USCIS Failure to Send Original Approval Notices to Attorneys

On September 19, 2011, the Murthy Law Firm began receiving “courtesy copies” of case approval notices (Form I-797C) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), rather than the “original” approval notices (I-797A or I-797B). This is at variance with long standing procedures, and was not preceded by any public announcement. Previously, the USCIS sent the original approval notice for an application to the attorney whose appearance was entered in the case. This is problematic, as explained below.

USCIS Changed Procedure Without Warning

The Murthy Law Firm immediately verified that our receipt of courtesy copies, indeed, was a change in procedure, rather than an error. This is a significant change, and, at a minimum, should have been preceded by an USCIS announcement. Ideally, there would have been an opportunity to provide feedback in order to voice concerns about this departure from prior procedure.

The USCIS has stated that this was a planned change. It is related to alterations in the Computer Linked Application Information Management System (CLAIMS) used by USCIS in processing and management of immigration benefits filings.

Employers and Applicants Need to Retain / File Documents

Previously, all such original notices related to a decision on any immigration filing were sent to the attorney of record. The attorney then accepted responsibility for transmitting these important documents to the client/s. In the case of applications for extension or change of nonimmigrant status, this new change in procedure means that the original notice – with the new I-94 card attached – now is being sent directly to the petitioner or applicant on a case.

In employment-based applications, the I-94 goes directly to the employer, who was not previously advised to expect and safeguard this document. With an H1B or L-1 approval, an employer, who is not experienced in immigration matters, may simply file away the document. However, the I-94 card, as an example, is required for the employee to demonstrate eligibility to live and work in the United States.

Potential Problems with Misplaced Documents

Transmission of the original approval notice to the petitioners may result in many hard-to-replace I-94 cards being lost or misplaced. Employers were not expecting to receive these documents. Attorneys typically organize and have thorough systems for tracking the receipt of notices from the government and retaining copies of these documents, in paper and/or electronic format. Many diligent lawyers and law firms keep track of expiration dates to do follow through. Attorneys also typically have reliable systems for maintaining updated information regarding client addresses.

Additional Risk if Failure to Update Address Changes Timely

Employers and foreign nationals do not always update their addresses with USCIS in a timely fashion. Moreover, the USCIS has a long history of failing to process address change requests promptly. This creates additional problems if applicants have moved after filing their applications. It also makes it more difficult for lawyers to properly represent clients, as they will not be alerted to any problems as quickly, including USCIS errors on I-94 cards.

Send Copy of the Original Approval to Lawyer on Record

Efforts are underway to urge the USCIS to reconsider this change. However, for the time being, employers and others filing applications and petitions to the USCIS need to be diligent about updating address information. The instructions for address changes are on the USCIS WebSite. Those who are likely to receive USCIS notices should be diligent about how they handle original government approval notices, and make sure that I-94 cards and other vital documents are not lost. It may be wise to notify the attorney so that the law firm records can be updated and maintained with a copy of the approval notice for the file.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.