The Biden administration announced Thursday it will not automatically reject certain applications for asylum or immigration benefits when a blank space is left on the forms, a reversal from a Trump-era policy that critics said was a blatant attempt to further crack down on legal immigration.
During the Trump administration, US Citizenship and Immigration Services rejected applications for certain immigration benefits, including asylum and relief for victims of certain crimes, based on parts of the form being left blank, meaning the application would be sent back to the applicant.
Examples of fields that might be left blank include middle name, passport or travel document number, and “other names used,” according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“We will not automatically reject your form if you leave a space blank. However, we may reject your form or your case might take more time if you leave required spaces blank, if you do not respond to questions related to filing requirements, or if you omit any required initial evidence, as indicated in the form instructions or regulations,” the USCIS website read Thursday.
The change returns the process to what it was before October 2019.
USCIS had reverted to the 2019 process in December 2020, before President Joe Biden took office, in response to stakeholder concerns, according to agency spokesperson Anita Rios Moore. The agency confirmed Thursday that for all forms it has reverted to the pre-Trump policy regarding blank responses.
Describing the Trump-era policy, Moore said in a statement, “USCIS implemented this intake process from October 2019 to December 2020 to improve operational efficiency and ensure the agency had all information we need to adjudicate an application or petition. Incomplete applications or petitions slow down processing by requiring us to issue Requests for Evidence (RFEs), which extends processing times for applicants in need of humanitarian protection.”
At the end of last year, the agency agreed to stop implementing the rejection policy for asylum applications and visa petitions for victims of certain crimes as a result of litigation, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The reversal “increases the predictability that these applications will be accepted and seriously considered, as they should, to consider whether an applicant qualifies for an immigration benefit,” said Sarah Pierce, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, who added that the Trump-era change “increased the chances that an applicant would be dissuaded from applying again altogether.”
Pierce noted the reversal from the Trump-era policy is also likely beneficial to USCIS, since it eliminates the extra step of sending back an application because a part of a form isn’t filled out, which can be quite common.