On November 19, 2004, the USCIS (former INS) published a new directive ("The Direct Mail Notice.") in the Federal Register. The directive requires most, if not all applicants for FAMILY-BASED immigrant visas in the USA (Adjustment of Status) and related benefits file their applications at a designated centralized address (the "Chicago Lockbox") regardless of their address in the USA.
Simply put, the tens of thousands of applications filed by US Citizens or permanent resident aliens for immediate relatives, fiancees, battered spouses, and other family based cases (see below) will NOT file with the local offices of the USCIS as was previously the case. Now, all these applications will have to be filed with a "lockbox" in Chicago, Illinois (address below).
EMPLOYMENT-BASED cases will continue to be filed at the respective service centers. This clarification is per the NSC Flash # 2-2005, which is summarized after the discussion of the Direct Mail notice, immediately below.
In the preamble to the Notice, the DHS explains the reasoning behind the Direct Mail program:
"The Direct Mail Program allows USCIS to more efficiently process applications through standardization, by eliminating duplicative work, maximizing staff productivity, and introducing better information management tools. USCIS intends for this Direct Mail rollout to be completed in a two- phased approach."
Phase One lists certain states and is effective December 1, 2004. Phase Two involves the remaining states and is effective April 1, 2005.
Phase One: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands of the United States.
Phase Two: Alaska, California, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
The notice has an effective date of December 1, 2004, with a 30-day transition "grace period", or until December 30, for filings to be made at the local offices. Phase Two becomes mandatory on April 1, 2005. For practical purposes, including possible delays in the mail, it is best to assume no grace period and simply file at the Lockbox to speed processing.
What specific petitions are affected?
The USCIS has broadly described three types of petitions that are affected by this directive:
I-485: Application for Adjustment of Status
I-765: Application for Employment Authorization; and
I-131: Application for Advance Parole / Reentry Permit
However, even within these broad application types, there are sub-classes of applications, and the Direct Filing Program does not apply to all classes, only those enumerated below. Therefore, the specific cases that should be filed at the Lockbox are as follows:
I-485: Application for Adjustment of Status
- Aliens who are immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, as defined by section 201(b) of the Act, and are filing based upon an approved, concurrently filed, or pending Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative;
- Aliens who are widow/widowers of a U.S. citizen, as described by section 201(b) of the Act;
- Aliens described by section 203(a) of the Act as the qualifying relative of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien, and are filing based on an approved Form I-130;
- Aliens described by section 203(d) of the Act as the derivative relatives of aliens described by section 203(a) of the Act;
- Aliens described by section 101(a)(15)(K) of the Act as the fiancee of a U.S. citizen or the minor child(ren) of such fiancee, and are filing based on an approved Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancee;
- Aliens eligible for registry under section 249 of the Act;
- Aliens eligible under the Cuban Adjustment Act of November 2, 1965;
- Aliens described as special immigrants under sections 101(a)(27)(J), (K), and (I) of the Act;
- Aliens described as Amerasians under section 204(f) of the Act;
- Aliens who are beneficiaries of an approved Form I-360 as a battered spouse or child;
- Aliens who are beneficiaries of Private Bills;
- Aliens who are winners of the Diversity Visa lottery;
- Aliens from certain former Soviet and Southeast Asian countries who were paroled into the United States as public interest parolees and are eligible to adjust under Public Law 101-167, "the Lautenberg Amendment;"
- Aliens eligible under section 646 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA);
- Aliens eligible under section 13 of the Act of September 11, 1957; and
- Aliens eligible for creation of record under section 102 of the Act.
What about the I-130?
Even though the notice does not say so, clarification with the Cleveland District Office confirms that a single I-130 with no other concurrent applications would also have to be filed at the Lockbox. At the time of this writing, I-130"s for relatives with pending immigration court proceedings against them should still continue to be filed at the respective Service Centers.
I-765: Application for Employment Authorization:
Although it is not clearly stated in the Direct Mail Notice, I believe that the following classes of I-765 EAD applications also need to be filed at the Lockbox IF the underlying I-485 would have also had to be filed at the Lockbox. That is, even if an applicant filed (let"s say) – an initial I-485 and I-765 at the Cleveland, Ohio office of the USCIS for Adjustment of Status based on (let’s say) a marriage to a US Citizen spouse, the renewal / extension of the EAD would have to be filed at the Lockbox. This interpretation is the only one that makes sense, since current EAD applications filed at the District Offices are re-routed to the Missouri Service Center anyway.
