t have to issue an RFE (request for evidence) or ask for any other additional information from you. They can just go ahead and take care of the process. Usually, that background check process is done multiple times throughout the immigration process, so there is no single check that passes you through all the other barriers.

They’re doing checks, and they’re required to do checks all the way until the moment after your interview, at which point, before they issue the actual benefit, they have to have done a check within a certain amount of time in order for that to still be valid. So for the background check, like I said, aside from just being as truthful and honest as possible with the information you provide in your application and following the directions for what type of forms the government is requesting, some of the possibilities include a background check or police report from the sending country. There are certain rules around that specific to each country, and the best way to understand that particular part of the process is if you’re applying from overseas, to go to the U.S. Embassy web page for the country that you were applying in. The reciprocity table will give you detailed information about the specific document requirements in the country that you are performing the interview in.

I applied for the resident’s permit before I arrived in the USA. It’s been three months. Where could it be?

I assume this is talking about a person who received an immigrant visa overseas, then traveled to the U.S. with their immigrant visa, submitted the paperwork and the immigrant visa fee to USCIS, and is now waiting for their green card, their actual physical green card, which is printed after you arrive in the US.

In that case, three months.

Yeah, it’s a little on the long side. I would start by verifying that USCIS has the correct address for you. If you have moved, or your address has changed, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done all the steps necessary to have your mail forwarded to your new address. This is especially true if your address don’t match the one on your I-130.

Make sure that USCIS has your correct address because the only way that you usually have problems with that green card printing process is if it was printed and mailed to the wrong address. So please update your address and make sure that information is as up-to-date as possible. Make sure that you forward all mail from any addresses that you had used prior to the point at which you arrived in the United States.

If you still haven’t received the green card after about 90 to 120 days, then you need to contact USCIS and begin the process to understand whether that green card was printed and why it did not arrive at the place that you expected it.

I should also say that when you enter the United States with your immigrant visa, the stamp in your passport, the I-512 stamp, does give you one year of legal permanent resident status. So if you need to apply for a job or do any other things that would require evidence of green card status, that stamp in your passport should serve for the first year, and that’s designed to give you some breathing room until that physical green card is mailed to your address.

Can mental health be a reason to expedite the K-1 petition?

Under some circumstances, yes, but I would say in very rare cases.

I’ll give you an example:

You can file an expedite request for virtually any type of USCIS application, but they’re not approved very frequently. The reason is because generally, the criteria that they’re going to grant expedited processing for is around what I would call “life and death circumstances.” So let’s say you have a terminal illness and expedited processing of that fiancé visa is the only way that your fiancé will be able to see you or talk to you before your health declines. That may be something that they would consider, but for reasons like “we just want to be together,” or “I’m stressed out because I can’t see my fiance,” or “we’re missing a career opportunity because this person can’t arrive here sooner,” those requests will not generally be granted.

So, outside of what I would think of as a life or death emergency, you’re going to have a difficult time getting expedited processing approved for the K-1.

Now, that’s mostly around the USCIS process, which we know is about the processing of the I-129F petition, which is what gives the fiancé the ability to apply for the actual visa overseas once the petition has been approved and the item is at NVC or it has been scheduled for an interview at the US NVC, again, will also adopt the same approach.

Generally, they’re not going to expedite the processing of your pre-interview steps, but that process works quickly if you submit the documents and things that they’re looking for once your interview is pending scheduling at the consulate, you can work directly with the consulate, and under some circumstances, they may be more flexible in allowing you to get an expedited interview. Again, that’s after the petition has been approved and after you’ve gone through the NVC process to get all your documents and paperwork prepared. So, yeah, I hope that helps.

And to be clear, the NVC process for fiancé visa applicants is not really much beyond, I think, collecting a few basic documents, so you shouldn’t be held up there for very long. And like I said, if you’re overseas, you’re waiting for scheduling at the consulate, you can reach out to them via their public-facing email accounts and other things that you could find on the U.S. Embassy web page and hopefully try your luck.

The worst they can say is no. So, yeah, it might be useful in some cases.

Letters of recommendation: how many do you need to send to the embassy and the general assembly?

I’m not 100% sure what this question is about. Letters of recommendation are usually not required for immigration benefits. If this is about a student visa or some kind of J visa program, I really can’t speak to that. You’re mentioning the General Assembly makes me think that there may be some kind of, like, work visa component here.

But, yeah, if the person who asked this question wants to clarify, I’m happy to address that, but unfortunately, the question is a little too ambiguous for me to comment on based on how it’s written here.

