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Vangala v. USCIS: End of the “No Blank Space Rejection Policy”

USCIS

Under the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adopted an agency policy that targeted humanitarian benefits for asylum seekers and survivors of violent crimes such as domestic violence. The policy, known as the “No Blank Space Rejection Policy,” required the agency to reject applications for asylum or a U nonimmigrant visa if any question in the application was not answered—even if that question did not apply to the applicant.

For instance, if an applicant did not have a middle name, and left the space for “middle name” blank, the application would be rejected regardless of its merits. Furthermore, the application would be rejected if an applicant wrote “not applicable” or “none” in that space instead of “N/A.” This policy represented a significant departure from the previous policy that had been in place for decades.

In November of 2020, a lawsuit, Vangala v. USCIS, was filed to challenge the policy, which applied exclusively to asylum applications (Form I-589) and U visa applications (Forms I-918 and I-918A). Over 60,000 applicants were negatively affected by the No Blank Space Rejection Policy. On December 22, 2020, USCIS agreed to suspend the policy; on December 23, the agency shared updated guidance to adjudicators, directing them to stop rejecting applications based on the policy.

On July 20, 2021, a federal district court in Oakland, California approved a final Settlement Agreement in the case. USCIS will review its databases by October 18, 2021 in order to notify affected applicants. Applicants may be notified directly or through their attorney of record, if they had one. If you were one of the many people who applied for asylum or a U Visa while the No Blank Space Rejection policy was in effect, read on to learn about the relief that is available to you, and what you must do to get it.

Applications Covered by the Settlement Agreement

The No Blank Space Rejection Policy applied only to Form I-589 applications for asylum, and Form I-918 and I-918A applications for U Visas, but USCIS may have also extended the policy to ancillary or accompanying forms submitted with those applications. Accordingly, the Settlement Agreement covers those forms as well if they were required to be submitted with the applications covered by the settlement.

Applicants who are eligible for relief filed either a Form I-589, Form I-918, or Form 1-918, and had their application rejected because of the No Blank Space Rejection Policy. For asylum applications, the rejection must have occurred between October 17, 2019 and December 22, 2020; for U visa applications, the rejection must have occurred between December 30, 2019 and December 22, 2020. In addition, applicants who had their applications rejected based on the No Blank Space Rejection Policy after the policy was rescinded on December 22, 2020 are also eligible for relief under the Settlement Agreement.

Seeking Relief Under the Vangala Settlement Agreement

An applicant seeking relief under the Vangala Settlement Agreement must request for USCIS to issue a receipt for their application, including any ancillary documents, with the original submission date. The request for a receipt must be submitted to USCIS by July 20, 2022.

Individuals who have not submitted their applications must provide USCIS the application, any supporting materials, and applicable filing fees. The application and filing fees will be those that were in effect on the date of the original submission. These applicants must also provide either a copy of the notice issued by USCIS that said the application was rejected due to the No Blank Space Rejection Policy, or other proof of the original rejected filing.

Individuals who have resubmitted their applications and have received a receipt notice only need to provide USCIS with the receipt number for the resubmitted benefit request, along with either a copy of the original notice of rejection due to the No Blank Space Rejection Policy, or other proof of the original rejected application. USCIS will provide the applicant with a new receipt notice with the original filing date.

Some applicants may have aged out of eligibility for benefits after their original application was rejected. However, under the Settlement Agreement, USCIS has agreed that the date of the applicant’s original filing will be considered the receipt date for all purposes. That includes applicant age or deadlines that might affect the application.

USCIS may still reject an application for asylum or a U visa for “proper” reasons, such as leaving blank spaces that USCIS needs to complete its record (first name, last name, complete address, country of birth, date of birth, and citizenship). Failing to respond to questions that relate to filing requirements, or to submit required filing fees, are also proper reasons to reject an application.

If you have questions about the Settlement Agreement resolving Vangala v. USCIS or need help seeking relief, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Blog, Immigration Law