USCIS has announced that starting on August 15, 2011, petitioners residing abroad will be able to file I-130 forms (petition for an alien relative) with the USCIS Chicago Lockbox Facility. Petitioners residing in countries with a USCIS office may either A.) file with the Chicago Lockbox or B.) file at the international USCIS office that has jurisdiction over their residency area.
Previously, regulations required petitioners abroad to file with either the USCIS or the U.S. State Department through their local U.S. embassy or consulate. With the new regulation, USCIS hopes to “increase the efficiency of the relative petition filing process” and “more flexibility in managing its workload.”
However, others speculate that this change will bring about negative consequences. I-130 forms are the most filed forms at the USCIS, and thus, already heavily backlogged in their processing. Petitioners abroad comprise about five percent of all I-130 petitioners. By centralizing the filing process to one location, some fear that the flood of forms to the Chicago Lockbox Facility will slow down the processing and increase the wait time. Rather than gaining efficiency from streamlining the process, the new regulation has the potential to delay the processing of these I-130 forms.
The I-130 backlog came under a new wave of criticism following the transfer of 36,000 petitions from the California service center to the Texas service center in November of 2010. Although they did this in an effort to expedite the process, many of the cases were not timely processed after their transfer to the Texas service center. As a result, these I-130 petitions were transferred back to the California service center. USCIS currently has a 6 month goal for the processing of all I-130 petitions for the spouse, parent, or minor child of a US Citizen. There are no service centers that are behind on this goal.
Brian Knowlton of the New York Times noted on August 14, 2011 the potential problems with the new system. Previously, those seeking an I-130 petition would be able to rely on services of the U.S. Consulate in their country of residence and the process would take 1-3 months. Under the new regulations, USCIS officials are expecting a five month waiting period. Additionally, Knowlton further noted that U.S. Citizens living overseas are angry with the little notification that they received from USCIS. The State Department will still be able to process some I-130 applications in a few situations such as safety and security threats and family emergencies, but the State Department has stressed that these exceptions will be granted in rare circumstances. Knowlton also noted that foreign expatriates predict that this new procedure will impose new difficulties on U.S. companies doing business abroad as it may lead to difficulties for U.S. Companies seeking to return U.S. executives that have a foreign spouse or adopted child.
With over 5.2 million expatriates living abroad, USCIS and DOS must do everything to make sure that the process is swift and efficient to receive necessary immigration benefits. American expatriates have long complained that the United States is the only industrial country to tax citizens on their income earned abroad. American expatriates have also complained about banking regulations from the Patriot Act that have made it difficult for them to maintain accounts in the United States. Given that the number of renunciations of U.S. Citizenship for foreign expatriates nearly doubled between 2009 and 2010 according to the U.S. Federal Register, the U.S. Government must do everything to ensure that U.S. Citizens living abroad have easy access to all services of the U.S. government.
The new regulations and the I-130 form can be found on www.uscis.gov. I-130 petitions abroad should send their forms to the addresses below:
By U.S. Postal Service:
P.O. Box 804625
Chicago, IL 60680-4107
By Express mail and courier deliveries:
131 South Dearborn – 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
Danielle Beach-Oswald is the current President and Managing Partner of Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates in Washington, DC. Ms. Beach utilizes her 19 years of experience in immigration law to help individuals immigrate to the United States for humanitarian reasons. Born in Brussels, Belgium, Ms. Beach has lived in England, Belgium, Italy and Ivory Coast and has traveled extensively to many countries. Ms. Beach advocates for clients from around the world who seek freedom from torture in their country, or who are victims of domestic violence and trafficking. She has also represented her clients at U.S. Consulates in Romania, China, Canada, Mexico, and several African countries. With her extensive experience in family-based and employment-based immigration law Ms. Beach not only assists her clients in obtaining a better standard of living in the United States, she also helps employers obtain professional visas, and petitions for family members. She also handles many complex naturalization issues. Ms. Beach has unique expertise representing clients in immigration matters pending before the Federal District Courts, Circuit Courts, Board of Immigration Appeals and Immigration Courts. She has won over 400 humanitarian cases in the United States. Her firm's website is www.boilapc.com.