After biometrics, what is the wait time to finally receive the green card?

Biometrics is a step that takes place usually two to three months after the case is accepted by USCIS. So at the point at which most people do biometrics, you are still quite far from getting to the point where you will receive your green card. Usually, after the biometrics appointment is completed, it will take another six to eight months of processing before you get your actual interview scheduled.

If the adjudicator doesn’t flag your interview for any issues, your green card will be issued relatively quickly, usually within a month after your interview.

But yeah, biometrics. There are some folks who are eligible for a visa waiver, and in that case, you may not have to go for an interview and may just receive a green card again six to eight months later after it’s had time to process and work its way through that interview waiver process. But in both cases, you’re going to be waiting a considerable amount of time after that biometrics appointment in most cases.

On the I-693 (medical clearance), if you had a communicable disease, but had it treated, does it affect your adjustment of status?

This is a medical question, and I usually won’t get into too much detail because medical cases are so specific to the diagnosis and information about specific individuals, but generally speaking, yes, there are a number of communicable diseases–I believe tuberculosis is one–where if the illness has been treated effectively and is not communicable anymore and you provide supporting medical evidence to substantiate that, then you’ll be able to overcome the medical ineligibility associated with that disease.

So, yeah, I would follow your doctor’s guidance, the medical professionals’ guidance, and if the agency needs to see further evidence along with the I-693 and the documents you submit, usually they’ll reach out via RFE to make sure that they have the documents that they need.

But yeah, it is the case that with some communicable diseases, if you’ve been in treatment, then you can overcome that restriction, even if normally that disease would cause you to be ineligible.

Can I send the NVC forms before they ask for them?

No. The NVC doesn’t really have any records on you until they receive your petition and create your DOS case number. So, anything you send them before that probably won’t have anywhere to go yet. So, yeah, you should wait until they reach out and give you the information you need to create an account, log on, and provide that info, and then you can proceed with their process.

One exception may be if you originally plan to file for an overseas interview for your application, and later your spouse or fiancé or whoever else has now arrived in the States and you want to switch to adjustment of status even though you already filed your I-130, then yeah, you do need to reach out to NVC and let them know that you are planning to actually adjust status instead of applying overseas so that they can route your I-130 information back to USCIS for scheduling for a domestic U.S. interview.

Can we apply for U.S. citizenship along with the I-130 for my spouse?

The answer to that is no. The I-130 is what you use to establish a relationship with a foreign citizen. An I-130 can be filed by permanent residents or U.S. citizens and that entitles the foreign citizen, spouse, or other relative to certain types of access and green card statuses.

But becoming a citizen is something that happens after you become a legal permanent resident and you meet some additional requirements. So that is to say, the process to become a citizen begins after you receive your green card. And once you receive your green card, depending on how you received a green card and what relationships you have, you have to wait additional time, fulfill additional requirements, and then go through a separate interview process to get your citizenship, which is what we call naturalization. So for most people, you will have to wait five years from after the date you receive your green card. And you’ll have to reside in the US for the majority of that time.

You’ll have to pass certain English and U.S. history tests at your citizenship interview. So, yeah, I would strongly encourage people and what most people do is after they look, the green card process is complicated enough, and I think for most people, that’s something that they really want to focus on until they’ve finished that process. And then, yeah, you’ll have quite a bit of time after you get your green card to research and explore what the requirements are for naturalization and decide when you want to begin that process. Like I said, for most people who aren’t spouses of U.S. citizens, that’s a five-year wait with some additional requirements. So plenty of time to look into that.

For folks who are married to a US citizen, that’s a three-year wait, and you can begin the process after that. There’s no requirement that you at that point; you don’t have to naturalize. You don’t ever have to become a U.S. citizen, but you become eligible after those timelines are met and other requirements are met. So, no, you can’t file the N-400 naturalization application with the I-130.

You’re going to have to wait until you receive the green card, and then you can start looking at the requirements to take the next step.

We have a K-1 interview appointment in Poland. What’s the over-under spread on whether Russians will be able to attend upcoming K-1 interviews at the only embassy helping them?

So maybe folks know this, maybe they don’t, but due to somewhat rocky relationship between the United States and Russia over the last five to ten years, a number of consulates and embassies in Russia have ceased operations, and that includes, I believe, Vladivostok, St. Petersburg, and even in Moscow. I think they’re operating on a skeleton crew now and may not be doing a lot of consular services, if any at all. So in that scenario, I think the vast majority of the people who would normally apply in Russia have been diverted to Warsaw in Poland.

