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USCIS Suddenly Redirects I-797 'Notice of Action' Receipts, Approvals To Petitioners

On September 30, 2011, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted a notice on its website stating that, effective September 12, 2011, the agency began sending original Form I-797, Notice of Action, receipt and approval notices directly to applicants and petitioners. USCIS said that courtesy copies of the notices are being sent to attorneys or accredited representatives, if a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, is on file. Previously, the original notice had been sent to the attorney or accredited representative's address listed on the Form G-28, while a copy was sent to the address provided by the applicant or petitioner in the applicable application or petition form.

USCIS said it implemented this notification change to ensure that documents (such as I-94 Arrival-Departure Records) are mailed directly to the address specified by the applicant or petitioner. USCIS said it "apologizes for any inconvenience caused by not conducting commensurate outreach and providing time for affected stakeholders to adjust their practices."

USCIS noted that on November 28, 2011, the final rule for Immigration Benefits Business Transformation, Increment I, will take effect. Under the amendments made by this rule, documents produced as the result of an approved application or petition will be mailed directly to the address provided by the party seeking the benefit on the applicable application or petition and not that specified by the attorney or accredited representative on a G-28. "Our objective is to make sure that original receipts, decisions, and documents produced as a result of approved applications or petitions are sent to the address specified by the party making the request," USCIS said.

In an effort to combat possible scams, USCIS said it generally discourages the practice of entering another person’s address for mailing purposes. Nonetheless, Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, petitioners who would like an attorney or representative of record to resume receiving original I-797 notices may use an attorney’s address as the mailing address on the petition, USCIS said.

USCIS warned that using an address other than the petitioner's address as the mailing address may cause processing delays related to the Validation Instrument for Business Enterprises (VIBE), however, because VIBE automatically uses the address provided on the petition to validate the petitioner's current location. If petitioners use an attorney's address as the mailing address on the I-129 petition, USCIS said a cover letter should be included with the filing that clearly indicates the current address of the petitioner. "This information will be used to assist the Immigration Services Officer (ISO) in completing a manual check in VIBE using the petitioner's address," USCIS said. "In addition, if an attorney's address is used as the petitioner's mailing address on the form, the petitioner will not receive any I-797 notices."

For petitions filed through Premium Processing, USCIS said the applicant or petitioner may provide an alternate address for mailing of the original approval notice and the I-94 if a pre-paid, self-addressed mailer is provided with the requested mailing address.

Many people have complained about the new procedure. The potential harm that can result from a misrouted, mishandled, or lost document can be serious. For example, when an I-797 notice is sent to a large employer, the document can be misrouted within the organization, resulting in delays in reaching the foreign national. In a worst-case scenario, the document can be lost. In addition, some attorneys have reported that requests for additional evidence are going directly to petitioners and applicants, not to attorneys of record. The change in the processing of notices and decisions undermines the right of a party to the effective assistance of counsel and impedes the ability of attorneys to zealously represent their clients.

The USCIS held a teleconference on October 12, 2011, to hear stakeholders’ concerns about the new I-797 procedures, but it is unclear whether the agency will make any changes.

The USCIS notice about the I-797 processing change is here.

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