Homeland Security has ditched an interview requirement for spouses and children of refugees who want to come to the U.S. as a package deal, saying it was taking too long to complete the cases without much benefit from the extra work.
The move is the latest deletion of a Trump-era security policy. The Biden team said requiring interviews was “inconsistent” with President Biden’s executive orders calling for a more inclusive immigration system.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the government’s legal immigration agency, said it can still do interviews on a case-by-case basis, but only when “there is a need to do so.”
“USCIS can perform robust fraud and security screenings and maintain strong program integrity without this blanket interview policy,” the agency said in a statement announcing the move last week.
The new policy applies to refugees, defined as those seeking humanitarian protection from outside the U.S., and asylees, who are seeking protection from within the country.
Actual refugees and asylees will still be interviewed as a matter of course. But spouses and children under age 21, who can come to the U.S. on what’s known as “derivative” status based on their relationship to the main refugee, will no longer be required to have an interview.
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That rescinds a policy the Trump team put in place and returns things to where they were before November 2020.
Robert Law, who served as chief of USCIS’s Office of Policy and Strategy in the Trump years, said the policy wasn’t intended to be a barrier, but rather a security check.
“This was something that was completely driven by the need to properly screen and vet people and ensure there was no relationship fraud or national security concerns,” he told The Washington Times.
While the main refugee or asylum applicant must prove persecution, there is no such requirement for derivative applicants.
But those applicants will sometimes lie about their family relationships to glom on to someone already approved for status here.
The Biden administration said the interviews “decreased adjudicative efficiency” because applicants with no red flags had to face interviews.
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It’s not clear how often interviews happened before the Trump policy, though Mr. Law said it was relatively rare.
From Nov. 18, 2020, to Nov. 9, 2021, while the Trump interview policy was in effect, USCIS completed 2,900 domestic derivative applicants. The agency approved 2,500 and denied 400, for a denial rate of 16%.
Before the Trump policy, the denial rate for both domestic and overseas petitions was higher than 20%.
USCIS said the Trump policy “imposed significant burdens on refugee and asylee populations, as well as operational challenges on USCIS and the Department of State, without evident benefits to justify these burdens.”
But the backlog had been growing well before the Trump policy.
At the end of the fiscal year 2017, the backlog stood at about 10,000 derivative relative petitions. It grew by 2,000 in 2018, by 8,000 in 2019 and 5,000 in 2020. From Oct. 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021 — when the Trump policy was in place the bulk of the time — the backlog remained largely static, though it added thousands of new cases in the four months after that, according to USCIS data.
“By waiving these interviews it is not going to do anything to reduce backlogs, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to bring integrity to adjudications,” said Mr. Law, who is now director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The change is the second instance where the Biden administration has downplayed the importance of an interview.
Afghan evacuees were also brought to the U.S. without a requirement for an in-person interview. If they cleared electronic records checks without any flags, they were paroled into the country. That’s lower than the standard for refugees, which the administration had originally said it would try to follow.