Like so many different sectors of the country, the government has not been immune from office closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between March and June, USCIS offices were closed to the public, and even now USCIS is keeping a running list of offices that may be closed, depending on the local area's COVID levels. You may know from our June 2020 Blog on the Norfolk USCIS office that our local USCIS office is back to an operational status of “open,” although with strict precautions in place.
USCIS offices all over the country are struggling with the backlog that was created by nearly four months of the agency closure. Biometrics appointments are usually held at application support centers (ASCs), which are located all over the country. Between March and June nearly 300,000 ASC appointments were canceled, and today there are 1.3 million people who are waiting for their biometric appointments. Even now, approximately six months after re-opening its centers, ASC operations are only functioning at 65% of their pre-COVID levels.
Below, we answer some common questions about the wait in biometrics appointments:
Question: I've submitted biometrics in the past, can't USCIS re-use the information from my previous appointment?
Rarely. USCIS has stated that biometrics reuse is only authorized in limited circumstances, and we are expecting that most of our clients' applications will still require a new biometrics appointment. In the limited cases where USCIS may reuse an applicant's biometrics, the agency will mail a Form I-797 notice to the applicant stating that his or her biometrics will be reused and that the applicant is not required to appear at an ASC. Unless you receive such a notice, be prepared to wait a while for your next biometrics appointment.
Question: I have a green card but want to travel outside of the U.S. for an extended time. How far in advance do I need to apply for my re-entry permit?
While in the past biometrics appointments for Form I-131 re-entry permits were given after a few weeks, there is no clear expected time frame at the moment. We encourage our clients right now to put off extended international travel if possible, or be prepared to fly back to the United States for a biometrics appointment when notice is received from USCIS.
Question: I filed to renew my Employment Authorization Document (EAD) but I am still waiting for my biometrics appointment - can I work on my expired EAD due to the USCIS delays?
Unfortunately no, unless you fall into one of the automatic extension EAD categories that USCIS recognizes. Because of the biometrics delays, Form I-765 EAD application renewals are often taking longer than six months. For right now, this feels like a waiting game, but we are hoping that USCIS prioritizes EAD renewals so that EAD card holders' employment status will not be as affected.
If you are unsure about the status of your EAD card please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our immigration attorneys by clicking on this link.