On September 12, 2011, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed their long standing practice for the distribution of original approval notices for petitions and applications seeking immigration benefits, including the change or extension of nonimmigrant stay. Notices have previously been sent to counsel of record, but now are sent directly to the petitioner or applicant. Employers and individuals have immediately noted several unattended consequences of this change in long-standing policy.

Many approval notices include a revised or extended Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record. This original document advises foreign nationals of their current nonimmigrant status and the date on which that status expires. Many governmental agencies, including the state motor vehicle departments, will not provide services to foreign nationals (for example, a driver’s license) unless the original document is provided. The distribution to the petitioner, usually the employer, complicates this process.

Mail rooms of large employers often have difficulty routing these notices to the proper office. If the notices are lost, a replacement or duplicate notice requires a new application with a filing fee of $405, and generally takes an additional four to six months.

Additional problems result from the disparate distribution of the documentation for family members. While the principal applicant’s I-94 will be sent to the employer, dependent family members will receive their approval notices directly. Because these notices come to different addresses at different times, it will be more difficult for the family members to be able to verify that their cases have been coordinated with the principal applicant and expiration dates appropriately match each other.

Employers should maintain copies, provide copies of the original notice to counsel, and insure that their employees have the original documentation. It is critical to note that copies of the original documents contain additional information and are different than the courtesy copies provided to counsel.

Because this process was implemented without notice, applicants and petitioners simply began to receive original notices while the attorneys received courtesy copies. The courtesy copies do not have the required I-94 documentation. In response to the complaints from the stakeholder community, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has scheduled a community engagement session on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. We have linked to the announcement of this engagement and individuals, employers, and interested parties, are encouraged to call in and explain the impact that this change in procedure will have upon their operations.