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USCIS Strengthens Guidance for Spousal Petitions Involving Minors


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USCIS Strengthens Guidance for Spousal Petitions Involving Minors


WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced additional guidance (PDF, 222 KB) regarding the adjudication of spousal petitions involving minors, following up on the agency’s February update to its policy.

The guidance, published as an update to the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM), instructs officers to conduct an additional interview for certain I-130 spousal petitions involving a minor. Generally, the bona fides of the spousal relationship are assessed in person by USCIS when the alien spouse applies to adjust status, or by the Department of State when the alien spouse applies for an immigrant visa. However, I-130 spousal petitions involving a minor party warrant special consideration due to the vulnerabilities associated with marriage involving a minor. As such, USCIS is modifying its policy to require in-person interviews at this earlier stage for certain I-130 petitions involving minor spouses.

“As part of our continued efforts to strengthen guidance for spousal petitions involving minors, we have instructed USCIS officers to conduct an additional in-person interview earlier in the immigration process for certain petitions that warrant additional scrutiny,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. “While USCIS has taken action to the maximum extent possible to detect and closely examine spousal petitions involving a minor spouse, Congress should address this issue by providing more clarity under the law for USCIS officers.”




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Interviewing earlier at the I-130 petition stage provides USCIS with an additional opportunity to verify information contained in the petition and assess the bona fides of the claimed spousal relationship. USCIS officers will now conduct interviews for the following I-130 spousal petitions as part of the adjudication of any I-130 spousal petition where:

  • The petitioner or the beneficiary is less than 16 years old; or
  • The petitioner or the beneficiary is 16 or 17 years old and there are 10 years or more difference between the ages of the spouses.

While there are no statutory age requirements to petition for a spouse or be sponsored as a spousal beneficiary, USCIS published guidance earlier this year detailing factors that officers should consider when evaluating I-130 spousal petitions involving a minor. USCIS considers whether the age of the beneficiary or petitioner at the time the marriage was celebrated violates the law of the place of celebration. Officers also consider whether the marriage is recognized as valid in the U.S. state where the couple currently resides or will presumably reside and does not violate the state’s public policy. In some U.S. states and in some foreign countries, marriage involving a minor might be permitted under certain circumstances, including where there is parental consent, a judicial order, emancipation of the minor, or pregnancy of the minor.



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In addition, per regulation, USCIS may use its discretion to issue a request for evidence (RFE) where appropriate.  As with any benefit, the burden is generally on the petitioner to demonstrate the validity of their petition and the bona fides of their spousal relationship.

These AFM updates are part of USCIS’ continuing efforts to ensure that our policies and processes remain current and are compliant with existing immigration law. USCIS also created a flagging system that sends an alert in an electronic system at the time of filing if a minor spouse or fiancé is detected. After the initial flag, the petition is sent to a special unit that verifies that the age and relationship listed are correct before the petition is accepted. If the age or classification on the petition is incorrect, the petition will be returned to the petitioner for correction.

For more information on USCIS and our programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), Instagram (/uscis), YouTube (/uscis), Facebook (/uscis), and Linkedin (/uscis).







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Department of Justice
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, April 12, 2019

Medicare Advantage Provider to Pay $30 Million to Settle Alleged Overpayment of Medicare Advantage Funds

Sutter Health LLC, a California-based healthcare services provider, and several affiliated entities, Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, and Sutter Medical Foundation, have agreed to pay $30 million to resolve allegations that the affiliated entities submitted inaccurate information about the health status of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans, which resulted in the plans and providers being overpaid, the Justice Department announced today.  Sutter Health is headquartered in Sacramento, California. 

“The Medicare Advantage Program provides benefits to a significant portion of federal health care beneficiaries,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will help ensure that accurate information is supplied to the Medicare Advantage Program by plans and providers, and to pursue appropriate remedies when it is not.”

Under Medicare Advantage, also known as the Medicare Part C program, Medicare beneficiaries have the option of enrolling in managed healthcare insurance plans called Medicare Advantage Plans (“MA Plans”) that are owned and operated by private Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAOs”).  MA Plans are paid a capitated, or per-person, amount to provide Medicare-covered benefits to beneficiaries who enroll in one of their plans.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), which oversees the Medicare program, adjusts the payments to MA Plans based on demographic information and the health status of each plan beneficiary.  The adjustments are commonly referred to as “risk scores.”  In general, a beneficiary with more severe diagnoses will have a higher risk score, and CMS will make a larger risk-adjusted payment to the MA Plan for that beneficiary.



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Sutter Health, a non-profit public benefit corporation that provides healthcare services through its affiliates, including hospitals and medical foundations, contracted with certain MAOs to provide healthcare services to California beneficiaries enrolled in the MAOs’ MA Plans.  In exchange, Sutter received a share of the payments that the MAOs received from CMS for the beneficiaries under Sutter’s care.  

Sutter submitted diagnoses to the MAOs for the MA Plan enrollees that they treated.  The MAOs, in turn, submitted the diagnosis codes to CMS from the beneficiaries’ medical encounters, such as office visits and hospital stays.  The diagnosis codes were used in CMS’ calculation of a risk score for each beneficiary. 

The settlement announced today resolves allegations that Sutter and its affiliates submitted unsupported diagnosis codes for certain patient encounters of beneficiaries under their care.  These unsupported diagnosis scores inflated the risk scores of these beneficiaries, resulting in the MAO plans being overpaid.



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Earlier this month, the government filed a complaint against Sutter and a separate affiliated entity, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, alleging that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting unsupported diagnosis scores. That case is captioned United States ex rel. Ormsby v. Sutter Health, et al., Case No. 15-CV-01062-JD (N.D. Cal.), and is still ongoing.  

“Misrepresenting patients’ risk results in higher payments and wasted Medicare funds,” said Steven J. Ryan, Special Agent in Charge with the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “With some one-third of people in Medicare now enrolled in managed care Advantage plans, large health systems such as Sutter can expect a thorough investigation of claimed enrollees’ health status.”

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and HHS-OIG.      

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. 












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