Unfortunately, with USCIS using the USPS for delivery of sensitive immigration documents, there are times where these documents get lost in the mail. This can happen despite previous documents for a case getting properly mailed to the attorney or to the petitioner or applicant. The loss of these approval documents can potentially slow down the onboarding process for new employees, prevent employees from getting or renewing their driver’s licenses, and can leave the employee without proof of their valid immigration status. While the only sure fire way to get a duplicate approval is to file an I-824, that process can take months or years to get. Outside of the I-824, here are some tips on how to get a missing approval notice. It should be noted that these steps, outside of the first step, must be taken by the attorney or by the person filing the case. An H-1B holder will not be able to contact USCIS directly about the status of their missing H-1B approval notice and that must be done by the attorney or by the petitioning company.
The first step to take when it comes to a missing approval notice is to ensure it is actually missing. I recommend checking with your post office, mail room, etc. to ensure it was not put into the incorrect mail slot or has been accidently left in the backroom and not actually delivered. Mistakes happen, and we have found approval notices on multiple occasions that are misdelivered into the wrong box or still with the post office.
If you filed the case in premium processing, I recommend contacting the premium processing unit by email and see if they can send a new copy. If you do this as soon as you are able to, most service centers have shown they are willing to help and send a duplicate approval notice. They are not required to do so, but we have seen them be helpful numerous times before.
If your case was not in premium, and you have confirmed that the approval notice is actually missing, the next step I recommend to you to take is to complete a service request once available. On the USCIS case status page (https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/) the approval case status usually provides a note instructing you to file a service request if you have not received the approval notice after a certain date. USCIS’ e-request page can be found: https://egov.uscis.gov/e-request/Intro.do;jsessionid=986FBC464961EDFC726ED251BD80A7C2, and you want to create a case inquiry for “did not receive notice by mail.” Once you click on that, you will be given an online form to complete, and USCIS will contact you within 30 days about steps to take.
Often times, the e-request form will end up with informing you to file an I-824, more on that later, but there are other options you can still take. You can try contacting the 1-800 number for USCIS customer service, and if you do, I recommend you ask to speak to a second level officer. However, often times the wait to get to a second level officer is up to 30 days and they often copy the advice of the e-request.
From here, there are two steps I would recommend. First, is to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with USCIS at https://first.uscis.gov/. Through this you can request a copy of the file, and after it processes, you should be able to obtain the I-129 forms that were submitted to USCIS. This will be stamped at the stop with the approval details, and will at least provide you with some certainty as to the status and length of that status. When filing a FOIA request it is important to answer the questions in the form as detailed as possible to help USCIS locate the documentation you are requesting. This can be done by the individual as well as the company or their attorney. However, it may be worth contacting an attorney to ensure the request is properly framed so as to achieve the best result from the FOIA request.
With the FOIA filed, and having exhausted your remedies with the e-request and the 1-800 number, you can contact the DHS Ombudsman for case assistance. The DHS Ombudsman is a tremendous resources for solving some case issues with USCIS, but requires you to first seek help from USCIS first. One of the most common issues they assist with is a non-receipt of USCIS notices. The DHS Ombudsman case assistance page can be found here: https://www.dhs.gov/case-assistance. Case assistance can be done through the DHS Form 7001 which can be done online at https://www.dhs.gov/topic/cis-ombudsman/forms/7001. The Ombudsman will review your request and let you know if they are able to assist within a short period of time. From there, if they take your request up, we have seen a good amount of cases from them resulting in a duplicate approval notice being sent. When completing the DHS Form 7001, it is again important to provide as much detail and evidence as possible showing your attempts to resolve the matter with USCIS through e-requests and/or the 1-800 number.
If all else fails, you will be required to file an I-824 with USCIS to request a duplicate approval. The reason it is important to try the other routes first is that the I-824 not only requires a filing fee of $465, the posted processing times for I-824s are around and exceeding one year just to get the duplicate approval notice.
Missing approval notices happen as they are mailed just like standard mail from USCIS using USPS. There is rarely a way to track the mail and tracking is usually only available for EAD cards. Following these steps will hopefully result in you getting a new copy of your missing approval notice without the need to file an I-824.
By: Steven Brown
Steven Brown is a Partner at Reddy & Neumann, P.C. where he works in the Non-immigrant visa department and leads the Litigation Team. His practice covers all phases of the non-immigration visa process including filing H-1B, L-1, E-3, H-4, and H-4 EAD petitions. In the last two years, Steven has successfully handled over 1,000 non-immigrant visa petitions including filing petitions, responding to any necessary Requests for Evidence, and drafting motions and appeals.