USCIS Service Centers Now Specialize in Particular Areas
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CIS Service Centers to Specialize in Certain Applications

From Jennifer Leavitt-Wipf,
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Application Type Replaces Geography

Contributed by Carl Shusterman, Esq..

USCIS Service Center Geography Method

Since the inception of the INS “remote” service centers in the 1980s, each service center has been responsible for adjudicating immigration petitions and applications according to the geographical area of the country where the petitioner or the applicant was located. 

Exceptions Made
Over time, certain exceptions to the geographical rule developed.  Designated employers could submit all of their petitions at a particular service center. TN petitions, petitions for certain athletes and customer harvesters could only be filed with the Nebraska Service Center. E-1 and E-2 petitions had to be submitted to either the California or the Texas Service Center.

New CIS Service Center Bi-Specialization System

On March 24, the CIS announced that it was taking the first step in scrapping this geographical system and replacing it with a new system which the agency has dubbed “bi-specialization”.

I-29 Processing by CIS Service Center
As of April 1, all I-129s (for H, L, O, P, R, TN, etc.) must be submitted to the Vermont Service Center (VSC). All accompanying applications such as I-907s for premium processing and I-539s for dependent family members must also be submitted to the VSC. The VSC will transfer certain applications (where the petitioner is located west of the Mississippi River perhaps) to the California Service Center (CSC) for adjudication.

I-140 Processing by CIS Service Center
Also, as of April 1, all I-140s as well as accompanying applications such as I-485s, I-765s and I-131s must be filed with the Nebraska Service Center (NSC). The NSC will transfer a portion of these petitions and applications to the Texas Service Center (TSC). Even prior to April 1, our law firm has been deluged with transfer notices to the TSC. Shusterman clients can see if their case has been transferred to another service by clicking on the blue button entitled “Check Case Status” at and entering their I-129 or I-140 receipt number.

E-1 and E-2 Petitions and CIS Service Center Processing
Finally, as of April 1, petitions from E-1 (Treaty Trader) and E-2 (Treaty Investor) status must be filed with the VSC. However, the VSC will transfer these petitions to the CSC for adjudication.

Dependents - USCIS Applications, Service Centers
The system becomes a bit more complex as it applies to dependents. For example, I-539s filed jointly with I-129s should all be submitted to the VSC. However, once a fee receipt is received from a particular service center for an I-129, any subsequently filed I-539 for a dependent should be filed at the same service center where the I-129 is pending. Be sure to include a copy of the receipt notice of the pending I-129 with the I-539 filing. What if the I-129 has already been approved? In this case, the I-539 must be filed with the VSC with a copy of the Notice of Approval of I-129.

Confused?  Try this on for size: The above information applies only where the principal is in E, H, L, O, P, R or TN status.  Principals and dependents in all other nonimmigrant categories should continue to follow the instructions on the I-539 to determine where the form should be submitted.

Where should dependents of would-be immigrants submit their I-485s (and I-765s, I-131s and I-824s)?
If the I-140 and I-485s are filed concurrently, and the dependents submit their applications together with the principals, all applications must be filed with the NSC.

However, if the I-140 on behalf of the principal is pending at another service center, both the principal and the dependents should file their I-485s and accompanying applications with the service center at which the I-140 is pending. Be sure to include the receipt notice for the I-140 with your filing.

Similarly, if the I-140 has already been approved, both the principal and the dependents should submit their I-485s and accompanying forms to the service center which approved the I-140.  Be sure to include the I-140 Notice of Approval.

The place of filing does not change unless the case requires an I-140.  Therefore, the geographical rule still applies where the immigrant classification requires an I-360, an I-526 or no petition at all (e.g., applicants for adjustment of status under the visa lottery).

Grace Period on Filing With the Wrong Service Center
Fortunately, the UCIS has stated that, at leastinitially, the agency will not reject petitions and applications filed with the wrong service center, but will instead forward them to the correct service center. Let’s hope that this new “bi-specialization” system does not result in a large amount of lost or misdirected petitions and applications. March madness could easily yield to April angst.

We link to the CIS News Release and Fact Sheet regarding the “bi-specialization” program from Shusterman's Employer's Guide.    

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