And I don’t know if it’s explicit, but a large number of Russian applicants are going there to get U.S. visas because there’s no other in-country embassy that can service their needs. This creates an interesting problem because Warsaw is actually one of the biggest operations and one of the bigger consulates in U.S. consular operations in the vicinity for Ukraine as well. And especially at this moment when the situation in Ukraine is becoming very challenging for a lot of people, a lot of them are moving into Poland and applying for different visas and things that they may have been eligible for up to that point, but haven’t started the process to apply.

So this question seems to be talking a little bit or asking a little bit about what do I think will happen in terms of letting Russian nationals apply and access that opportunity to apply in Warsaw or any other Polish consulates or really any other consulates in the region where they’re allowed to schedule interviews.

The State Department’s general policy around this is they’re not going to enact a nationality level ban on people applying for immigration benefits in a third country. By that I mean they’re not going to say, and to my knowledge, they have never said that a person who holds this country’s passport simply cannot apply for anything at any place in the world. Like Iranians haven’t had U.S. consular services available in their own country for quite a while, decades, I think. And in that scenario, a lot of them go to the Gulf States, or they go to some of the countries in the Middle East that are more contiguous, that do have a relationship with the United States.

If you’re an Iranian National and you go to the Emirates and apply for a tourist visa, they’ll take your case there. And actually, in practice, a lot of times that means that a specific country will be where the majority of these people go as they get that threat. Like in this case, Warsaw may be quite familiar at this point with dealing with Russian applicants. So it may be the best place to go if you want to make sure that you’re going to get a consular officer who’s familiar with your situation and who understands why you’re applying and those types of things. So, yeah, to my knowledge, the U.S. State Department is not going to enact any restrictions along those lines.

Russian nationals should still be able to proceed with their immigration process at the consulate that they’ve selected as their interview location. None of that should change fundamentally in any way. I will be the first to flag that for our community if I hear anything to the contrary, but I don’t think the current difficulties in that region will impact or will lead to that kind of restriction.

That being said, you can imagine having all of Russia, Ukraine, and Poland being serviced by a single embassy is going to create some serious backlogs and wait times. So do not be surprised if you encounter that type of problem, which is still pretty rampant all over the world due to the COVID and the restrictions around that. It will probably become quite acute in Warsaw if the current three countries applying their situation continues.

Also, one last thought is if the conflict there becomes more extreme and other countries are being affected by it, then you will likely see, as we’ve seen in Belarus, that US consular operations will start to be drawn down or cease, even in countries that aren’t directly affected. I have no definitive information to say that that will happen in Poland, but it is a possibility, and I think people who are expecting to perform their interviews there and things like that should be keeping a careful eye out for those kinds of developments.

So, yeah, I wish everybody the best of luck with that process. I know it’s very difficult and frustrating, the whole situation between Russia and Ukraine obviously makes it even more difficult to do your best and follow the directions. Do your best to pay attention to the guidance that’s coming from the consulates of the embassy in this case. And if it does reach a point where it looks like one of your immigration interviews is going to be impacted by changes or conflicts or other things in the region, then the best thing to do is reach out to NVC and see about developing a plan there to put your interview or reschedule in another place that is more accessible.

Can my husband live in the United States with me while the petition is pending?

That’s kind of a broad question. Kind of hard to answer because it depends. I guess the crux of the issue is “how is that spouse here?” If they entered on a nonimmigrant visa of some kind and they are still in status, then yes, of course, they could live with you while the petition is pending. As long as you’re in status, whether it be a nonimmigrant visa status or some other temporary protected status, in some cases, something that gives you the legal right to work and gives you a recognized status and you have a lawful admission to the U.S., then you should be able to apply for that immigration benefit and have your loved one remain here with you while that’s pending.

Generally speaking, if you are in status, if you have a valid immigration status at the moment that you file for those immigration benefits, then you will be covered as a result of the new status for what you’re filing during the process that it’s pending, meaning that until you get a decision on the new immigration benefit you filed, they’re not going to pull the rug out from underneath you and tell you that you have to leave.

Now, the petition is a little tricky, right? Because the petition doesn’t impart any kind of immigration status on you. It’s really just you establishing the relationship that will allow you to file for some kind of immigration benefit. So it’s cognizant that I-130, even after approval, doesn’t impart any kind of actual immigration status on the foreign beneficiary, yet you have to actually obtain an immigrant visa or obtain adjustment of status for that to become a new status for them and allow them the privileges of that new status.

