The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced yesterday that it is temporarily extending the validity of select medical exams from two years to four years. Immigration medical exams are part of the employment- and family-based Adjustment of Status (AOS) process, which results in the issuance of a permanent resident card (‘green card’) for applicants who meet all eligibility requirements. These exams may only be performed by civil surgeons designated by the USCIS.
In line with common-sense reforms I have advocated previously, this welcome change is a result of processing delays brought on by COVID-19 and the difficulties applicants have faced in obtaining such medical exams. By temporarily extending the validity of medical exams through September 30, 2021, the USCIS is enabling its officers to approve employment-based AOS applications that have been pending for years.
Absent this policy directive, USCIS officers would be forced to send notices to applicants with medical exams more than two years old asking for new medical exams to be conducted, submitted, and routed back to their files. From a purely processing perspective, that would add at least three more months for such cases to be approved, even where the cases are otherwise complete and approvable.
The USCIS is presently prioritizing the adjudication of employment-based AOS applications through the end of Fiscal Year 2021, which ends on September 30th. This prioritization is a result of an unusual scenario in which approximately 100,000 unused immigrant visas were rolled over from family-based applications to employment-based applications. However, unless the USCIS expedites the processing of employment-based applications these immigrant visas will be lost under the archaic quota system’s complex rules before the new Fiscal Year begins on October 1st.
To be eligible for this temporary extension, each medical exam must have been signed by the authorized civil surgeon less than 60 days before the applicant filed his or her AOS application and the date of signature must be less than four years old when the USCIS reviews that medical exam before making a final decision on the AOS application.
As admirable as USCIS’s initiative may sound, it offers no more than what a band-aid does to cover massive wounds. The temporary extension of validity of medical exams should be adopted permanently to alleviate backlogs and repair an incoherent and broken immigration system.