The categories of I-765 that must be Direct Mailed to the Lockbox are: (the section numbers relate to the Code of Federal Regulations enumerated classes of employment-eligible aliens)
- (a)(10)–Aliens granted Withholding of Removal;
- (c)(9)–Aliens filing a family-based application for adjustment of status (Form I-485) who are presently required to file with the USCIS local office having jurisdiction over their place of residence;
- (c)(10)–Aliens granted Suspension of Deportation who are required to file with the USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction;
- (c)(11)–Aliens who are paroled into the United States temporarily for emergency reasons or the public interest;
- (c)(14)–Aliens granted deferred action;
- (c)(16)–Aliens who are filing for creation of record of lawful admission for permanent residence under section 249 of the Act; and
- (c)(18)–Aliens granted an Order of Supervision;
I-131: Application for Advance Parole (NOT for Reentry Permits)
The Direct Mail Notice states that aliens who fall into certain classes listed on Part 2 of Form I-131 lists various bases for an alien to obtain a travel document, which are:
- Permanent resident or conditional resident of the United States applying for a reentry permit.
- Hold U.S. refugee or asylee status and applying for a refugee travel document.
- Permanent resident as a direct result of refugee or asylee status and applying for a refugee travel document.
- Applying for an advance parole document to allow me to return to the United States after temporary foreign travel.
- Applying for an advance parole document for a person who is outside the United States.
- (The applicant is) outside the United States and is applying for an advance parole document.
However, given the language of the Direct Mail Notice, my interpretation is that the I-131 need not be filed for ALL the aliens listed in part 2 of the form I-131, only aliens who apply for Advance Parole Document. Only such aliens would submit their Form I-131, and all supporting evidence, to the Lockbox facility. This would mean that aliens who have pending I-485’s would be affected if they applied for Advance Parole to reenter the USA.
CAVEAT: Remember the 3 and 10-year bars may apply if an alien has violated his or her stay by more than 180 days or by more than one year, respectively. Calculate any out-of-status time carefully and consult an immigration professional before leaving the USA. Remember, simply having an approved Advance Parole is not a guarantee that one will be readmitted to the USA. Oftentimes, the Advance Parole is issued without careful attention to the legal status of the alien each and every day that he or she has been in the USA. The problem will manifest itself at the port of entry, and the alien may be barred from reentry. This would be a horrible situation, since the Adjustment of Status will most certainly be denied as well, unless an application seeking a waiver of the unlawful presence is filed and approved.
New Lockbox Postal Address:
For US Postal Service First Class mail or certified mail (I recommend that EVERYTHING you file with the USCIS be sent by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, or by Courier service with proof of delivery):
U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, P.O. Box 805887, Chicago, IL 60680-4120
Courier Address for overnight courier services (non P.O.Box)
U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 427 S. LaSalle–3rd Floor, Chicago, IL 60605-1098.
As though this was not all confusing enough (although I hope that my explanation above clarifies the rather convoluted USCIS Direct Mail Notice), in the meantime, the USCIS Nebraska Service Center issued the following newsflash on December 1, 2004 to further expound on the Direct Mail issue:
NSC Flash #2-2005
Applications Not Affected by Announced Address Change for Certain Immigration Filings
On November 23, 2004, the USCIS announced that there would be an address change for certain immigration filings beginning December 1, 2004. Nebraska Service Center (NSC) customers should be aware that this change does not change where they should file I-485/I-131/I-765 applications that currently come to the NSC. The following I-485/I-131/I-765 applications should continue to be filed with the NSC:
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status:
- Employment-based adjustment applications
- Adjustment applications based on grant of Asylum more than 1 year ago
- Adjustment applications based on Refugee admission more than 1 year ago
- Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act (HRIFA)
- Indochinese Adjustment Act
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization:
- based on an approved asylum application [(a)(5)]
- based on a request by a qualified F-1 academic student [(c)(3)]
- based on a pending asylum application [(c)(8)]
- based on a pending I-485 adjustment application [(c)(9)]
- based on TPS for Honduras/Nicaragua [(c)(19), (a)(12)]
- based on TPS for El Salvador [(c)(19)(a)(12)]
Form I-131, Application for Travel Document:
- Permanent resident applying for a re-entry permit
- Refugee or asylee applying for a refugee travel document
- Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) principal applying for advance parole
- Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) dependent applying for advance parole
- I-485 applicant applying for advance parole
Of course, for up to date information and any changes, please refer to any official announcements on the USCIS web site at: www.uscis.gov.
If you are choosing to file applications yourself (not through an attorney) please pay careful attention to the filing location, verify that the version of the form you are using is still current, and that you are including the correct amount of the fees (which do change from time to time). Again, the best source for the most up-to-date information on forms and fees is the USCIS website, at http://uscis.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/index.htm
Copyright Farhad Sethna, Attorney, 2004. All Rights Reserved
Copyright Farhad Sethna 2002 All Rights Reserved