USCIS will suspend Trump-era biometric screening rule for work-permit applicants

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Information packs are distributed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services following a citizenship ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

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(Reuters) - The Biden administration will soon roll back a Trump-era requirement that the spouses of work-visa holders be fingerprinted and photographed in order to obtain work permits, which critics said was causing months-long delays in processing their applications, according to a court filing.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it would suspend biometric screening requirements for H-4 and L-2 derivative visa holders as of May 17 while it reviews them, in a filing late Monday in a proposed class action claiming the agency's delays in issuing work permits are illegal.

The March lawsuit in Seattle federal court claims a 2019 rule requiring applicants to schedule an interview and submit to a screening had made it impossible for many visa holders' spouses to avoid gaps in their employment when their one-year work authorization expired.

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USCIS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Jonathan Wasden of Wasden Banias, who represents the plaintiffs, said the agency's move "is a necessary first step to restoring sanity to (work authorization) adjudication times."

The plaintiffs are also represented by the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Reddy Neumann.

The spouses of H-1B and L-1 visa holders, who themselves are often highly educated and skilled, are respectively eligible for H-4 and L-2 derivative visas and temporary work authorization under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The INA requires DHS to process applications to renew spouses' status and their work permits within 30 days.

But while staffing at DHS field offices increased nearly 30% between 2016 and 2020, the agency has deprioritized work authorization applications, leading to significant delays, according to the complaint in Seattle federal court.

The 40 named plaintiffs say that they and many other H-4 and L-2 visa holders have already lost their jobs, or will soon, because of those delays. They moved last month for a preliminary injunction requiring USCIS to process their applications immediately.

In an amicus brief on Friday backing that motion, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and tech firms including Alphabet Inc's Google said the delays in issuing work permits will have a broad impact on businesses and the U.S. economy. Lapses in work authorization require companies to expend significant resources on recruiting, hiring, and training replacements, they said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, who is presiding over the case, has not yet scheduled a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction.

The case is Edakunni v. Mayorkas, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, No. 2:21-cv-393.

For the plaintiffs: Jesse Bless of the American Immigration Lawyers Association; Jonathan Wasden of Wasden Banias; Steven Brown of Reddy Neumann

For the government: Michelle Lambert of the U.S. Department of Justice

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