USCIS revises biometrics collection guidance on fingerprint waivers, mobile service policy

‘Will improve consistency, fairness, and efficiency in how USCIS handles biometrics services’
USCIS revises biometrics collection guidance on fingerprint waivers, mobile service policy

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Thursday issued new policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to address the availability of mobile biometrics services and to clarify guidance on the validity period for fingerprint waivers.

The new policy update “clarifies that USCIS will not provide mobile biometrics services in prisons or jails for individuals who cannot attend their ASC appointment due to incarceration or detention,” and that “this policy applies only to individuals held in non-Department of Homeland Security [DHS] custody. For those in DHS custody, USCIS will continue to collect biometrics.”

The new policy revision anouncment came two days after the Department of Homeland Security obtained what USCIS described as “a pivotal judicial victory … after the US Supreme Court stayed a nationwide injunction that prevented the agency from enforcing its regulatory interpretation of section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a long-standing law that makes an alien inadmissible if the alien is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

The high court granted DHS’s motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction issued by a single judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, and recently upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

“DHS has always been confident that an objective judiciary would reverse the injunctions imposed on the agency so that we can enforce long-standing law passed by a bipartisan Congress,” said Ken Cuccinelli, who is the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy DHS Secretary, which is vacant. “Self-sufficiency and self-reliance are key American values not to be litigiously dismissed, but to be encouraged and adopted by the next generation of immigrants. We plan to fully implement this rule in 49 states and are confident we will win the case on the merits.”

The final rule was originally issued in August 2019.

As for fingerprint waivers, USCIS said: “The updated guidance also clarifies that an approved fingerprint waiver is tied to the specific petition, request, or application listed on the notice of the appointment for submission of biometrics at the ASC.”

“In other words,” the agency explained, “someone cannot use an approved waiver for any other biometrics requirement for any future filings.”

Individuals may qualify for a waiver of the fingerprint requirement pretty much only “if they cannot provide fingerprints because of a medical condition,” USCIS has made clear, also noting that “only certain USCIS employees are authorized to grant a fingerprint waiver.”

USCIS says “these updates will improve consistency, fairness, and efficiency in how USCIS handles biometrics services.”

The notice of policy change comes as USCIS announced the closing of field offices at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. International Field Offices are announced closed in Amman, Jordan; Athens, Greece; Bangkok, Thailand; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Johannesburg, South Africa; Monterrey, Mexico; Manila, Philippines; Moscow, Russia; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and in Seoul, South Korea.

USCIS requires biometrics from individuals who submit applications, who are petitioners, beneficiaries, sponsors, derivatives, or other benefit requestors seeking immigration or naturalization benefits to verify identity, produce secure documents, and facilitate required criminal and national security background checks. USCIS typically collects biometrics at its Application Support Centers (ASCs).

Upon the filing of an application, petition, or request, USCIS will schedule a biometric services appointment at a local application support center ASC if a person needs to provide their fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature. The appointment notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) includes the date, time, and location of the ASC appointment.

Biometrics includes fingerprint collection, which may be waived under certain circumstances, including, but not limited to, disabilities, birth defects, physical deformities, and skin conditions.

USCIS provides mobile biometrics services for those with a disability or health reason that renders them unable to appear in person, but “in other very limited circumstances, USCIS may, in its sole discretion, provide mobile biometrics services for those who are unable to attend scheduled ASC appointments in person,” the agency has said.

USCIS said during its new policy change announcement regarding its Mobile Biometrics Services that disability or other health reasons are examples of cases in which the agency may make special arrangements. The agency makes clear in its policy that it “will not waive the [digital] signature requirement unless [a person has] a physical disability or mental impairment that prevents [he or she] from providing a digital signature or making a physical mark. We will not waive the signature requirement simply because you cannot write in English or your native language.”

USCIS’s policy is that “(i)f an attorney, accredited representative, preparer, or interpreter helped you complete or prepare an application, petition, or request that requires you to provide biometrics, they should have already reviewed the ‘Acknowledgment of Appointment at USCIS Application Support Center’ paragraph with you and made sure that you understood what would be required when you appeared for your ASC appointment.”

If a person chooses not to sign the attestation during their ASC appointment, USCIS says “we will deny your application, petition, or request. If you choose not to provide a signature, we cannot collect your biometrics and, as a result, cannot complete the required background and security checks.” Also, “(i)f you do not understand the attestation that appears on the screen at your appointment, you may ask us to reschedule your biometrics appointment; however, this may delay the processing of your application, petition, or request.”

USCIS’s new policy guidance revision, which is contained in Volume 1 of the USCIS Policy Manual, is effective January 30, “and replaces the guidance found in Chapter 16 of the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM).”

The USCIS Policy Manual is the agency’s centralized online repository for USCIS’s immigration policies and contains guidance for USCIS officers. The Manual will ultimately replace the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM), the USCIS Immigration Policy Memoranda site, and other policy repositories.

The new policy “clarifies that USCIS does not grant requests to collect biometrics from persons in custody at non-DHS correctional institutions,” and “(c)larifies that fingerprint waivers are only valid for the particular application(s), petition(s), or benefit request(s) listed on the corresponding ASC notice.

These citations appear in Volume 1: General Policies and Procedures, Part C, Biometrics Collection and Security Checks, Chapter 2, Biometrics Collection [1 USCIS-PM C.2].
USCIS said it will accept public comment on the proposed policy change in the new or revised USCIS Policy Manual within the specified comment period between January 30, to February 12.

“In addition, USCIS allows individuals to submit feedback on the USCIS Policy Manual at any time by clicking the “Feedback” button on the USCIS Policy Manual page.”

This new policy change follows another a few weeks earlier that reaffirmed eligibility requirements for replacing a Permanent Resident Cards, and clarified that I-551 stamps issued for temporary proof of lawful permanent resident (LPR) status may only be placed on an Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94) (with photo) or an unexpired passport. It also provides guidance for LPRs seeking commuter status and for those in commuter status seeking to take up residence in the United States.

An LPR is an alien who the US government has lawfully authorized to permanently live in the United States. USCIS issues Permanent Resident Cards (PRCs or Form I¬551, commonly referred to as “green cards”) to LPRs as evidence of identity and status in the United States. LPRs use Form I-90 to request that USCIS replace their PRCs.

USCIS said it “has undertaken a comprehensive review of our immigration policies to improve quality, transparency, and efficiency,” and as “a result of this extensive and ongoing review … has created the USCIS Policy Manual, which is the agency’s centralized online repository for USCIS’s immigration policies.”

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