** 10/13/17- Updated information on this topic can be found here.**
USCIS has announced that beginning on October 1, 2017, it will phase-in personal interviews for I-485 applicants. Those transitioning from employment-based nonimmigrant (NIV) status to permanent residency (green cards) will be included in the new interview initiative. It is not yet clear whether interviews will be mandated in every case or whether discretion will be exercised on a case-by-case basis. Immigration attorneys report that they are already receiving interview scheduling letters; albeit earlier than the announced phase-in date.
Such interviews have not been mandated for more than a decade. Rather, applicants have included evidence that they have maintained status in the US when filing and documented their eligibility to make the change from nonimmigrant to immigrant status. There is scant evidence that the proposed shift to personal interviews will improve security or reduce the likelihood of fraud.
There are currently 139,000 pending adjustment applications in this category at service centers. Now that local USCIS offices will conduct the interviews, the wait times are expected to dramatically increase. No announcement has been made about additional hiring to marginalize the impact of the new policy, but that seems unlikely.
This policy change is part of the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” plan and was specifically referenced in the President’s Executive Order in March.
Applicants will likely turn to other avenues, such as Consular Processing, to improve wait times. Such strategies have their own drawbacks, though, since Employment Authorization Cards and Advance Parole documents are not available to consular processing applicants. Also, Consular Processing does not allow one to change employers while the case is pending. Ellis Porter advises those impacted to discuss strategy with their attorney. We will continue to update our readers as details emerge.