Update From Ciudad Juarez
Santiago Burciaga, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Section at the U.S. Consulate
in Cd. Juarez, and Warren Janssen, Officer in Charge of the USCIS office
located near the consulate, each spoke at CLINIC's annual family immigration
training in El Paso on November 15, 2007. The following is a summary of the
updated information they provided:
Caseload. The consulate continues to be the largest and busiest immigrant
visa (IV) post in the world. For the last fiscal year the consulate
more than 89,000 immigrant visa applications. That is a 3,000 application
over the prior year. The consulate has been experiencing a steady increase
in applications – especially in the last few months – and anticipates that
will be processing approximately 135,000 IV applications during this current
fiscal year. For example, last month the consulate processed 14,000 IV
applications, and for the first three months next year it anticipates
16,000 cases per month. The consulate averages between 700 - 950 IV
As of December 11, 2006, the National Visa Center (NVC) began scheduling the
IV appointment interviews for immediate relative applications. At that time
sizeable backlog had developed at the consulate, due to a combination of
staffing shortages and increased workload. This caused immigrant visa
to wait almost 10 to 12 months for the consulate to schedule the IV
from the date it received the file from the NVC. As of the end of September
2007, the backlog in immigrant visa applications had been reduced to
approximately 41,000 cases. This was comprised of approximately 25,000
applications scheduled by the consulate under the prior system and 16,000
where the visa appointment was scheduled by the NVC. As of today, the
"local" backlog has been eliminated. The only remaining backlog is that
exists at the NVC.
By mid-March 2008, the consulate believes that it will be able to comply
the "30/60-day" Congressional mandate. That rule requires the consulate to
schedule an IV interview within 30 days of receipt of an immediate relative
application from the NVC; the consulate must schedule the interview within
days for a preference category case. Due to the high volume of applications
increased demand, the consulate has been unable to meet that requirement.
Upcoming move. The consulate anticipates a huge demand for services next
year when millions of laser visas (border crossing cards) throughout Mexico
need to be renewed. Another demand will come through implementation of the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require U.S. citizens to
passport to travel to and from Mexico. The consulate will be moving into
facilities in June 2008, which will be larger, more modern, and better able
to accommodate the increased number of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa
applicants, as well as U.S. citizens seeking services. All of the various
and USCIS offices will be housed together in this new compound, which will
located a little bit farther into Cd. Juarez (nine miles from the Port of
The physical move next summer should not cause much interruption in
The consulate plans on closing down services on a Wednesday and re-opening
on the following Tuesday.
Communications. As a result of the increased caseload, backlog reduction
efforts, and preparation for upcoming surges, the consulate has decided to
suspend e-mail communications with practitioners for the next six to eight
Responding to e-mails had become very time consuming, with many
sending follow-up questions and using it almost as a "chat" session. At the
present time, applicants and practitioners must communicate with the
only through the Call Center. That number is 900-476-1212. If calling from
Mexico dial 01-900-849-4949. While practitioners may not receive the same
of response they were used to getting, Mr. Burciaga encouraged them to
continue using this service. The Call Center is submitting regular reports
and the consulate is monitoring the service they provide. If the inquiry is
particularly urgent, send a fax to the Immigrant Visa Chief and state your
The fax number is 011-52-656-616-9056.
For example, if you need to cancel an IV appointment, contact the Call
Center. It will send a report to the consulate, which will in turn make a
in the electronic file and send verification to the Call Center. In
you may also fax your request to the consulate, which will allow you to
receive written confirmation that your communication was received. However,
faster and preferred method is to communicate through the Call Center.
The consulate will accept G-28s, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney
Representative, signed by either the I-130 petitioner or beneficiary.
However, the USCIS, when adjudicating a waiver application, will only accept
signed by the IV/waiver applicant.
Denials. Approximately 18-20 percent of the IV applicants are found
inadmissible and require a waiver. Most of these are based on the unlawful
ground of inadmissibility. In the last fiscal year, the USCIS adjudicated
approximately 10,800 waiver applications, and for next year it anticipates
processing almost double that.
