USCIS Releases New Centralized Policy Manual

For both laymen and even practitioners, it has proven to be a challenge to accurately understand USCIS's many policies, interpretations, and guidelines regarding how cases should be adjudicated. Up until only recently, one would have to consult the Adjudicator's Field Manual (AFM). The AFM is a field manual for USCIS agents, which provides them with guidance on everything from customer service to the exercise of discretion. The version, which can be found online, is a redacted version available to the public. A major issue facing all those who wish to understand immigration law is that the AFM is often not the last word on a subject. Instead, one must also sometimes search through the Immigration Policy and Procedure Memoranda, published by USCIS, which updates the AFM. Not only can the memoranda issue important procedural changes to the guidelines, they often flesh out rules and nuances in ways that can materially affect a case. To compound the problem, confusion can arise as to whether certain memorandums constitute policy or non-policy memorandum, with only the former being binding. Furthermore, some memoranda may conflict with other memoranda. And finally, an interested party would still have to research the Immigration and Naturalization Act; Code of Federal Regulations; and caselaw.

As of January 22, 2013, USCIS has taken the first step in rectifying this problem. It has done so by beginning to replace the AFM and its Policy and Procedure Memoranda with a single online database called the Centralized Policy Manual. The Manual will be separated into several sections, dealing with various areas and topics within USCIS's purview including citizenship and naturalization; adjustment of status; admissibility; protection and parole; nonimmigrants; refugees, asylees; waivers; and travel and employment. In an attempt to provide transparency, the new Manual promises to include the following features: "up to the minute" and comprehensive policy updates; an expanded table of contents, and perhaps most helpful to the public, hyperlinks that will take the user directly to the relevant Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) sections, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and public use forms. Other tools touted by USCIS to make the Manual user-friendly will include a search function, citations, explanatory footnotes, as well as charts and graphs to simplify complex policy.

USCIS has already released the first of twelve planned volumes of the Manual. The current volume (which is Volume 12) is entitled Citizenship and Naturalization and is accessible now. It is also binding on all USCIS personnel. Before USCIS readies to issue a release of each new volume, the agency will first invite the public to send comments on new policies or planned changes to existing ones.