Responding to USCIS Denials: When to Avoid AAO Appeals

In the event of a USCIS denial, one available option is to file a request for an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). However, it’s generally advisable to bypass this step. That is because of a 1993 Supreme Court decision in Darby v. Cisneros, which clarified that the federal courts are not obligated to compel a plaintiff to go through all available administrative avenues before pursuing judicial review (in federal court) under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), unless specified by the relevant statute or agency regulations.

So, is filing an AAO appeal the right move after a USCIS denial? Generally, it’s not recommended.

The AAO tends to uphold agency denials, often providing more detailed explanations, which can potentially make it more challenging to succeed in a subsequent federal lawsuit contesting both the original denial and the AAO’s affirmation of it. Typically, heading directly to federal court presents a more viable course of action.

However, there is a clear exception. If your initial application lacked significant details or information, using an AAO appeal to supplement these gaps might be beneficial. This is especially relevant because federal judges evaluate APA cases based solely on the existing administrative record, emphasizing the necessity for a comprehensive and favorable record. Thus, in instances where enhancing the administrative record is critical, opting for an AAO appeal could be a strategic move. In most other situations, either proceeding directly to federal court or considering the re-submission of the petition serves as a more fruitful alternative. Another instance where the strategy would likely differ is in dealing with I-485 denials.