On November 27, 2011, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (Ombudsman's Office) hosted a public teleconference on how immigration benefits applicants and their representatives report changes of address to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
Reporting a change of address to USCIS is mandated by law. In order to ensure that all notices, decisions, and other correspondence are received, it is critical that the individual or employer's address is correct with USPS, and other Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Departments of State and Labor. USCIS notices must be received in a timely manner to prevent the consequences that can flow from failure to respond to a request for evidence (RFE) or from failure to appear for a schedule interview.
Ms. Gleason also interviewed Caitlin Brazill, a staff attorney with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services of DC, a faith-based organization that focuses on direct legal immigration services to foreign-born individuals and their families; and, Andrew Stawar, Supervising Immigration Attorney at Pisgah Legal Services of Asheville, NC, a non-profit dedicated to providing legal assistance to and advocating on behalf of low-income individuals, including immigrants and victims of domestic violence.
Margaret Gleason, Senior Advisor to the Ombudsman on Family-Based Immigration interviewed Sarah Burr, USPS Manager of the Northern Virginia Postal Offices. Ms. Burr has 35 years of experience in the administration of USPS offices. She explained USPS change of address procedures.
Change of Address with USCIS
How do you change an immigration client's address with USCIS?
Ms. Brazill explained that all non-U.S. citizens, except for holders of A or G visas, must report a change of address, within ten days of moving, to USCIS. The preferred method of reporting a change of address to USCIS is through the Change of Address Online. Changes of Address may also be completed by filling out and mailing to USCIS Form AR-11, Change of Address. A change of address should be submitted for each pending and approved petition and/or application.
Applicants who complete a paper change of address using From AR-11 should send it by certified, registered, or return receipt mail, and must call the USCIS National Customer Service Center (NCSC) toll-free number at 1-800-375-5283 to confirm that a change of address has been processed on any pending or recently approved applications or petitions. The filing location for Form AR-11 changed in April 2011 from London, KY to 1344 Pleasants Drive, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801.
What happens if an immigrant fails to change his or her address with USCIS properly?
There may be a number of negative consequences if one fails to change an address with USCIS. Individuals and their representatives may miss important notices and information regarding a pending application or petition. Ms. Brazill provided some examples of these negative consequences, including a petition for adjustment of status denied due to abandonment because a notice to appear in immigration court was sent to an old address.
Willful failure to give written notice to USCIS of a change of address within 10 days is a misdemeanor crime with a penalty of up to a $200 fine or 30 days imprisonment, and could also jeopardize the ability to obtain a future immigration benefit.
What are some best practices for filing a change of address with USCIS?
Ms. Brazill suggested that filing a change of address online is best, but noted it must be done for each pending application or petition. Ms. Brazill also explained that for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), U, T applicants, and related to petitions for adjustment of status, changes of address must be filed in writing, with the applicant's original signature, and must be submitted directly to the Vermont Service Center at:
75 Lower Welden
St. Albans, VT 05479-0001
Must an attorney file a change of address for clients' applications and petitions when a law firm moves locations?
In order to ensure timely receipt of notices, attorneys must file changes of address when a law firm changes locations. Mr. Stawar explained that his law firm office moved two blocks, and he filed a change of address for each client online, using Form AR-11. He also filed written notices to the office that last had the case, using certified mail and return receipt. After his move, he sent a new Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative to each USCIS office where a client's case was located.
Do you have suggestions about what would make the process work better?
Ms. Brazill and Mr. Stawar suggested that USCIS issue clearer guidance regarding the method that law firms should use to change their address for all petitions and applications. USCIS should also indicate whether the process differs for each USCIS office. Another suggestion was that USCIS consider ways to streamline the change of address process as the agency's Transformation initiative is developed. Both attorneys noted problematic experiences when calling the USCIS NCSC about change of address issues.
Teleconference participants had an opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions regarding the change of address process. The Ombudsman's Office provided these questions to USCIS after the teleconference, and USCIS provided the following responses.
What happens if an EAD card, fingerprint notice, or interview notice is not received by the applicant, but also not returned to USCIS as undelivered?
