U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)v announced that as of May 17, 2021, it has suspended biometrics submission requirements for certain applicants who are filing Form I-539 to extend their nonimmigrant status or change to a nonimmigrant status. This suspension applies only to applicants using this form to extend or make changes to their status to H-4, L-2, and E nonimmigrant statuses. According to USCIS, this suspension will remain in effect until May 17, 2023, unless the USCIS director revokes or extends the suspension before that date. This suspension applies to the specific categories of individuals who have a Form I-539 pending as of May 17, 2021, and have not yet received a biometrics services appointment or new applications postmarked or submitted electronically on or after May 17, 2021.
Submission of Background Information by Applicants
Applicants eligible for a waiver of the biometrics requirement will still provide biographic information and undergo background checks. USCIS generally will not require the submission of fingerprints and a photograph from these applicants.
However, USCIS still has discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to require eligible applicants to provide biometrics information. As a result, applicants still may receive a biometrics services appointment notice and, if so, should appear at that appointment. Likewise, applicants who already have received this type of notice also should attend the appointment as scheduled.
Payment of the Biometrics Fee
The regular payment for biometric services, where required, is $85. Applications submitted on or after May 17, 2021, need not include the biometrics fee. USCIS will refund biometric services fees if paid separately from the base fee.
Despite the biometrics requirement suspension, USCIS will still allow applicants to submit applications with the biometrics services fee included. However, beginning on May 27, 2021, USCIS will begin rejecting paper Form I-539 applications if applicants include the fee with the filing fee as a single payment. If rejected, applicants will need to refile Form I-539.
Reasons for the Suspension of the Biometrics Requirement
Changes in USCIS policy during the Trump Administration required all Form I-539 applicants to submit biometrics, beginning in March 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 forced the closure of in-person services at USCIS field offices. Although offices have now reopened, they still are not operating at full appointment capacity. These events have contributed to significant processing delays and a high volume of cases awaiting biometric services appointments.
In turn, the delays related to biometrics services appointments have drastically impacted the processing timeframe for USCIS to adjudicate related employment authorization applications. These applications affect the ability of certain nonimmigrants to work while in the U.S., including H-4 nonimmigrants (spouses and children of H-1B workers), L-2 nonimmigrants (spouses and children of L-1 nonimmigrants, and some E nonimmigrants (dependents of E-1, E-2, and E-3 nonimmigrants). Especially concerning is the fact that the employment authorization documents (EADs) of these individuals do not renew or extend automatically; they must have USCIS approval first. This situation leads to these nonimmigrants being no longer able to work legally in the U.S. for indefinite periods.
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