USCIS to Suspend Biometrics Requirement for Certain I-539 Applicants for Two-Year Period

On Monday, May 3rd, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will suspend the biometrics requirement (fingerprints, photographs, digital signatures) for certain I-539 applicants for a two-year period beginning May 17, 2021. The suspension will apply to I-539 applications filed for the H-4, L-2, E-1D, E-2D, and E-3D categories that are pending as of that date. It will also apply to new Form I-539 applications filed after the effective date through the stated policy expiration date on May 17, 2023.

This announcement is welcome news for applicants for dependent status, who have been impacted by unprecedented processing delays as a result of this biometrics requirement, which was extended by the Trump Administration in 2019 to include certain I-539 applications. Due to the pandemic, local application support centers (ASC) experienced backlogs of roughly 1.3 million applicants awaiting biometrics scheduling as of late last year, which includes individuals applying for I-539 dependent status, green cards, and employment authorization documents (EADs).

The temporary suspension of the biometrics requirement was announced quietly, through a declaration submitted in relation to an ongoing federal class action lawsuit against the DHS over the lengthy I-539 processing times for H-4 and L-2 dependents. The USCIS has been the target of numerous lawsuits challenging ongoing I-539 and EAD processing delays, which have resulted in loss of employment for many dependent nonimmigrants.

The USCIS estimates that 125,000 applications for H-4 and L-2 status will be pending on the effective date of the policy on May 17, 2021. Applications where the principal nonimmigrant’s Form I-129 has already been approved will become adjudication-ready as of that date.

What This Means For Our Clients

It is expected the suspension of biometrics requirements will reduce the backlog for I-539 extension of stay and change of status applications, which in turn will improve processing times for concurrently filed spousal EAD work authorization applications. Due to the USCIS’ extremely long processing delays for I-539 extensions since last year, many individuals in the H-4, L-2, E-1D, E-2D, and E-3D classifications have been faced with losing their work authorization. Some employers have been forced to terminate workers in these statuses, or put the workers on an unpaid leave of absence, while waiting for an EAD renewal to be approved. It is also hoped that I-539 and EAD applications that are filed concurrently with the principal status holder’s petition will be approved at the same time as the principal petition, as was the case before the biometrics requirement was implemented by the USCIS for I-539 applications in 2019.

We will notify our clients immediately of updates on their pending applications.

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