K-3 visa applications. The consulate has also reduced the backlog in K-3
applications from U.S. citizens on behalf of spouses residing abroad. The
time is now greatly reduced. If the consulate has started processing for
nonimmigrant visa and it receives the approved alien relative petition (Form
I-130 and IV application), it will ask the applicant which visa he or she
prefer to receive. If the applicant would prefer to receive the immigrant
visa, the consulate will cease processing for the K-3, or vice versa.
made that election, however, the applicant cannot change his/her mind.
Medical exams. As a result of new guidelines from the Center for Disease
Control regarding screening for tuberculosis, applicants between the ages of
must receive a PPD skin test as part of the medical exam. The panel
physicians need 72 hours to read the reaction to the skin test. Therefore,
with children must have the medical exam conducted at least four days prior
to the scheduled immigrant visa interview. The NVC is not informing
of this new requirement, except to refer them to a website for possible
supplemental information. This new TB test is currently only required for
applicants immigrating through Cd. Juarez, Manila, and Guangzhou. It will be
for all IV applicants in the future.
Being an alcoholic is not per se a health-related ground of inadmissibility;
one must also evidence associated harmful behavior. If the applicant drinks
and drives, then that is a potentially dangerous activity and the applicant
be found inadmissible. If there was a prior drunken driving conviction, it
doesn't matter when the DUI occurred as much as if the behavior continues.
Please refer to the new guidance issued by the State Department earlier this
that requires the consular official to refer the IV applicants to a panel
physician if they have a single drunk driving arrest or conviction within
last three calendar years or at least two arrests or convictions in any time
period. 9 FAM 40.11 N8.3. There is a waiver for alcohol-related
but not for narcotic drug use. In the latter situation, the applicants must
show remission – usually for three years – before they can reapply.
If the derivative child is not named on the appointment letter, go to the
consulate's Information Window and request a new appointment letter. The
derivative will then be added. Take that letter and the Mexican passport to
panel physician and they will conduct the medical exam.
Affidavit of Support. After the USCIS finalized the affidavit of support
rule in July 2006, applicants have been able to file an I-864W in lieu of an
I-864 in cases where the intending immigrant has satisfied the 40 Social
quarters rule or will be deriving citizenship through the Child Citizenship
Act of 2000. The consulate will now accept these "waiver" forms and will
require the submission of tax or employment information. The consulate
recognizes that due to staff turn over, some officers have mistakenly
I-864W and requested an affidavit of support. If your client experiences
type of improper rejection, please contact the consulate by fax.
If the applicant must submit an affidavit of support, the sponsor has to
establish domicile in the United States. In cases where the U.S. citizen
has been residing in Mexico and is petitioning for a spouse, that sponsor
re-establish U.S. domicile with the intending immigrant. The consulate does
not require any specific evidence that the couple plans on settling in the
United States upon the granting of the immigrant visa. Rather, the
looks to the intent of the parties. That intent to resettle does not have
immediate; it could be an intent to resettle a year from now.
The State Department has recently confirmed that Unemployment Insurance
benefits are considered income and can be counted in satisfying the 125
poverty requirement. Social Security retirement or disability benefits can
counted as well, though not Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for the,
blind, or disabled. The consulate will also count child support as income.
The consulate will not consider real estate located in Mexico as an asset,
though it will consider the intending immigrant's income-generating property
will continue after the applicant immigrates.
Inadmissibility due to unlawful presence. The consulate and the USCIS
in Cd. Juarez define unlawful presence and its exceptions in the same manner
for those potentially subject to the three- or ten-year bar under INA §
212(a)(9)(B) and the "permanent" bar for illegal reentry after one year of
presence under INA § 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I). [Note: The wording of the statute
potentially ambiguous. The unlawful presence exceptions for minors, asylum
applicants, Family Unity recipients, battered spouses and children, and
adjustment/extension/change of status applicants appear to apply only to the
and ten-year bar provision, not the permanent bar provision. The consulate
applying the exceptions to both provisions.] In other words, if a child
the age of 18 has not acquired unlawful presence for purposes of triggering
the three- or ten-year bar, he or she will not have triggered the permanent
for illegal reentry after one year of unlawful presence.
