After several years of work consolidating its various policies and guidelines, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released the first volume of a comprehensive policy manual (the “Manual”). The first volume, which became effective on January 22, 2013, covers issues relating to citizenship and naturalization. The agency is planning up to eleven more volumes, covering matters such as nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, waivers, and adjustment of status. While USCIS primarily intends the Manual to benefit its own adjudicators and other staff, it can be a useful resource for immigration attorneys, immigrants, and employers.
Current USCIS Policy Resources
USCIS adjudicators, who make many of the decisions on immigrant visas, green cards, and naturalization petitions, have relied on the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM). The Manual now supersedes many of the AFM’s provisions, and will eventually replace it entirely.
USCIS occasionally issues memoranda outlining policies for particular issues or procedural instructions. It currently makes these available via its Policy and Procedural Memoranda website, which is not always easy to search or navigate. The Manual will consolidate current policies and procedures in what will hopefully be a more easily-searchable format.
History of the Policy Manual
According to USCIS’s website, the process of reviewing policies relating to adjudications and public services began in April 2010. The agency sought input from “stakeholders,” defined as immigrant advocates, employment-based visa holders, employers of immigrant workers, law enforcement representatives, immigration attorneys, and others. It used survey responses from almost 5,600 stakeholders to establish priorities for the new policy manual. The first few priorities the USCIS mentions in its report on the review are a National Customer Service Center, H-1B visas, naturalization, and employment-based adjustment of status. Citizenship and naturalization make up the first volume of the Manual.
Volume 12 of the Manual
The newly-released volume of the manual, designated as Volume 12, deals with citizenship and naturalization. The volume is divided into twelve parts, labeled A through L, defining procedures for the initial naturalization examination, requirements for naturalization, treatment of immediate relatives of naturalization applicants, rights of military servicemembers seeking naturalization, oaths and certificates, and grounds and procedures for revocation of naturalization.
Future Installments of the Manual
The USCIS has announced that it intends to publish eleven more volumes, numbered 1 through 11, although it has not stated a timeline for release. The planned topics for future installments are:
1) General policies and procedures 2) Nonimmigrants, including H-1B and other temporary worker visas 3) Protection & parole 4) Refugees 5) Asylees 6) Immigrants, including employment-based immigrants and immigrant investors 7) Adjustment of status 8) Admissibility 9) Waivers 10) Consent to reapply 11) Documentation for identification, travel, employment authorization
In principle, having a single resource defining all of an agency’s policies, procedures, and guidelines is helpful to applicants seeking benefits. In practice, it may or may not be helpful to prospective immigrants, current immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders, and the attorneys who represent them. USCIS’s policies and procedures have had varying degrees of organization and consistency. Standardized guidelines could mean greater fairness in the application of the rules, or less flexibility among individual adjudicators.
The release of the Manual in 2013 also serves to underscore the relative disorganization of USCIS and the other agencies created from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 2003. After ten years, the agency is finally putting all of its policies and procedures, including the ones it inherited from the INS, in one place.
More Blog Posts:
Group of U.S. Senators Issues Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Immigration Laws, Promote Employment-Based Immigration, ImmigRantings, February 11, 2013
President’s Inaugural Address Highlights Needs for Reform of Highly-Skilled Immigrant and Work Visa Programs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
U.S. Senator Outlines Proposal to Increase Immigration for High-Tech Jobs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
Photo credit: pll on stock.xchng.