On Monday, February 11, 2019, USCIS announced that it was revising the I-539 application form used by many different types of nonimmigrants, including H-4, L-2, O-3, F-1, B-1, B-2, Dependents of E visa holders, and Dependents of TN visa holders, to name a few. Although form revisions are common, this time USCIS has added a requirement for all applicants, including children, to pay an $85 biometric services fee and attend a biometrics appointment at the Application Support Center closest to the applicant’s address. The new version of the form is not yet available, but must be used for all applications received by USCIS on or after March 11, 2019.
In its supporting documents for the form revision, USCIS uses Section 5 of Executive Order (E.O.) 13780 as the grounds for the needed biometrics. This Executive Order is entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” and calls for the implementation of uniform screening and vetting standards for all immigration programs, including “a mechanism to ensure that applicants are who they claim to be” and “any other appropriate means for ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary for a rigorous evaluation of all grounds of inadmissibility or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.”
USCIS believes that the I-539 biometrics requirement will enhance national security, public safety, and identity verification.
I-539, applicants who are requesting A, G, or NATO classifications are exempt from the biometrics fee by regulation. All other classifications must appear for biometrics collection and submit the associated fee.
USCIS’ own supporting statement for the biometrics requirement states that the average distance traveled for applicants to reach an Application Support Center is 100 miles, yet they claim that “the burden of complying with the biometrics requirement is not excessive.”
In Fiscal Year 2018, USCIS received a total of 230,975 I-539 applications. But remember, this does not take into account the fact that each application can include more than one applicant (for example, an H-4 spouse and his/her children are all included in one I-539 application).
USCIS expects that 373,477 people will need to have their biometrics done under this plan each year, which results in the government earning over $31 million from this exercise.
Now that we are adding 373,477 biometrics appointments into the system, (in addition to the 334,182 family-based adjustment of status applicants, the 132,708 employment-based adjustment of status applicants, and 834, 251 naturalization applicants who currently attend biometrics appointments), what will happen to the already ridiculously long processing times for I-539 applications? The Vermont Service Center is taking 12 to 15.5 months to process one of the simplest types of immigration applications. How will USCIS treat I-539s filed concurrently with a premium processed I-129? These are answers that we don’t yet know. We may have more insight this Friday after USCIS conducts a teleconference to discuss the requirements involved with the revised Form I-539.
Stay tuned for more information!