Repayment of IV visa fee after waiver granted. If the applicant is
found inadmissible and denied an immigrant visa, submits a waiver, and the
waiver is granted, the applicant will be rescheduled for an interview with
consulate. At that interview, the applicant must repay the $380 IV visa
The only circumstances where the applicant will not have to re-pay the fee
when the consulate refuses the applicant under INA § 221(g).
False claims of citizenship. There are no waivers for false claims of
citizenship made after September 30, 1996, and there is only one narrow
However, according to the consulate and the local USCIS office, children
the age of 15 are legally incapable of making a false claim of citizenship
for purposes of INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(ii). Children aged 15-17 can be found to
have made a false claim of citizenship if the facts indicate that they were
acting on their own and not under the direction of a parent or guardian. In
cases, however, children under age 18 are determined to be not legally
of committing this offense and therefore are not being found inadmissible.
Signing the State Department forms. The Form DS-230 Part 1 can be signed by
either the IV applicant (I-130 beneficiary), the I-130 petitioner, or the
designated agent. The DS-230 Part 2 can only be signed by the IV applicant
front of the consular official on the date of the interview.
What to bring to the interview. Most of the IV interviews are now being
scheduled by the NVC, which forwards the file to the consulate approximately
month before the scheduled date. The consular officials may go through the
file prior to the interview date and notice that additional documents are
required, or indicate that certain documents have been separated from the
that case, please bring the requested documents to the interview. If the
is being scheduled locally, the consulate will send a notice indicating
documents should be taken to the interview. If original documents have
already been submitted, these will be returned to the applicant at the
upon being granted the immigrant visa. All applicants, including children,
come to the interview with the passport because the consulate is now issuing
machine-readable immigrant visas that are stamped into the passport.
Family members attending the immigrant visa. The consulate will not allow
family members of the intending immigrant to attend the interview with the
exception of minor children. In those cases, the consulate would like the
petitioning parent to attend the interview. This is a safety issue, given
the rise in
human trafficking and other fraudulent activity.
Derivatives. If a derivative child is not included in the visa forms sent
from the State Department, either due to agency error, a failure to include
child's name on the I-130, or because the child is after-acquired, contact
NVC and have that office re-send the fee bill and forms. If the derivative
and the principal for some reason have separate files, notify the consulate
it will cross-reference and merge the files so the family members can attend
the same interview.
If the principal beneficiary has adjusted status in the United States and
that person wants to start consular processing for derivative children
in Mexico, the principal may file a Form I-824 with the USCIS and have that
office forward confirmation of adjustment approval to the consulate, which
open a file for the derivatives. Alternatively, the principal may send
of having adjusted directly to the consulate. Send a cover letter and a
of the Form I-551, Resident Alien card. The consulate will register that
derivative as following-to-join the principal beneficiary. The consulate
verify the "A" number with USCIS. On the day of the interview the consulate
request the principal beneficiary to be present and bring a copy of the
original I-551 card.
Update from Warren Janssen. Mr. Janssen's office is located near the
consulate, but is under the jurisdiction of the DHS/USCIS. Approximately 15
percent of the IV applications require a waiver for inadmissibility, and his
main responsibility is adjudicating waiver applications.
When he started in this position in July 2005 he faced a backlog of waiver
applications and a steady monthly stream of approximately 200-400
The approval rate of his predecessor was between 95 to 98 percent. Mr.
Janssen took a harder look than his predecessor at the waiver applications
documentation supporting the extreme hardship claim, and the approval rate
necessarily went down. At this time, however, the approval rate is still
– between 70 to 75 percent of the waiver applications are granted.
The volume of waiver applications has steadily increased commensurate with
the increase in IV applications. It soon became obvious that the job
more than two adjudicators. Part of the problem was that a large amount of
time was being spent filing documents in the appropriate case file. Since
taking between 6 to 12 months to adjudicate the waiver applications, and
during that time applicants were allowed to supplement their cases with
evidence of extreme hardship to the qualifying relative, a more efficient
was developed that allowed for same-day adjudication of "clearly
waiver applications. Mr. Janssen, working with the U.S. consulate,
a pilot program in March 2007 that allowed IV applicants to schedule an
InfoPass appointment a few days after their IV interview where they could
their waiver application.
