USCIS Recommendations on Filing Paper Petitions and Applications - What Works and What Needs Some Thought.

by Alan Lee, Esq.

At a webinar on O & P petitions on August 3, 2022, the question was asked of when USCIS anticipated that we could file without a duplicate I-129 petition as several years ago, the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) and USCIS had said that duplicates would no longer be required as they were moving towards a digitization process. The USCIS webinar response was that it was no longer necessary to provide a duplicate. However, without further assurance from the agency, many practitioners were understandably reluctant to abandon sending in duplicate copies.

On November 16, 2022, USCIS sent out its recommendations on how it wants paper (not online) petitions and applications to be submitted to it in order to improve scanning efficiency. We have some reservations concerning several of the points in the guidance and believe that further discussion may be warranted and have added our italicized comments at the end of the particular bulleted points on which we have questions.

USCIS instructs that petitioners and applicants should not:

  • Hole punch, staple, paper clip, binder clip, or otherwise attach documents to one another. For large applications and petitions, the admonition can be complied with as they can be bound with large rubber bands – but such cannot be done with smaller applications and petitions and no one wants to chance some papers slipping out or being thrown away in the mailroom, in transit from the mailroom, or while on an officer’s desk.
  • Include photos or documents smaller than 4x6 inches for evidentiary purposes. Provide photocopies of these items instead. The only exception is when we request a passport photo with the filing. Are passport photos considered documents not to be stapled or paper clipped? If so, it should be noted that it is difficult to secure loose passport photos in a way that assures that they will not be lost. The practice of securing the photos directly onto the applications assures that there is much less chance of photos going missing. Perhaps the point requires some clarification.
  • Include anything that contains electronic chips and batteries (such as musical greeting cards) or any non-paper materials such as cassette tapes, CD-ROMs, DVDs, toys, action figures, or thumb drives. We will not accept these types of materials. However, we will accept photographs or photocopies of these items. Photographs of musical greeting cards, toys, and action figures can be photographed and perhaps understood, but CD-ROM and DVD covers are generally only good for musical acts or movies or the like – otherwise, how can you convey what is meant to be represented accept by photocopies of the contents – a prodigious endeavor. Ditto for most thumb drives.
  • Submit forms or evidence documents bound with a binding or spiral wire/plastic.
  • Submit evidence using photo albums, scrapbooks, binders, or greeting cards.
  • Fold documents.
  • Place sticky notes on documents. While we agree with this in general, we believe that placing sticky notes on top of the first page to identify the contents, but not on the documents themselves is helpful to USCIS in identifying what type of case is being submitted.
  • Use insertable tab dividers. We believe that most practitioners have already abandoned the practice of using insertable tab dividers, and that the use of colored paper to divide parts of the petitions and applications mainly serves the same function and helps officers adjudicating them in differentiating the separate parts.
  • Print forms on colored paper. The G-28 authorization of representation for attorneys and other representatives is the only USCIS form in a different color – blue – and printing it strictly on white paper increases the chances that the form will be overlooked by officers going through applications and petitions. Does this mean that the Service no longer wishes to even have the edges of a white G-28 blued to differentiate it from all the other white pages? This could use some clarification.
  • Submit more than one copy of the same document or evidence unless required by the form instructions or regulations. If you are required to submit a copy of a complete prior application, petition, or request, clearly mark it as a “COPY” at the top of each page to ensure it is processed as intended. This is one development that can be cheered if only for the number of trees saved!
  • Send original documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, naturalization certificates, except when:
  • Required by the form instructions for the application, petition, or request you are filing; or
  • We specifically issue a request for you to submit an original document.

USCIS adds that avoiding these activities will improve its efficiency as it processes application, petition, or requests.

After digesting these recommendations, we looked over the form I-129 instructions and found to our chagrin that an alert had been posted for some time that no duplicate I-129’s have been required since August 11, 2022. One would think that USCIS would have publicized that change of policy loudly rather than just sticking it in the form instructions.

Looking for more surprises, we went through three popular forms, the I-131 Application for Travel Document, I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, to see whether the photograph specifications had been changed. Both I-765 and I-485 instructions were the same that applicants must submit two recent identical color passport style photographs with white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched; that they must be 2 x 2”, in color with full face, frontal view on a white to off-white background with head height measuring 1 inch to 1 3/8 inches from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin and eye height between 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the photo. However, the I-131 gives applicants the alternative of submitting a digital photo which must be produced from a high-resolution camera having at least 3.5 megapixels of resolution.

While some of the bulleted points reflect common sense and have already been adopted by most petitioners and applicants, USCIS should take a moment to consider other bulleted points and clarify or change some of its recommendations.

About The Author

Alan Lee, Esq. is an exclusive practitioner of immigration law based in New York City with an AV preeminent rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory for 20+ years, registered in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, on the New York Super Lawyers list (2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-2015, 2015-2022), and recognized as a New York Area Top Rated Lawyer. He has written extensively on immigration over the past years for Interpreter Releases, Immigration Daily, and the ethnic newspapers, World Journal, Sing Tao, Epoch Times, Pakistan Calling, Muhasba and OCS; testified as an expert on immigration in civil court proceedings; and is a regular contributor to Martindale-Hubbell's Ask-a-Lawyer program. His article, "The Bush Temporary Worker Proposal and Comparative Pending Legislation: an Analysis" was Interpreter Releases' cover display article at the American Immigration Lawyers Association annual conference in 2004; his 2004 case in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Firstland International v. INS, successfully challenged Legacy INS' policy of over 40 years of revoking approved immigrant visa petitions under a nebulous standard of proof, although its central holding that the government had to notify approved immigrant petition holders of the revocation prior to the their departure to the U. S. for the petition to be able to be revoked was short-lived as it was specifically targeted in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (which in response changed the language of the revocation statute itself). Yet Firstland lives on as precedent that the government must comply with nondiscretionary duties established in law, and such failure is reviewable in federal courts. His 2015 case, Matter of Leacheng International, Inc., with the Administrative Appeals Office of USCIS (AAO) set nation-wide standards on the definition of "doing business" for multinational executives and managers to gain immigration benefits.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.