If you’re in a position where you’re filing an I-130, the person that you want, your spouse or other beneficiary of your immigration application is here in the U.S. with you. You need to look carefully at their current status and what the timeline is for you to file their adjustment to status, paperwork to determine if they’re going to fall out of status and whether that might cause problems. And yes, it’s a complicated question. And yes, if you’re worried about it or concerned or not clear on what the status will be for your spouse or loved one, then seek the advice of an immigration professional to make sure that you do that process correctly. Okay.

Can I file the I-130, the I-485, and the I-765 at the same time? How long does the I-765 take?

That’s the I-130 immediate relative petition, that’s the I-485 adjustment of status, and that’s the I-765 employment authorization request. In addition to those three forms, many people who are adjusting status in the United States will file an I-131 at a request for advanced parole that will allow them to travel after receiving that approved I-131 form that will allow them to travel in and out of the United States legally while their adjustment application is pending.

So why do people file these forms altogether?

It’s an interesting question because we know what the petition is for, right?

Establish the relationship.

And we know the I-485 is designed to get you the actual adjustments so you can obtain your green card. The I-131 we just talked about is what we call advanced parole, which gives you permission to move in and out of the U.S. while your application is pending and the I-765 gives you authorization for employment.

So if you’re getting a green card, like, why do you need to file for a separate employment authorization document when the green card is just going to give you permission to work anyway?

Well, that kind of leads us to the next question, which is “how long does the I 765 take?” You will get your I-765 employment authorization document approval, usually five to seven months after filing. And we all know from prior Q&As and discussions that the actual I-485 approval can take much longer. So generally speaking, the reason that people file these additional forms and they’re eligible to file them is so that if your green card takes twelve to 18 months, you still want to be able to work.

And if you get your EAD six months out, that’s six months to a year of work that you can do while you wait for the final decision on your green card. So, yeah, I would say, going back to this question, most people file those forms together. Some of the fees that are waived that would normally be charged for, like the I-765, for example, if you file it as part of a package with your adjustment application. And then, yeah, getting that employment authorization document five to seven months in is really helpful so that you can begin working. And then that takes some of the pressure off you and your spouse or your loved ones to support you while you’re finishing up the whole process and waiting for your interview to get a green card.

Of course, once you get the green card, the EAD is no longer necessary. The green card gives you permission to work legally in the United States for any employer that you choose, and that is your primary evidence of authorization for employment once you get it.

Do I need to get a new police report if my current police report is old?

It varies by country, and different countries have different requirements and different types of forms to issue. So I’m going to punt on that one and just sort of say, please go to travel.state.gov. Please look at the reciprocity schedule for the country that you’re obtaining a police report in, and please follow the instructions on that Department of State Web page to determine what type of form is needed and what the validity of the form will be and when you might need to update with a newer form.

If USCIS says it will reply within 60 days, will it really reply within 60 days?

I don’t mean to be cheeky here, and as a former USCIS adjudicator, I don’t ever want to say anything untrue about the agency. I’ll say negative things if they’re true, but in this case, I would say, yeah, USICS, and all the adjudicators that I ever worked with really did their best to be responsive.

We know it’s very stressful for people who are waiting on decisions or further information about their cases, so I think as a whole, the agency really does make an effort to be responsive and get the information that you need out to you as soon as possible. There are some things that they do that they have no control over, a lot of things around security or other arrangements that they’re waiting on other agencies to respond to them.

It may require some of their replies to take longer than the time that they initially quoted you. I guess it’s kind of a mixed answer, right?

I think, generally, for pretty simple issues or things that they want from you, they will be pretty responsive and try to get that information out to you so that you can respond as soon as possible. But there are also other cases where there’s just something complicated about your case or they’re waiting for feedback from another government agency or partner. And in that kind of scenario, their hands are tied and they’re just going to have to wait.

So, yeah, I know it’s very frustrating for people when they’re waiting for things from the agency and they don’t have a clear understanding of what’s going to happen next or when. But yeah, in those kinds of cases, all you can really do is use those public-facing USCIS contact information to try to reach out and get the best answer from them that you can. But yeah, it’s going to be a little frustrating.

Can I bring my girlfriend to the USA to get married? How long does the process take?

Another big question. The answer is yes. There is a K-1 fiancé visa. We’ve kind of mentioned it a couple of times at different points. And what that usually involves is you’ll file some documents that say, this is my fiancé, and here’s the relationship that we have that petition is called an I-129 F.

