U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for processing various requests for immigration benefits. In the past, USCIS typically required most paper-filed petitions and applications to be filled out with original, physically hand-written signatures, or “wet” signatures (rather than scanned signatures or electronically produced signatures). If a paper filing included an electronically produced signature rather than a personally drawn physical signature, USCIS might have rejected the entire filing and returned it to the sender. In March 2020, USCIS announced that it would relax this policy during the COVID-19 National Emergency. In July 2022, USCIS announced that it is permanently adopting the relaxed signature requirements.
The policy still requires those signing benefits requests to physically sign their forms or documents. However, rather than requiring filings to include the specific pages with the “wet” physically hand-written signatures, USCIS will accept scanned copies of the original signature pages in paper filings. This policy has helped clients working remotely with attorneys to print, sign, scan, and email their applications so paper filings can be submitted faster and more conveniently – attorneys don’t have to wait to receive the original signed applications from clients by mail, and clients don’t have to physically come to an office to sign paperwork. The permanent adoption of this policy will continue facilitating this remote collaboration.
There is one other important caveat to note with the policy – USCIS requires that filers maintain the original hand-signed documents in their possession in case the agency wants to request them down the line. In practice, we have not seen USCIS requesting the original signed documents for applications filed since the implementation of this policy. However, if USCIS were to request an original signed page and the applicant could not submit it, the agency warns that this “could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.”
In addition to permanently adopting the signature flexibility policy, USCIS has extended another COVID-19-related flexibility – USCIS has prolonged its policy of allowing additional time for applicants to respond to many time-sensitive notices from USCIS. For example, USCIS often issues Requests for Evidence (RFEs) when a reviewing officer needs more documents or information to process a request. RFE notices give an applicant a strict deadline to send in the requested items. If they are not received on time, the application could be denied. For RFEs that USCIS has issued beginning March 1, 2020 or later, the agency has had a policy in place allowing for responses to be received up to 60 calendar days after the deadline listed in the notice. This flexibility was set to expire last month, but the agency extended the RFE flexibility to apply to RFEs issued from March 1, 2020 up until at least October 23, 2022. The USCIS website delineates other notices that have similar deadline flexibility in place.
Making sure your immigration paperwork is submitted correctly and on time can be difficult with ever-changing policies and technical filing requirements. Please reach out to our office if you would like to consult about an immigration matter with one of our experienced attorneys: 312-427-6163.