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USCIS Background Security Checks

All applicants who seek immigration benefits are subject to USCIS security checks. Such background investigation is designed to screen out criminals and national security threats during the immigration process. However, despite its good intention and overall success, this process has serious flaws.

It's not uncommon for green card and citizenship applications to experience significant delays due to security checks. In some cases, it's simply because your name came up in a unrelated case from many years ago. In other cases, it could be someone with a similar name that raised a flag. Problem is, you have no idea what it is. And oftentimes the delay is not because your case is so complicated, but because it takes a long time for someone in the government to start looking into it.

For most people, all security checks eventually come out clear. But the processing delay can cause great anxiety and frustration, in addition to financial burdens while you're forced to renew certain documents.

USCIS conducts several types of background checks, but may perform other reviews on a case by case basis.

[NEW] Social Media Checks

This one is relatively new, and started around 2012. In short, USCIS may check your social media posts to detect fraud and security concerns. They may even use fake social network accounts to gather information.

In 2014, DHS issued a policy guidence to prohibit the use of fake accounts in the course of an investigation. In 2017, however, DHS authorized the agency to create fictitious profiles, but only to access public information. For example, using fake identities, DHS agents are NOT allowed to friend, follow, or exchange messages with the applicant.

In 2019, DHS updated the Privacy Impact Assessment, essentially confirming their 2017 policy: If you're applying for green card, citizenship, work visa, or other immigration benefits, your publically available social media posts may be under DHS investigation, sometimes with a fictitious account or identity.

Social media checks are conducted by USCIS officers from the Fraud Detection and National Security division. They must complete formal trainings, and renew every year, before they're authorized to do so. They will not be allowed to violate an individual's social media privacy settings.

IBIS Name Checks

The Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) is a networked database from multiple agencies primarily designed to effectively control the entry of persons into the United States. It is an electronic system that can be quickly accessed by immigration officials at a port of entry (POE), as an inspection tool to identify high-risk and inadmissible travelers on the spot.

IBIS name check is sometimes called TECS (Treasury Enforcement Communication System, maintained by CBP) name check.

USCIS is now checking an applicant's name against this system to detect crimes, fraud schemes, and other illegal activities. For example, one component of the IBIS is the National Immigration Lookout System (NAILS) that stores millions of records created by USCIS and other law enforcement agencies. By running an IBIS name check, the USCIS is able to identify certain national security and public safety concerns before granting immigration benefits.

Because of the nature of the IBIS, this process normally takes very little time. In most cases the result of an IBIS name check is available immediately. However, if a person's name matches a record, or otherwise reveals information that requires further review, it may take additional time. But the IBIS name check is rarely a bottleneck that is slowing down the security check process.

FBI Fingerprint Checks

FBI Finger Print

Fingerprint checks are performed by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) located in West Virginia. People are often confused, but it is important to note that FBI fingerprint check is completely different from the FBI name check, which is conducted by the National Name Check Program in Washington DC.

An applicant will receive a fingerprint notice from the USCIS soon after properly filing an immigration petition. The notice contains an appointment date, time and location (usually an Application Support Center - ASC) where the applicant needs to have his/her finger prints, signature and digital photo taken. The information is then electronically transmitted to the CJIS to check for any criminal records, using the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

This is another quick process, and result is usually sent back to the USCIS within a couple of days.

A fingerprint (FP) notice will contain a code number, indicating what biometric information is to be collected:

  •      Code 1: 10 fingerprints
  •      Code 2: Thumb finger print, photo and signature
  •      Code 3: 10 fingerprints, photo and signature (code 1 + code 2)

FBI Name Checks

From 2002 to 2008, FBI name check was a bottleneck in the immigration process. Hundreds of thousands of applicants were "stuck" for years because of FBI name check delays. However, the situation has improved significantly since then. Follow the link above to read more.

IDENT Fingerprint Check

The Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) is used for the storage and processing of biometric and certain biographic information. IDENT was initially developed for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1994, but has since become a DHS-wide system for biometric identification and verification of individuals.

Fingerprints and all biographic data collected at the Application Support Center (ASC) are automatically sent to IDENT, in addition to the FBI. The result from an IDENT fingerprint check is also used in determining whether an applicant or petitioner is eligible for the immigration benefit.

What is an "Extended Review?"

When people call service centers directly (see how here), they are sometimes told that their cases are under "extended review" or "additional review." We have not been able to obtain a clear definition from the USCIS regarding exactly what constitute an extended review, but here are three theories:

     1. "Extended review" means "under review." It is a term loosely used by some representatives and could be anything, security checks, officer review, or in another word, just normal processing.

     2. "Extended review" means "final review." It is referring to the final stage of the processing after security checks have been cleared and the case is ready to be adjudicated.

     3. "Extended review" means "external review." It means USCIS is awaiting information from another government agency.

Before USCIS cares to offer an official explanation, we tend to believe theory #1 is the case.

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