And with that petition, you’re going to send evidence that you guys are in a relationship, like photos of you together. There’s a document about your intent to get married. Usually, they’ll want to see some information about that and what your plans are. And then once the USCIS gets that petition and decides this looks good, they will send the appointment information and documents out to the National Visa Center, who will work with the U.S. Embassy in the country where the fiancé is to facilitate them getting a visa.

Now, traditionally, this has worked a little faster than the immigrant visa spouse process. I think currently, a lot of people are getting information from the embassy about when they’re going to be scheduled for an interview within six to eight months. So, yeah, a little shorter where we know 12-14 months is the norm for the spousal immigrant visa.

That’s going to vary a lot by country, though. If you’re in a country that has, like, a pretty sizable number of folks coming over as fiancés every year, things tend to work a little faster.

If it’s a country where that’s not as common, it may take a backseat to other priorities, like immediate relative immigrant visa issuances. And yeah, some countries also have, like, a large backlog still, which may make that time extend a little bit. But usually, it will get through the fiancé visa application will get through the USCIS part of the process in about six months. And then however long it takes after that for the State Department to get everything set up and get your interview scheduled, that will vary a little bit by country. Okay.

How long is the Bogotá embassy taking to assign interviews? How long are they taking to assign interviews for immigrant visas?

It can be a little bit hard to get at the wait times for different specific embassies and consulates. They do publish wait times for nonimmigrant visas.

So you’ll see, if you go on the web page and look, they’ll give you an estimate like, “hey, it’s going to take 20 days to schedule a tourist visa interview. It’s going to take five days to schedule a student visa interview.” But for immigrant visas, they don’t really do that because it’s kind of irregular how they come in. Right. Like, one embassy may have 100 immigrant visa interviews one month, they may have 50 the next month, and how long it takes to get those scheduled.

And everything is going to be a product of like, are they behind on other things? Like, do they have enough officers available? So it’s hard to give a straight answer, and it’s hard to get information about that. And I can’t really speak to Bogotá specifically. But one thing you can do for any of these applications is, like I said, once you have a DOS case number assigned, and you have done the steps that you need to do with the NVC.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the embassy to say, hey, I’m in this process. I have this case number. I was wondering if you could give me an estimate of how long it will take for my interview to be scheduled. They may not respond. They may respond quite slow.

But if they can give you the information that you’re looking for, usually they will. And that could be something that a lot of people don’t try that could be effective. So a lot of people don’t think about that.

They know it’s like this big government agency in the U.S. and they think, okay, well, there’s probably nobody that I can really talk to about it. But the embassies do usually have public-facing email addresses, including the immigrant visa unit. And yeah, like I said, if they’re not completely swamped with other requests and they have the staff that has the ability to respond, usually they’ll do their best to give you a good answer because they know, again, that people are stressed and they want to get the best information that they can.

Background checks?

I believe I talked about that at the top of the Q&A. There’s really nothing you could really do to influence the background check process. It happens behind the scenes. If there are any issues that are uncovered, they’ll usually be talked about or discovered at the interview.

If there are any documents that they need from you to do the background check process, usually they’ll reach out before your interview to get that set up. So, yeah, there’s really not a lot of ways you can reach back behind the curtain and influence that in any way. Like I said, just be as honest as possible with the information you provide. Give them the paperwork that they’re asking for around your criminal history and background and your police reports and court dates. And yeah, they’ll do what they need to do and get everything ready for you.

Is N-400 processing in 18 months like it appears in the USCIS portal?

So in case people aren’t aware, USCIS does have a public-facing web page where you can go and type in the form that you have and then the place where you want to do your interview. And it’ll give you an estimate for how long that process is taking currently.

And it’s just an estimate. They literally pull this from their databases around how things are moving through their process. And in my experience, it’s not super accurate because I don’t think they do a good job of accounting for extreme cases in one direction or the other.

For example, I think for most of the time I was working the place that I was located was saying twelve to 18 months for N-400s, when in actuality, I felt like we were usually doing them most, like normal cases without issues in like, nine to ten months. So, yeah, it can go faster, but it can also go slower.

