More than a million immigrants in the United States who have applied for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, adjustment of status and other benefits have been waiting for their biometric services appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) to provide their fingerprints, photograph and/or signature.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person services were canceled at Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices between March and June of last year, and there have been subsequent restrictions after opening to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Thousands of biometrics appointments were canceled and USCIS said it would reschedule them once it normalized operations. But many applicants have yet to receive their rescheduled or new appointment, and their immigration processes have thus been delayed.
This week, for the first time, U.S. immigration authorities provided an update about the situation at Application Support Centers.
USCIS acknowledged that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is experiencing delays in scheduling or rescheduling appointments at ASCs to collect biometric data from applicants.
“Current processing times are affected by several variables including demand and capacity at individuals ASCs,” the agency’s Public Engagement Division said in a stakeholder message.
Approximately 1.3 million applications for immigration benefits are awaiting biometrics appointments as of mid-December, the Department of Homeland Security agency said.
Roughly 280,000 immigrants saw their appointments canceled between March and June.
“USCIS began a phased reopening of our ASCs in July, after we installed protective screens and incorporated proper social distancing measures across 132 sites,” the agency said.
However, despite the reopening, “there have been sporadic and temporary ASC closures for reasons such as local stay-at-home orders, COVID-19-related cleaning and extreme weather.”
The procedure, in a local USCIS Application Support Center, normally takes 15 to 20 minutes.
The information is later sent to law enforcement agencies for criminal and security checks. Biometrics is also one of the 10 steps for legal permanent residents to achieve U.S citizenship.
The good news, though, is that given these challenges, when authorized by law, USCIS will be reusing previously collected biometrics to conduct background and security checks – therefore some immigrant will be able to skip the biometrics appointment.
Should USCIS reuse biometrics for a pending application, the agency “will mail a Form I-797 notice to the applicant stating that we will be reusing the applicant’s biometrics and that the applicant is not required to appear at an ASC,” USCIS explained, noting that not all applications meet the requirements for biometrics reuse.
According to the immigration agency, biometrics appointments are scheduled based on the prioritization of benefit types, considering adjudication capacity and processing times.
USCIS also clarified that due to the limitations that COVID-19 has imposed on its facilities, it will not allow walk-in visits for biometric collection with the exception of military applicants and their family members.
For further help preparing for your biometric services appointment, visit this USCIS online resource. Before visiting any USCIS facility, you can also check the USCIS Office Closings web page for the current operating status.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration law who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth. The contents of this story do not constitute legal advice.
Read this Story in Spanish at el Nuevo Herald.