The Administrative Appeals Office (AAO)

Leadership

Barbara Q. Velarde is the chief of the Administrative Appeals Office.

What We Do

Petitioners and applicants for certain categories of immigration benefits may appeal an unfavorable decision to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). We conduct administrative review of those appeals to ensure consistency and accuracy in the interpretation of immigration law and policy. We generally issue our appellate decisions as non-precedent decisions, which apply existing law and policy to the facts of a given case. After review by the Attorney General, we may also issue precedent decisions to provide guidance to adjudicators and the public on the proper interpretation and administration of immigration law and policy.

Jurisdiction and Types of Cases

Under authority that the Secretary of Homeland Security has delegated to USCIS, we exercise appellate jurisdiction over approximately 50 different immigration case types filed with USCIS offices, as well as certain U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) determinations. 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. Our 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 (Form I-526);
  • 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 and applications (Forms I-600 and I-600A);
  • T and U visa applications and petitions (Forms I-914 and I-918) and the related adjustment of status applications;
  • Applications to preserve residence for naturalization purposes (Form N-470); and
  • ICE determinations that a surety bond has been breached.

We also have jurisdiction to review decisions by the USCIS service centers to revoke certain previously approved petitions.

The AAO adjudicates three primary categories of cases: appeals, motions, and certifications. Each category serves a different function and has distinct requirements. For more information, please see the AAO’s Practice Manual.

How to File

If USCIS makes an unfavorable decision on a benefit request, the office that issued the decision will send a letter to the petitioner or applicant that explains the reason for the unfavorable decision and, if applicable, how to file a motion or appeal. Most appeals must be filed on Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, with a fee and within 30 calendar days after personal service of the decision, or 33 calendar days if the decision was mailed. 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 180 days of when the AAO receives the complete case record.

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 see the AAO's non-precedent decisions.

Adopted Decisions

USCIS may “adopt” an AAO non-precedent decision to provide policy guidance to USCIS employees in making determinations on applications and petitions for immigration benefits. Please see the AAO's adopted decisions.

Precedent Decisions

The Secretary of Homeland Security 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 must be followed by 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 see the AAO's precedent decisions, located in the Virtual Law Library of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

History of the AAO

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) established the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) in 1983 to centralize the review of administrative appeals. Prior to 1983, responsibility for the adjudication of administrative appeals and the issuance of precedent decisions was shared by the INS commissioner, four regional commissioners and three overseas district directors.

The INS later established the Legalization Appeals Unit to adjudicate appeals of denied Legalization and Special Agricultural Worker applications under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. In 1994, INS consolidated the two units to create the AAO. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 separated the INS into three components within the new DHS, and on March 1, 2003, the AAO became a part of USCIS.

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