If you wish to apply for an immigration benefit in this country — such as asylum, a green card, or a U-Visa, for example — and you are not in removal proceedings, then you will have to go through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency run by the Department of Homeland Security. Although other federal departments may be involved at some point in the process, such as the Department of Labor or the Department of State, USCIS plays a key role in granting immigration benefits, and navigating its various components is not always easy. Below are the main offices you may encounter along the way.
The Service Centers were created to adjudicate most applications for immigration benefits, and this is where you will initially mail or e-file your application. There are four Service Centers nationwide — Vermont, Nebraska, Texas, and California — and depending on where you live, you will file your application for immigration benefits at one of these locations. But note that Service Centers do not accommodate walk-ins, and they do not answer questions by phone or email.
National Benefits Center
If your application for immigration benefits requires an in-person interview (as most do), then it will be forwarded to the National Benefits Center in Missouri for preparation. Once it receives your application, the National Benefits Center will schedule a background check and review the application itself, along with any supporting documentation, for completeness. If more evidence is necessary, the National Benefits Center will send you a Request for Evidence (RFE) and you will have a short time to comply, typically 30 days. The National Benefits Center has a hotline to answer certain questions about your case, and you may track the status of your case on its website.
Application Support Center
Once the National Benefits Center schedules your background check, you must report to an Application Support Center, which is typically a local office, where you will have your picture and fingerprints taken, a process known as biometrics. That information will be used for an FBI criminal background check.
Once your case is ready for an interview, it will be referred to a local Field Office. Apart from conducting the interview itself, these offices can also provide limited information regarding the status of your case, either in person, or through its website or hotline. But if you wish to speak with an adjudications officer in person, you must first schedule an InfoPass appointment, either online or at the Field Office itself.
Asylum Offices handle scheduled interviews only for asylum and certain benefits under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), but no applications are actually filed with the asylum offices. There are only eight asylum offices nationwide, so depending on where you live, you may have to travel some distance to attend your interview.
Administrative Appeals Office
If you are denied a benefit before USCIS, you have the right, in many cases, to file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office. This office has authority to issue precedent decisions, making it, in effect, a rule-making body.
If you have any questions about filing for an immigration benefit before USCIS, contact me today.
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