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AILA Doc. No. 20102030 | Dated December 21, 2020
As a result of class action litigation in Vangala v. USCIS challenging USCIS's “No Blank Space” policy, USCIS has agreed to stop implementing the rejection policy for asylum applications and U visa petitions starting December 28, 2020. Read AILA's practice alert for more details.
This AILA policy brief describes how USCIS upended long-standing practice, without notice, and began rejecting forms that left questions blank or did not use specific terminology to indicate that a question was inapplicable, leading to capricious rejections.
In October 2019, USCIS began rejecting forms that left questions blank or did not use specific terminology to indicate that a question was inapplicable, upended long-standing practice, without notice. This has led to capricious rejections of many humanitarian benefit applications leading to significant consequences for vulnerable individuals. These rejections are particularly egregious as the majority of rejected applications left spaces blank for information that was not relevant to an individual’s eligibility, such as leaving blank the space asking for an individual’s name in a native alphabet when the native alphabet was the same as English.
Many USCIS forms contain questions that are not relevant to all applicants. In addition, some questions—such as those concerning the applicant’s siblings—contain multiple similar fields to be filled. Under the new USCIS policy, an applicant who leaves a field blank will have their application or petition rejected as incomplete, even if the field is one that was not relevant to that individual’s eligibility.
Examples of fields that might be left blank because they are not applicable to all applicants include:
In addition, many applicants, after listing their family members, will leave unused fields blank.
The new USCIS policy calls for rejected all forms that contain these (or similar) omissions. A recent AILA examination reviewed 189 rejected Form I-589 applications and found that all 189 had been rejected for leaving one or more fields blank.
Officials have also rejected applications that do not use the correct terminology to indicate that a certain field does not apply—even when a form’s instructions plainly state that other terms will be accepted! For example, the instructions for Form I-589 read:
“If any question does not apply to you or you do not know the information requested, answer ‘none’, ’not applicable,’ or "unknown.’”
However, in many of the cases examined, the only accepted answer for questions that did not apply to the applicant was “N/A.” Applications that used other terminology enumerated in the instructions, such as “none” or “not applicable” were rejected.
USCIS has signaled its plans to expand the “no blank space” policy to a broad array of applications and petitions, but we must hold USCIS accountable to stop the spread of this unnecessary and egregious policy and demand that the agency reverse the damage it has already exacted on the most vulnerable populations.
Get educated on the devastating consequences of this policy change and to better understand how it impacts your practice.
Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20102030.
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