USCIS Says FBI Name Checks Will No Longer Delay Green Cards

March 6, 2008

Looking to reduce the huge backlog of applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigration authorities have eased requirements for background checks of immigrants seeking to become permanent residents.

Federal officials reported this month that if an immigrant's application for permanent residence has been in the system for more than six months and the only missing piece is a name check by the FBI, immigration officers can approve the application. USCIS will continue to require the two other security checks, FBI fingerprinting and a search in the federal criminal and anti-terrorist database Interagency Border Inspection Services.

According to a memorandum posted on the USCIS website, "in the unlikely event" that the FBI name check later turns up negative, the authorities will revoke the visa, and begin deportation proceedings as appropriate. Department of Homeland Security officials said this new process does not pose security risks because green card applicants have been allowed to remain in the country while they wait to be screened.

"Only after we received assurances that this would not compromise national security or the integrity of the immigration system did we go forward," said Christopher S. Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. "This will allow us to give benefits to people who deserve them in a much quicker time frame."

Applicants who receive their green cards before their name check has cleared will still be required to wait for this clearance before they can naturalize. Explaining why rules can not be similarly eased for citizenship applicants, officials point to the extreme difficulty of revoking citizenship.

Currently close to 47,000 individuals are simply waiting for their name check to clear. The long wait is caused by the applicants' name turning up a match in FBI records. Often this match occurs because the records include the names of people mentioned in criminal investigations, including victims of and witnesses to crimes. The paper-based system of the FBI requires that employees then hand search records kept at 265 locations, sometimes also requiring the coordination of dozens of agencies and foreign governments. The delay has affected individuals' ability to bring their children and spouses to join them in the United States, and has created obstacles to travel and employment.

USCIS recommends that customers wait until March 10, 2008 before inquiring about cases affected by this policy modification. This will allow each USCIS office sufficient time to identify and complete the applicable cases. If no action is taken by that time, affected individuals should call the USCIS customer service line at 1-800-375-5283.

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