In early May, USCIS mentioned as part of H4, L2 Processing Delays Lawsuit that they plan to suspend Biometrics for H4, L2, E Visa filings for couple of years. USCIS released an official press release yesterday, May 13th, 2021, confirming the same. This article covers all the details from the press release, how they will handle fee, who it applies to, other common FAQs based on the same.
Background: Biometrics for I-539 Form – H4, L2 filings : Delays, Lawsuit
USCIS introduced Biometrics requirement for I-539 Form from March 2019 as part of executive order 13780 by previous president Trump. Due to this change, H4, L2, E and other visa types that use form I-539 form for Extensions and Change of Status (COS) applications had to give biometrics at an ASC for their application to be adjudicated.
Due to the COVID situation, many of the ASCs were closed from March 2020 and many of the H4, L2 visa holders could not give biometrics. Due to closure of ASCs, it caused an extensive amount of delays to give biometrics and H4, L2 processing times increased to about 17 to 20 months. Below is a snapshot historical processing times tracked by VisaGrader – H4 Processing Times.
Due to these delays, many H4, L2 visa holders lost jobs as they could not get their Employment Authorization Documents(EAD) on time with pending H4, L2 and E visa extension & COS applications. Also, USCIS does not give 180 days Automatic Extension for EAD Category Codes for H4, L2, E Visas. So, this did not help with the delays and many lost jobs.
Many of the impacted H4, L2 and E Visa holders due to these delays by USCIS went to court and filed a class action lawsuit represented by AILA and Wasden Banias. The USCIS announcement to suspend biometrics is one of the outcomes of the lawsuit to reduce the delays and speed up the processing of the H4, L2 and E visa applications.
Now that you have the background on why the biometrics are suspended, let’s dive into the USCIS press release details and guidance by them.
Temporary Suspension of Biometrics for H4, L2, E Visa using I-539 Form
USCIS is suspending Biometrics for H4, L2 and E visa holders who file Extension of Stay(EOS) or Change of Status (COS) starting from May 17th, 2021. Below is summary of all changes related to the same:
- No fingerprints, Photo at ASC : Anyone filing for H4, L2, E Visas (E1, E2, E3) Extensions or COS using Form I-539 after May 17th, 2021 do not have to give fingerprints and take photo at Application Support Centers (ASCs). They do not have to go to ASCs and fill out Application Information Worksheet(AIW).
- Dependent Children : The suspension of Biometrics also applies to H4 Dependent Children as well, in addition to the H4 Spouses.
- 2 Years Suspension : The Biometrics suspension is temporary and will last for 2 years from May 17th, 2021 until May 17th, 2023. The reason for 2 year suspension is to address the current delays due to ASC openings and pending H4, L2, and E visas applications.
- Pending & No Appointment notice : The biometrics suspension applies to all pending applications as of May 17th, 2021 and who have not received H4, L2 biometrics appointment notice.
- Discretion for Biometrics : USCIS has discretion on a case-by-case basis to ask applicants to submit biometrics.
- Received Biometrics Appointment Notice : If anyone has received Biometrics Appointment notice for their H4, L2 or E filing, they must still attend their scheduled appointment at an ASC.
- Biometrics Fee Payment : No need to submit $85 Biometrics fee for H4, L2, E visa applications filed for Extensions and COS from May 17th, 2021 until May 17th, 2023.
- Biometrics Fee Refund : If you have submitted Biometrics fee separately in a check, USCIS will refund the Biometrics fee for H4, L2 and E visa applications for COS, extensions.
- Rejecting I-539 with Biometrics Fee : USCIS will reject I-539 paper based forms filed for H4, L2, E visas extensions or COS starting from May 27th, 2021 or later, if applicants submit the application filing fee and Biometrics fee combined in one check. If USCIS rejects the application for the incorrect fee, then the applicant need to re-file form I-539
- Adjust or Extend Suspension of Biometrics : USCIS will monitor the situation and ASC Capacity, processing times for I-539 and then may extend the suspension of Biometrics or adjust them as needed as things change.
- Official News Link : You can check the USCIS Official News Release for Biometrics Suspension
Yes, in general, giving Biometrics is mandatory for H4 Visa applications filed for extensions or Change of Status using form I-539. But, due to processing delays, USCIS suspended the Biometrics requirement for H4, L2 and E visa holders from May 17th, 2021 for 2 years until May 17th, 2023. So, if you are filing for H4 Extension after May 17th, 2021 and before May 17th, 2023, then you do not have to give biometrics.
Due to the limited operations of ASCs with COVID, many could not give biometrics, so there was a lot of delay with giving biometrics. Now, with Biometrics suspension, USCIS officers do not have to wait for the Biometrics anymore and they can process the H4, L2 applications immediately. This will speed up the processing as there is no bottleneck due to biometrics delays.
No, there is 180 days automatic extension for H4, L2 EADs. The previous rules still apply. You cannot work with H4 EAD Receipt or Pending Status of application, you need the EAD Card
No one knows at this point. USCIS says that they will review the overall situation and may extend or change based on the need.
What do you think of the suspension of Biometrics for H4, L2 and E Visa applications ? Do you think, it will really get things back to normal ? Share your thoughts in comments below.