USCIS Releases its First Ever Comprehensive Online Policy Manual22 Jan 2013
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has taken a major step by releasing the first volume of their new Policy Manual. This Manual will replace the current Adjudicators Field Manual (AFM) as well as a number of USCIS policy memos. The first volume covers citizenship and naturalization adjudications.
The USCIS issued a press release on January 7, 2013, stating that the agency was beginning its move to an online, centralized manual of immigration policies. The first chapter, released as Volume 12, goes into effect on January 22, 2013, addressing policies and procedures related to U.S. citizenship and naturalization. The USCIS Policy Manual is available online.
Goal of Clarity and Uniformity in U.S. Immigration Policy
The critical impact of this transition to a centralized USCIS manual is to eliminate the confusion that has been created by the use of both the Adjudicators Field Manual (AFM) and numerous memoranda issued by USCIS leaders on a range of issues. Over the years, positions taken by the USCIS in these memoranda at times have been in conflict with one another and have changed or even been withdrawn by the USCIS. Some of the memoranda are considered to be binding policy memoranda, and others are non-policy guidance that is not binding on the USCIS. This leads to a disjointed, piecemeal, and, at times, arbitrary approach to many issues. The goal of the revised manual is to have clarity and uniformity in USCIS policies.
USCIS Policy Memos to be Phased Out
As the remaining eleven volumes of the policy manual are released, current immigration policy memoranda section of the USCIS WebSite will be phased out. As each volume of the policy manual goes into effect, USCIS adjudications officers will be required to base decisions on petitions and applications on the manual.
Release Comes After Review and Input
The press release explains that this release of Volume 12 of the USCIS Policy Manual was preceded by an extensive review of USCIS’s adjudication and customer service policies. The review began in April 2010, as reported in our MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, entitled USCIS Policy Review Process Underway: First Ten Priorities Named (06.Aug.2010). The stated goal of this review is to improve the quality, transparency and efficiency of USCIS. In this process, USCIS requests input and feedback on its proposals from USCIS employees, as well as from immigration attorneys and the general public. As each volume of the manual is prepared for release, the USCIS will notify the general public and invite comments on any new immigration policies or substantial changes to existing policies.
Manual Aims at Being User Friendly
The content of the USCIS Policy Manual will be easier to update, and a review of volume 12 shows that the text of the manual includes footnotes citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Code of Federal Regulations, and other sources of U.S. immigration law. Use of these footnotes allows the text of the manual to be read without interruption, but also brings the aid of technology to the reading and research of USCIS policies. USCIS is also including helpful tables and charts, to assist users to visualize complex immigration polices and issues.
The USCIS has taken a major step toward making its day-to-day decision making more transparent, more uniform, and more understandable to the many people affected by the process of granting or denying immigration benefits. The USCIS also has begun elimination of a practice in which many types of guidance were issued in official, temporary memoranda that were complicated or conflicted with other pieces of USCIS guidance. We at the Murthy Law Firm applaud the USCIS for its careful review, over the course of several years, and its decision to publish a single procedures manual, available to the public online. Hopefully, there will be progress towards completing the other volumes of the USCIS Policy Manual in a reasonable timeframe, as it likely will help many in the absence of regulations and guidance on issues of importance to our clients and to the immigrant community at large.
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