So I don’t want anybody to think like, okay, whatever it says, it’s probably like a couple of months faster than that. There are places that are just so backlogged. A lot of the big cities on the West Coast, a lot of the big cities on the Northeast are just so swamped with people that, whatever the normal processing time is, it’s going to add a significant number of months just to get to your place in line. I think using those USCIS estimates as, like, a worst case scenario is probably pretty okay and useful, but I would not necessarily bank on that being the actual time that people have to wait in every case. Yeah, but again, that’s all the information you have, because that’s all the information the USCIS field offices share, so you really can’t base it off anything else.

One thing that we’ve tried to do at Boundless, is to use the information that we have access to, by working with all the customers who work with us, to try to get behind the curtain a little bit and understand how fast things are really going. It’s quite a project because even if we have a few data points for specific embassies or consulates, there are a number of other places where we don’t have enough customers to really make a good educated guess. But, yeah, for places that we deal with a lot and have a lot of customers with, we’re working on ways that we can help surface that information and give people a little bit more accurate and realistic view of how long the things are actually taking to move through the process.

When we have a little bit more to share around that project, I’ll be happy to talk about it. And please keep an eye out on our web page, online resources, and social media accounts where we can confidently provide some information that helps people around this immigration system.

Is it true that USCIS wants to implement the public charge rule again?

Again, let me provide a little background here because I think public charge, in particular, is something that is very much talked about but not very well understood. So the current rule around the public charge and eligibility and the financial requirements to overcome and be eligible for a U.S. green card. The current rules have been in place since, I think, 1998.

So that I-864 form that you submit with your I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status, or it’s also submitted when you apply for the immigrant visa overseas. That is public charge. And the rules around like the minimum income requirement and using assets to qualify and just overcoming that, that is the public charge rule. It’s in effect now. It’s been in effect for quite a several decades.

The only thing that has changed with that rule is that late in the Trump administration, they introduced what I would call a supercharged version of the rule. So they said, okay, here’s what we’ve been doing up till now. And they said we’re going to introduce a new form which is going to require even more information and more documents and more proof that you are eligible and overcome these requirements and things like that. And that made things extremely challenging for people to apply in the period that was in effect for short periods during 2019 or 2020. Now, that enhanced public charge rule was ultimately challenged and then rolled back in U.S. court.

So it did go into effect briefly for a few periods. But nobody who is applying today at this moment is subject to that enhanced rule. It is not in effect. So once that rule was invalidated by the courts, we went back to the existing public charge rule, which was the rule that is captured in the I 864 form, and that was submitted with these applications that we talked about. Now, it did appear back in the news again recently, because now there is a discussion by USCIS and the Department of State about how we can improve that rule and clarify that rule.

So take the existing 1998 rule that’s been in effect all this time and say, you know what, we don’t want to make it more strict, but we want to make it easier to understand. And in order to do that, they’ve clarified a number of things that people I think always had questions about. I haven’t read the latest development, so I don’t want to speak in too much detail here. But I know one big thing was like clarifying what type of benefits counts under public charge. Like that was kind of ambiguous before.

And now they’re saying, well, okay, it’s only cash-based, like cash and carry benefits. It’s not anything medical. It’s not anything tax-related, things like that. It’s mostly focused on the money you get from the government directly for certain programs. And what they’re trying to do is, during the Trump administration, when they ruled out this enhanced rule, there were a number of nonprofit organizations that did studies and research that showed that a lot of immigrant families were pulling out of life-saving programs, around medical insurance, around food subsidies and things that they needed to support their children out of fear that participating in these programs, which are designed to help people who have challenging medical issues or living in poverty to survive.

And what the U.S. government does not want to do is make people feel like they can’t be in these programs because they’re working on their immigration status. So there are probably a few programs, government programs that ultimately will fall into this public charge category. But I think the government now is working on a final rule to clarify which programs those are so that people don’t have to live in uncertainty and they could make good decisions, responsible decisions about what kind of benefits they should and shouldn’t be eligible for and apply for which it’s not right that the government doesn’t give people clarity on those things. Those are life and death decisions. So it’s a good effort.

I hope that it clarifies things for people in a way that’s useful when they do issue a final rule. I’m happy to talk about it in one of these Q&As and clarify what the actual details are and I’ll be keeping an eye on it, too, so I can help everybody keep informed.

Please keep an eye out for upcoming Q&As to submit your questions. I hope this was useful for everybody, and I’m more than happy to do it. I love the engagement and questions that we’re getting.

Just to wrap up, I want to reiterate one more time, I am a former USCIS officer and former U.S. consular officer. I am not a government official. I am not a lawyer. And please do not take anything that I’m saying today’s legal advice.

I’ll wrap up there and look forward to seeing everybody next time.


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