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Improving the Adjudication of Applications and Petitions Under Section 204(l) of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Impact on the Public

This review by the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman(the Ombudsman’s Office) considers implementation of section 204(l) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, legislation passed by Congress in 2009 to make it easier for certain beneficiaries (or “survivors”) of approved or pending visa petitions to secure immigration benefits.  It initially discusses the fact that current guidance issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not align with the purpose and plain language of INA section 204(l) by deeming previously approved petitions, filed on behalf of covered beneficiaries, automatically revoked and subject to discretionary reinstatement.  The Ombudsman’s Office further finds that no clear process is  available for survivors to request benefits from USCIS under INA section 204(l).  Because USCIS has neither created nor designated any standard form or instructions, requests for relief include hand-written letters with or without necessary identity, medical or other information.  Cases remain outside normal intake and receipting channels, and survivors have little idea when to expect agency action.  Stakeholders also report long processing delays, incorrect information provided by USCIS, and express frustration that their cases are afforded a low priority.

Recommendations

To address difficulties associated with INA section 204(l) implementation, the Ombudsman's Office recommends that USCIS:

  1.  Conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking to create or designate a standard form, establish a receipt protocol and describe an adjudication process consistent with the plain language of INA section 204(l).
  2. Train USCIS staff to interpret and apply properly INA section 204(l) and stop regarding survivor benefit requests as a form of discretionary reinstatement.
  3.  Publish instructions for applicants and petitioners as to the nature and extent of INA section 204(l)’s coverage and related benefit request processes; and
  4.  Track and monitor the processing of survivor benefit requests.

Status

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