As published in the Immigration Daily on August 7, 2023
While it is good that USCIS is digitizing and modernizing its adjudication processes to increase efficiency and accuracy, the ongoing shift from paper-filed applications to e-filing has some growing pains. The example discussed here is the (relatively) new guidance by USCIS in assembling paper-filed applications to maximize ease of scanning documents. (https://www.uscis.gov/forms/filing-guidance/tips-for-filing-forms-by-mail) In a reversal from traditional policy, USCIS now discourages applicants from using fasteners, hole punch, staple, paper clip, binder clip, or any other tool for attaching documents to one another when filing directly with a USCIS service center “as that may cause delays in scanning the documents into the electronic database systems.” As an unintended result of this new guidance, it appears that USCIS has been misplacing submitted application documents and issuing requests for further evidence (RFEs) asking for documents that had already been submitted. Our law firm has encountered a few of these types of RFEs. One recent example is an I-539 application to extend nonimmigrant status for an O-3 dependent which was filed concurrently with an I-129 petition for the O-1 principal where the I-129 was initially approved, then USCIS issued an RFE on the I-539 asking for copies of the applicant’s marriage certificate, the principal’s most recent I-797 approval notice, and the dependent’s passport, visa, and I-94. Needless to say, these were all submitted in the original submission.
In this case, we numbered all of the exhibits and provided an exhibit list after the attorney cover letter; separated all exhibits with colored “exhibit pages” clearly labeling each exhibit; and rubber banded together the entire concurrent I-129/I-539 filing with all enclosed evidence. Despite these concerted efforts to ensure that USCIS would see all of the evidence, we received the RFE for documents that were submitted in this application.
While it is understood that USCIS is digitizing and moving away from paper, and that this problem will be resolved once USCIS reaches its goal of allowing all forms to be filed online, USCIS’ mishandling of paper documents in the interim resulting from the guidance discouraging adhesion of documents is a problem that must be addressed. It is less than ideal for a supposedly reliable agency, and not a good first impression of America for many noncitizens, to lose documents in transfer from the mailroom to the scanner. Perhaps in the transitory period to e-filing, USCIS should continue to encourage applicants to fasten their applications with ACCO fasteners. In any case, it should enact workable policies in the interim to prevent loss of documents to minimize time and resource waste and counter completely avoidable and unnecessary RFEs and rejections.