February 13, 2008

USCIS Announces New Rule on Delayed Name Check Green Card Applicants

On February 4, 2008, the USCIS announced that it will no longer delay the adjudication permanent residence (“green card”) applications because of uncompleted FBI name checks. This is a welcome change in policy for nearly 400,000 applicants who have been waiting many years for their green cards while most who apply gain approvals in less than a year.

The USCIS conducts a three-part security check on every application, consisting of an FBI fingerprint check, IBIS (government record) check, and an FBI name check. The majority of applications clear all of these checks within six months, according to the FBI. The name check, however, has posed a problem for many because their name may turn up as a potential match in the FBI database. For example, an applicant with a common name like “John Smith” may turn up as a “hit” and require further investigation. When this happens, the FBI must manually review records to determine if the name is a true match to a potential threat. Because of the FBI’s admittedly limited resources and staffing, many years could pass before the FBI even began to review a case.

Before this most recent announcement, the USCIS would hold an I-485 application in limbo until the FBI completed its name check, no matter how long it took, even if the fingerprint check and IBIS check were clear. Because of these inordinate delays with no end in sight, many applicants sued the government in federal court and won.

Now, if the FBI fails to complete the name check in six months, the USCIS will now approve applicants who clear the fingerprint check and IBIS check and meet all other immigration requirements. If the completed name check reveals that the applicant is inadmissible as a permanent resident, the USCIS can institute revocation or removal proceedings to reverse the grant of permanent residence.

Although some will be displeased, in all practicality, the government’s new policy does not compromise our national security. Applicants must continue to undergo the same rigorous security checks. Under the previous policy, delayed applicants could live and work among us even though their name checks were not completed. Given this, it should be apparent that this change in policy does not impose any greater security threat. And, if the name check as the last security test does turn up negative information about the applicant, the government has the ability and resources to remove him or her.

The great majority of green card applicants are law-abiding people who want to become a part of our country, not destroy it. The name check system has been inefficient and devastating for those who are unfortunate enough to have a name that is a preliminary match to that of an undesirable. At the same time, the government’s past insistence on placing these unlucky applicants on hold for years has done little to advance our national security. This change in policy was the right thing to do.

By Ann Massey Badmus