01 Apr 2021

United States

USCIS Eliminates Controversial “Blank Space” Rejection Policy

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has confirmed that it will no longer reject any forms simply due to inapplicable fields being left blank. 

In October 2019, USCIS changed its criteria for processing submissions and began rejecting forms that left questions blank or did not use specific terminology (such as “N/A”) to indicate that a question was inapplicable. This was a sharp contrast from long-standing policy, which was to only reject forms that were unsigned, missing pages, or so incomplete as to render them impossible to process. The policy change was not announced publicly, nor was it included in the USCIS Policy Manual. Instead, it was implemented via internal procedural manuals and obscure website alerts. The policy was applied to Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, Form I-914, Application for T Nonimmigrant Status, and Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status. In 2020, USCIS also began changing Form Instructions to implement this policy more broadly across many types of applications and petitions. 

Internal records obtained through FOIA litigation revealed that applying this policy to U-visa petitions—which are available to certain crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement—was a high priority for the agency. USCIS used the “blank space” policy to reject nearly 12,000 U-visa petitions in a six-month period.  

As a result of class-action litigation brought on behalf of individuals harmed by this practice, USCIS agreed to pause implementation of its rejection policy as of December 28, 2020, while a settlement was negotiated. On April 1, 2021, USCIS announced that it had reverted to the rejection criteria that existed prior to October 2019 and would no longer reject forms simply because a space was left blank.  

USCIS may still reject forms when required fields are not completed or when required initial evidence is not provided. The Form Instructions published for each USCIS form describe the applicable filing requirements.   

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