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Davis Brown Immigration Law Blog

Original Approval Notices Now Sent to Petitioner or Applicant - October 14, 2011

In mid-September, USCIS began sending original I-797 receipt and approval notices directly to applicants or petitioners, while sending only copies of the notices to the attorney of record. Previously, the original notice had been sent to the attorney, while a courtesy copy was sent to the address provided by the applicant or petitioner in the applicable application or petition form. According to USCIS, it implemented the change to ensure that documents are mailed directly to the address specified by the applicant or petitioner. A formal regulation will be promulgated governing the change in late November. However, the sending of original notices, especially those approval notices that contain an I-94 card, can cause problems for the foreign national if the document is lost or otherwise not timely received.


In a terse letter to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, the immigration bar association, AILA, requested that USCIS resume its prior practice of sending the original I-797 approval notice to the attorney of record. Not only does the change violate current regulations governing the representation of parties in immigration benefits proceedings, AILA expressed deep concern that the change could impair the ability of petitioners and beneficiaries to comply with obligations to verify employment authorization, to maintain status, and to comply with alien registration obligations. Serious harm could result from a misrouted, mishandled, or lost document. For example, when an I-797 notice is sent to an employer in a large operation, the document can easily be misrouted internally, resulting in delays in its reaching the proper unit and to the foreign national. In the worst case, it can be lost. Moreover, in large-scale operations, employers rely on immigration counsel to properly handle immigration-related documents. Finally, sending the original documents to attorneys of record allows for immediate review of key data and in the event there are errors (spellings, validity dates, etc.), immediate action to correct the errors can be taken.


During this transition, USCIS will permit petitioners for nonimmigrant workers to use the attorney's address as the mailing address on the petition but the petitioner will not receive any I-797 notices. Special accommodations also are being made for cases that are premium processed.


For now, employers and human resource officers should pay close attention to the I-797 Notice of Action Approval Notices received on behalf of their foreign national workers, share copies with their immigration counsel, and make sure that original documents are distributed to their workers in a timely fashion.