USCIS' New I-797C Receipt Notice May Cause Problems for Extension of Status Applicants

Beginning April 2, 2012, USCIS will issue a newly designed I-797C receipt notice. One of the main functions of the I-797C form is to evidence USCIS' receipt of an immigration application or petition.

Within the TN visa context, the I-797C form is issued to evidence USCIS' receipt of an I-129 petition requesting an extension of, or change to, TN visa status. The I-797C receipt notice can be critical in some cases as it may evidence a TN visa workers' ability to continue working for his/her employer beyond the expiration date of his/her current TN visa status. A TN visa worker whose I-94 has expired, but who has filed a timely I-129 petition for an Extension of Status, is allowed to continue working for the same employer for 240 days past the expiration date of the I-94.

However, USCIS' new I-797C form will display prominently on the top: “THIS NOTICE DOES NOT GRANT ANY IMMIGRATION STATUS OR BENEFIT.” According to its announcement, the purpose of the government's redesign is to "help reduce public perception that the Form I-797C demonstrates evidence of an immigration benefit or status." This is unfortunate as in some cases the I-797C receipt does, in fact, reflect that an individual, e.g. a TN visa worker, may have authorization to continue working for up to 240 days following the expiration of his/her current immigration status.

Some employers are already hesitant to acknowledge the work authorization granted under this 240 day rule provision. Similarly, many state DMVs refuse to accept an I-797C receipt in this scenario as proof of continued work authorization in order to meet driver's licensing renewal requirements. This is particularly aggravating for TN visa workers whose drivers' licenses expire simultaneoulsy with their initial TN visa status.

USCIS' change to its I-797C receipt notice will now only exacerbate the ability of individuals utilizing the 240 day extension rule to convince their employers or other government officials like those at a state's DMV that they are still eligible to work in the U.S. despite the expiration of their current immigration status.