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27 Apr 2021

United States

USCIS Restores Policy of Deference to Prior Approvals

In October 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a policy change that required its officers to independently assess the merits of every nonimmigrant petition, giving no regard to prior determinations involving the same parties and the same facts. This rescinded existing policy—in place since 2004—of granting deference to prior determinations of eligibility for a particular nonimmigrant classification. The practical effect of this change was longer adjudication times as USCIS officers re-examined identical facts in every extension petition. 

On April 27, 2021, USCIS issued new policy guidance restoring deference in extension petitions. When adjudicating requests involving the same parties and facts, officers will defer to the prior determination of eligibility unless there was a material error  in the previous approval or there has been a material change or new information that affects eligibility for the benefit sought. In other words, when an employer seeks to extend the nonimmigrant stay of its employee, continuing in the same position without change, USCIS should rely on the prior determination that the employer and employee are eligible for the benefit and approve the petition. The USCIS Policy Manual warns officers that deviation from a previous approval raises concerns about predictability and consistency in adjudication. Officers must articulate a reason for not deferring to the previous determination and provide the petitioner or applicant an opportunity to respond, and then seek supervisory approval before issuing a final decision.   

USCIS officers also consider—but do not defer to—previous eligibility determinations made by the U.S. Department of State, which adjudicates visa applications, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which makes admissibility determinations at the border and ports of entry.    

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