USCIS stated that if an EAD is mailed and not returned as undeliverable, customers should contact USPS in such situations, because USPS last had control of the document if it is scanned into their system. However, in the few instances that this type of situation has been brought to our attention, USCIS raised it to USPS and the card was ultimately recovered and delivered by USPS.
If a fingerprint notice or interview notice is mailed but not received, the customer or representative can contact the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) and request that a duplicate notice be sent.
If an applicant reports a P.O. Box for receipt of USCIS mail, but his residence changes, should he still file a change of address notice?
USCIS responded that yes, the applicant still needs to complete Form AR-11 to change his/her residence address because the physical address information helps to determine the applicant's jurisdiction. In addition, INA 265 (a) states "Each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the Attorney General in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change..."
If someone has moved several times, and has not submitted an AR-11, should he submit one change of address showing the current address, or do they need to file a series of AR-11s to indicate each of the interim addresses as well as the current address?
USCIS responded that applicants should submit only their most recent address. There is nothing on the form or in the database that indicates when the applicant lived at that address. If all past addresses are entered into the database at the same time, USCIS would not be able to determine which is the applicant's current address.
What happens if you receive mail from USCIS with important address information missing?
A teleconference participant explained that his law firm often provides change of address information to USCIS. Nevertheless, critical notices are sometimes not received. The attorney practices in a large law firm that occupies many floors. This participant shared that when an attorney practices in a large firm, it is critical that the attorney name, law firm name, and floor of the office location are properly recorded by USCIS. When pieces of information, such as attorney or firm name, are left out, the mail becomes undeliverable.
Ms. Gleason noted that it is important to share change of address issues with local USCIS offices and service centers. Ms. Gleason also mentioned that attorneys should always include the suite number of their law firm. USCIS stated that the best way to address this issue would be to supply USCIS with specific receipt numbers related to claims of non-delivery of EADs or other documents to allow for further research and involvement of USPS, if appropriate.
Change of Address with USPS
How can you be sure your address complies with current USPS standards?
Ms. Burr stated that there is a general format required by USPS for addresses, with variation depending upon the different elements of your address. Be sure the last line of your address is standardized: city, state, and zipcode. The street address line should include the physical address itself (e.g. 1234 Main St., Anytown, VA, 22222). Mail processing is automated, so you are not required to include the four additional digits following your zipcode, but they are helpful.
What kinds of address errors might make a letter undeliverable?
When printing their address on packages and/or documents, Postal Service customers must make sure that it includes: (1) name, (2) house number, (3) street name, (4) apartment or suite number, (5) city, (6) state, and (7) zip code. When suite, apartment, zip code or address numbers are not listed, the mail may not be delivered to the proper location. There is a delivery supervisor at every local post office who is available to answer questions from the public.
How can an individual confirm his or her address with the postmaster?
Ms. Burr explained that individuals can confirm an address at the local post office. When confirming an address, customers must present valid identification such as a state issued driver's license.
How do customers change an address with USPS?
Ms. Burr stated that individuals can change their address online, or they may fill out USPS Form 3575, Change of Address, at any post office. Certain types of mail, including first class, periodicals, mail guaranteed by the sender, and packages, will be forwarded for up to one year after the change is processed.
Does it make any difference whether a customer is sending something to a Post Office (P.O) Box?
Ms. Burr stated that there is no difference. When mail is sent to a P.O. Box, and is too large to fit in the box, USPS puts a slip in the box notifying the P.O. Box owner to go to the post office counter to pick up mail on hold. A P.O. Box owner may pick up mail on hold at the local post office upon presentation of valid photo identification.
What is the best way to confirm receipt of mail?
Ms. Burr suggested that individuals should verify the delivery of their mail by purchasing insurance and USPS mail tracking. Individuals may send documents via "certified mail" with "return receipt" to ensure delivery confirmation by signature.
If you follow the directions provided by USCIS and USPS for changes of address, but you still have not received notices or mail from USCIS or experience additional issues, please share your concerns with the Ombudsman's Office by submitting a case problem or sending examples to Margaret.Gleason@dhs.gov.