The Administrative Appeals Office (AAO)

Petitioners and applicants for certain categories of immigration benefits may appeal a negative decision to the AAO. AAO conduct administrative review of those appeals to ensure consistency and accuracy in the interpretation of immigration law and policy. We generally issue “non-precedent” decisions, which apply existing law and policy to the facts of a given case. After review by the Attorney General, AAO may also issue “precedent” decisions to provide clear and uniform guidance to adjudicators and the public on the proper interpretation of law and policy.

Under authority that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has delegated to USCIS, we exercise appellate jurisdiction over approximately 50 different immigration case types. Not every type of denied immigration benefit request may be appealed, and some appeals fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), part of the U.S. Department of Justice.AAO jurisdiction is listed by both subject matter and form number and includes the following categories:

  • Most employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions (Forms I-129 and I-140);
  • Immigrant petitions by alien entrepreneurs (Forms I-526 and I-829);
  • Applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) (Form I-821);
  • Fiancé(e) petitions (Form I-129F);
  • Applications for waiver of ground of inadmissibility (Form I-601);
  • Applications for permission to reapply for admission after deportation (Form I-212);
  • Certain special immigrant visa petitions (Form I-360 except for Form I-360 widower appeals, which are appealable to the BIA);
  • Orphan petitions (Forms I-600 and I-600A);
  • T and U visa applications and petitions (Forms I-914 and 1-918) and the related adjustment of status applications;
  • Applications to preserve residence for naturalization purposes (Form N-470); and
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) determinations that a surety bond has been breached.

AAO also have jurisdiction to review decisions by the USCIS Service Centers to revoke certain previously approved petitions.

How to File

If denying a benefit, USCIS sends a letter to the petitioner or applicant that explains the reason(s) for the denial and, if applicable, how to file a motion or appeal. Most appeals must be filed on Form I-290B with a fee and within 30 days of the initial denial. Some immigration categories have different appeal requirements, so please carefully review the denial letter and the USCIS website for specific and current instructions.

Appeal Process

Initially, the USCIS office that denied the benefit will review the appeal and determine whether to take favorable action and grant the benefit request. If that office does not take favorable action, it will forward the appeal to the AAO for appellate review. The initial field review should be completed within 45 days. The appellate review should be completed within six months of when the AAO receives the appeal.

Precedent Decisions

The Secretary of DHS may, with the Attorney General’s approval, designate AAO or other DHS decisions to serve as precedents in all future proceedings involving the same issue or issues. These precedent decisions are binding on DHS employees except as modified or overruled by later precedent decisions, statutory changes, or regulatory changes. AAO precedent decisions may announce new legal interpretations or agency policy, or they may reinforce existing law and policy by demonstrating how it applies to a unique set of facts.

Please click here to access AAO precedent decisions, located in the Virtual Law Library of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Non-Precedent Decisions

We generally issue non-precedent decisions. These apply existing law and policy to the facts of a given case. A non-precedent decision is binding on the parties involved in the case, but does not create or modify agency guidance or practice. We do not announce new constructions of law nor establish agency policy through non-precedent decisions. As a result, non-precedent decisions do not provide a basis for applying new or alternative interpretations of law or policy.

Please click here to access non-precedent decisions

Board of Immigration Appeals

The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) is an administrative appellate body within the United States Department of Justice. Part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the BIA reviews the decisions of the Immigration Courts and some decisions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Further, the board reviews immigration violation arrests by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. BIA decisions are the final administrative action in a given case. The next stage of appeal after a BIA decision is usually in the United States courts of appeals if an appeal is allowed by statute.

The BIA is located in Falls Church, Virginia, and, as of April 2009, had 14 Board Members, who are administrative judges appointed by the U.S. Attorney General. The size of the full BIA varies from time to time, depending on resignations, retirements and new appointments; it may have up to 15 Board Members under the current authorizing legislation. Decisions issued by the BIA are by made up of three member panels in limited circumstances. 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(e)(6) (cases may only be assigned to such a panel under certain circumstances). Otherwise, the vast majority of cases are decided by single panel members. 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(e)(5). The single panel member can also use a process called summary affirmance, used in 10% of cases (as of 2008), to affirm the lower court without issuing a written decision. 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(e)(4); [1]; [2].

The BIA is notable in that one need not be an attorney to appear before it representing a client. However, non-attorneys must be part of a BIA-recognized organization (generally a nonprofit), and also have obtained BIA accreditation as individuals. A practice manual for appearing before the BIA is available from the U.S. Department of Justice. A handbook explaining the accreditation and recognition process is available from the nonprofit Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).