U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) intends to suspend collecting biometrics for individuals requesting E, H-4 and L-2 status on Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The policy, projected to take effect May 17, 2021, is expected to reduce adjudication backlogs and improve processing times for these applications, as well as for associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) filed on Form I-765.
In March 2019, USICS implemented a nationwide requirement for H-4 and L-2 applicants to attend an appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) to submit biometrics, including fingerprints, photographs and digital signatures. This requirement significantly delayed adjudication of these applications and associated applications for work authorization filed on Form I-765. The problem was compounded by closure of ASC locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though ASCs have reopened, many operate at reduced levels due to ongoing health and safety protocols, and are dealing with unprecedented backlogs. USCIS reports that 123,000 H-4 and L-2 applications are pending adjudication, with an additional 57,500 applications for EADS backlogged.
In response to lawsuits stemming from the delays, and recognition of the significant backlogs and ensuing hardships created, USCIS is deploying additional officers to adjudicate I-539 applications for H-4 and L-2 status and implementing the policy to suspend temporarily biometrics requirements for individuals requesting an extension of stay in, of change of status to, H-4, L-2, E-1, E-2 and E-3 nonimmigrant status.
The new policy is expected to begin May 17, 2021, and remain in effect for two years, to May 17, 2023, subject to extension or revocation by the USCIS Director.
The policy will apply only to I-539 Applications for H-4, L-2, E-1, E-2, and E-3 status pending as of the effective date of the policy that have not yet been issued a biometric appointment notice, and new applications received by USCIS after the effective date of the policy. If an applicant has received a biometrics appointment for a pending application, failure to attend the biometrics appointment may result in denial of the application. USCIS will also retain discretion to require biometrics for any case for identity verification and other screening purposes.