Immigrant visa applicants who were found inadmissible for a waivable ground
are now given written notice at the time of the consular interview informing
them of the procedure for submitting their waiver packet through an InfoPass
appointment. At that time they return to the consulate, pay the waiver fee,
submit the waiver application, together with supporting documentation of
extreme hardship. The consulate receives the application and hands the file
to the USCIS adjudicating officer in an adjoining room. If Mr. Janssen's
office believes it is a "clean" case (no FBI criminal hits, no separate A
examine) that is readily approveable, it will grant the waiver and hand the
file back to the consulate. The consular official in turn will approve the
immigrant visa either that day or the following.
The approval rate for applications processed through the pilot program is
about 55 percent. Persons who do not have a clearly approveable case are
denied but are rather referred to the pre-existing adjudication process. In
other words, their application is added to the backlog of pending cases and
reviewed later. They are encouraged to supplement their file with
of hardship. Although the referral letter indicates that they have 30 days
submit additional supporting documentation, they can actually submit it at
any time up to the date of adjudication.
The current backlog of pre-pilot program cases is 4,000, which is down from
high of 8,000 cases. The waiting time for adjudication is 10 to 12 months.
Applicants may ask to expedite the waiver adjudication if they submit
of serious health factors or military deployment. The applications are
reviewed and adjudicated locally, as well as sent to USCIS offices in
Monterrey, and Mexico City for adjudication. If the USCIS receives the
anticipated 18,000 waiver applications during this current fiscal year, and
(approx. 10,000) are approved through the pilot program, the others would be
referred to the backlog, which would grow to12,000 unless action were taken
adjudicate them. Mr. Janssen plans to continue sending cases in the backlog
the other USCIS offices in Mexico, as well as adjudicating some in-house, to
eliminate the backlog by the end of the fiscal year. His goal is then to
adjudicate the cases referred through the pilot program within a three-month
That InfoPass pilot program worked well for the first six months until the
demand for InfoPass appointments exceeded the number of available slots.
created a "frontlog" of several hundred persons trying to schedule an
appointment and who were unable to do so. Part of the problem with
through InfoPass is that one can't schedule an appointment beyond a two-week
period. The El Paso USCIS district office has recently lent Mr. Janssen's
office an agent to assist in adjudicating pilot program applications. As a
result, the USCIS has now doubled the number of possible appointment slots
to 130, which should alleviate some of the difficulty in scheduling an
appointment. It is their hope that the frontlog can be cleared up within
Beginning December 17, 2007, persons wanting to schedule an appointment to
file their waiver application with the USCIS will no longer be using
Instead they must telephone the Call Center (900-476-1212 from the United
States or 01-900-849-49-49 from Mexico). To use a credit card, call
from the United States or 01-477-788-70-70 from Mexico. The call-in
appointment service should be able to schedule these appointments much more
than the prior InfoPass system and handle a larger volume of applicants.
Mr. Janssen prefers to receive the application and supporting documentation
two-hole punched at the top so it can be easily inserted into the file. Do
include any tabs that would protrude from the file. He likes to see a cover
letter that sets forth in bulleted format the supporting documentation that
included. Do not include reports of country conditions or evidence (e.g.,
birth or marriage certificates) reestablishing the relationship to the
qualifying relative. Set forth the facts that support the extreme hardship
do not cloud the application with case citations or legalese.
Applicants who are denied may file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals
Office. Those appeals are filed with his office and forwarded to the AAO.
currently takes approximately 12 to 25 months to receive a decision.
About The Author
Charles Wheeler, Esq. is the Director of Training and Technical Support at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). He is also the editor of "Child Status Protection Act: A Practitioner's Guide, New 2006-2007 Edition" and "Family-based Immigration: A Practitioner's Guide, New 2006-2007 Edition".
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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