Update: Consular Recommendations to Revoke Visa Petitions

Our law firm is often retained to represent clients where a U.S. Consulate has returned the visa petition to USCIS to consider revocation. This process is slower and less transparent than it should be. Still, this update explains that recently there have been some minor improvements in the process. These improvements were mentioned by Jonathan R. Scharfen, Acting Director of USCIS, in a recent response[1] to the USCIS Ombudsman’s recommendations for reform.[2]

Background

Generally, USCIS approval of a visa petition is a prerequisite for the issuance of a visa by a U.S. consulate abroad. For example, USCIS must approve an employer’s H-1B petition before the worker applies for a visa at a U.S. consulate. Similarly, USCIS must approve a U.S. husband’s immigrant visa petition before the wife can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate.

Even after a petition has been approved, USCIS can revoke it for good cause.[3] And consular officers have instructions to return petitions to USCIS[4] for revocation where fraud, misrepresentation, or ineligibility is likely to lead to revocation.[5]

If USCIS concurs with the consular officer’s reasoning, USCIS issues a “Notice of Intent to Revoke” to give the petitioner an opportunity to respond.[6] Once the response from the petitioner is received, USCIS will either reaffirm the petition and send it back to the consulate for processing, or revoke the petition. A petitioner may appeal revocation to the Administrative Appeals Unit.

Ombudsman’s Recommendations Accepted by USCIS

* USCIS Receipt Notice: The Ombudsman recommended that USCIS issue a receipt notice to the petitioner upon receipt from the Consulate of a returned petition. Happily, USCIS has implemented this recommendation. It can take 6-12 months or more between from when a Consulate returns a petition to when USCIS to issue a Notice of Intent to Revoke a returned petition. Previously USCIS didn’t issue receipt notices to acknowledge they had received the returned petitions. Clients were left clueless about the status of their cases.

* USCIS Website Improvements: USCIS has agreed to improve its website’s information related to revocation of petitions, but it appears that the update has not yet been posted.

Ombudsman’s Recommendations Rejected by USCIS

* Uncertain Processing Times: The Ombudsman recommended that USCIS create standard processing times for consideration of revocation of returned petitions, and report current processing times online. USCIS responded that it would not be practical to establish standard processing times because some cases require lengthy fraud investigations, whereas others do not. USCIS’ response is, in my opinion, disappointing. Setting standard processing times are helpful for USCIS service centers to set work priorities and for stakeholders to set reasonable expectations as to how long their cases will take. Moreover, as for other types of cases that USCIS handles, if a fraud investigation is needed, then an exception can be made to the standard processing time.[7] Standard processing times would also, hopefully, reduce the current processing times for consular return cases. Currently, with consular return cases taking a year or more, clients must consider the faster option of filing a new petition. This creates extra work for USCIS, even though USCIS or the Consulate may refuse to act on the new case before USCIS completes decided whether or not to revoke the old petition.

Other Problems with the Consular Return Process

* Readjudication by Consulate: The State Department’s Visa Office has reminded Consulates that they “should not attempt to readjudicate petitions” already decided by USCIS. “Rather, a consular officer should only seek revocation of the petition if the officer knows, or has reason to believe, that the petition approval was obtained through fraud, misrepresentation or other unlawful means, or that the beneficiary is not entitled to the status conferred by the petition. Petitions generally should not be returned unless the post uncovers new information not known to [USCIS] at the time of petition approval.”[8] Despite this reminder, some consular officers seem to return petitions to USCIS when it is not warranted, thereby inconveniencing applicants and creating additional work for USCIS.

* Consular Notice of Intent to Return Petition to USCIS: Currently, a consular officer who decides to return a petition to USCIS needs only to provide notice of this fact to the visa applicant. The officer need not explain the reason why the petition is being returned.[9] Our recommendation is that the officer should provide notice to the visa applicant of the reason why and give the applicant a chance to provide additional evidence that the petition should not be revoked. In some cases, this will be more efficient than waiting a year or more for USCIS to decide whether to revoke the petition.

Conclusion

Despite recent improvements, this legal process remains slower and less transparent than it should be. Counsel should help the visa applicant to be prepared at the time of the consular interview to answer all relevant questions by the consular officer in order to minimize the risk that the officer will return the petition to USCIS with a recommendation for revocation. If there are problems at the interview, it may be wise to contact the Consulate to try to resolve the problems before the petition is returned to USCIS. If the petition is returned, it may be best to both respond to the Notice of Intent to Revoke and consider filing a new petition.


[1] Memo by Jonathan R. Scharfen, USCIS Acting Director, Response to Recommendation #33, Recommendation on the Processing of Petitions That Are Returned by the U.S. Department of State for Revocation/Revalidation (May 23, 2008).

[2] Memo by Prakash Khatri, USCIS Ombudsman, Recommendation on the Processing of Petitions That Are Returned by the U.S. Department of State for Revocation/Revalidation (Aug. 24, 2007).

[3] INA § 205; 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l)(9).

[4] Consulates return immigrant petitions (including Ks and Vs) to the National Visa Center and nonimmigrant petitions to the Kentucky Consular Center. In either case, petitions are then routed to the appropriate USCIS offices. Forms I-130, Petitions for Alien Relatives, initially filed with an overseas USCIS office are returned directly to that office by the Consulate. Minutes of AILA-DOS Liaison Meeting (Oct. 2007).

[5] Cable, DOS, 01-State-121801 (July 13, 2001).

[6] 8 C.F.R. § 205.2(b); 8 CFR 214.2(l)(9)(iii).

[7] For example, according to USCIS regulations, L-1 petitions should be adjudicated within 30 days. However, where a fraud investigation is needed, USCIS makes an exception to this time limit. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l)(7).

[8] Cable, DOS, 01-State-121801 (July 13, 2001).

[9] Minutes of AILA-DOS Liaison Meeting (Oct. 2007).

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