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USCIS Policy Change with regard to Handling I-797 Receipt and Approval Notices

October 2, 2011

For the past three weeks, the USCIS has been mailing the original I-797 receipt and/or approval notices to the applicants and/or petitioners directly.  Precisely, since September 12, 2011, the USCIS began mailing the I-797 notices directly the applicants and/or petitioners and was only mailing a courtesy copy to our office.  This was basically a reversal of what the USCIS used to do earlier, i.e. mailing the courtesy copy to the applicant and/or petitioner and the original I-797 to the attorney on file.  The change in how these notices are now being mailed caused immense confusion to many of you and quite honestly, to the attorneys across the nation as well.  And we did not have an immediate answer.  We now do!

How the policy change affects you and us: Yesterday, USCIS informed that this change is in fact a newly incorporated policy pursuant to which original I-797 notices will be mailed to the applicants and/or petitioners directly.  Of course, USCIS apologizes for its poorly executed policy change without any notice.  Under this new policy, attorneys will not be receiving the original I-797 notices anymore.  The attorneys will only receive courtesy copies.

Alternative:  The alternative to the above ill-conceived policy is another problematic suggestion by USCIS.  The USCIS suggests that if an attorney would like to continue receiving the I-797 notices, such attorney may choose to put his/her office address in the petitioner’s and/or applicant’s address section on the form as opposed to providing the address of the client.  Then, the USCIS goes on to provide a cautionary note – that is if the form contains an attorney’s address in the applicant’s or petitioner’s address section, it could result in delayed processing of such case because of the background checks, address mismatch, etc. Thus, this is clearly not an alternative.

What you should do: It is important that you monitor your mail more carefully on a day-to-day basis as you will now be receiving the original notices.  It is equally important that you notify our office of any change in your address immediately.  Please note that if the U.S. Postal Service cannot deliver the immigration mail to you, such mail will likely be returned to USCIS as undeliverable.  Based on the experience for the past three weeks, there has been some degree of chaos with regard to missing approval notices at clients’ offices due to mailroom mishandling, etc.  If we handled a case on your behalf, we will email the I-797 notice to you as soon as our office receives it.  But, it is possible that sometimes, USCIS might not mail a courtesy copy to the attorney and might instead simply mail the original notice to the applicant/petitioner.  Please follow-up with our office if you do not receive an I-797 receipt or an approval notice from our office within two weeks of filing or approval of an application or a petition.  Also, inform us if/when you receive any notice from USCIS, whether it is a receipt notice, approval notice, RFE (Request for Evidence), or a denial.

Dependents of your employees:  If we have filed derivative applications such as L-2, H-4, TD, or such similar applications on behalf of your employees’ family members, it is highly critical to advise such employees to monitor their mail more carefully as well.  The dependents will now receive the I-797 receipt and approval notices directly at their residence.  Again, any change in their residential address should be notified to our office immediately.

The key to efficiently overcoming this uninformed fiasco caused by USCIS is to constantly stay in communication with the attorney’s office with regard to cases handled by our office, especially if you have not received a notice within two weeks of filing or an approval notice within two weeks of approval by USCIS.

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