NIH staff members may not write letters of reference/recommendation to (or for submission to) another federal agency in support of visa or Green Card applications (except as noted below). You may write a recommendation on NIH letterhead for any individual who applies for federal employment.
To: IC Directors, Scientific Directors, Intramural Administrative Officers, HR Branch Chiefs
From: Deputy Director for Intramural Research
Subject: Signature Authority at NIH on Immigration Matters Involving Foreign Scientists
Owing to changes in organizational structures and other factors, and with legal advice from the Office of General Counsel, the following policies and process will supersede all previous issuances on this subject, including my December 20, 1999 memorandum, entitled Letters in Support of Visa Actions.
Letters of reference/recommendation may not be written by NIH staff to or for submission to another federal agency in support of visa or Green Card applications (except as noted below), but may be written on NIH letterhead for any individual who applies for federal employment.
Example 1. Letters in support of visa, extension, or green card: You are requested (by an individual, by his/her attorney, or by an institution) to write a letter that you or the requestor will send to the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS-USCIS), or other federal agency (e.g. HHS Waiver Review Board), supporting a petition for a visa, extension, or Green Card.
Allowed: You may send the requestor copies of any performance evaluations ("form of evaluation") which you previously prepared describing the person's relative skills, performance, development, etc. (see: http://www1.od.nih.gov/oir/sourcebook/ethic-conduct/evaluation.htm), or copies of any letters of reference you previously wrote to evaluate his/her suitability for a job at another institution. The recipient could then use these documents, as they may describe all the essential information about the person's qualities, qualifications, and contributions.
Not allowed: You cannot send a letter of recommendation or support on behalf of another individual to or for submission to any government agency, whether on NIH letterhead, or on plain stationery or personal letterhead.
Why: A criminal statute, 18 USC § 205, prohibits a federal employee from making representations on behalf of another before or to a federal entity (except in relation to federal employment).
Exception: An official letter may be written by a high level NIH official (IC Director, Scientific Director, or above) as part of the official agency (e.g. NIH) sponsorship of a candidate for NIH employment, and submitted by the Division of International Services-Office of Research Services (DIS-ORS), NIH, to the DHS-USCIS. DIS-ORS is the only office at NIH authorized to communicate with other agencies on immigration matters.
Example 2. Official request for waiver, green card or other immigration information: The DHS-USCIS or Department of State (DOS) contacts you to obtain information about the qualities and qualifications of a current or former postdoctoral fellow in your NIH lab or branch.
Allowed: You may write such a letter on NIH letterhead in response to such a written request from another government agency. Your response must be conveyed through the Division of International Services, Office of Research Services (DIS-ORS), which is the only office at the NIH authorized to deal directly with other government agencies on such matters.
Why: The request is made officially from one government agency to another, and would be transmitted by the DIS-ORS as an official NIH communication. The statute does not prohibit official, agency cooperation and communication.
/s/ Michael M. Gottesman, M.D.