CFGI Quoted – “Immigration Fee Hikes From Policy Shift, USCIS Says”

12/14/2016
Bloomberg BNA


Reproduced with permission from Workplace Immigration Report 11 WIR 01 (Jan. 2, 2017). Copyright 2017 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.bna.com&d=DgIF-g&c=nQOnw6HHAeKBNxj23OXhOw&r=VjMK-q_BrXTUswvnmOX_irPVX7IdoSg9dJA_Q9wVwlU&m=1MnFa9rA_TSyFrPf0SDDpgIea_snoJG4D1YIKnL_uWM&s=lxcPEths51x99krZY2r6kPmDW8i83juLFYdqCPgXBwo&e= >


Only a fraction of the pending hefty fee increases for immigration benefit applications stem from the growth of the agency itself, an official said Dec. 6.

The final fee increases go into effect Dec. 23, Joseph Moore, chief financial officer of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said during the annual conference of the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman in Washington. Of the overall 21 percent increase, only 4 percent relates to agency growth; the rest stems from policy changes such as the increasing number of fee waivers being granted.

The waivers for low-income immigrants create pressure to increase fees for those who do pay, he said. Specific fees vary according to the complexity of adjudication involved, he added. Overall, 95 percent of the USCIS budget is funded through immigration fees, he said.

Faster Processing for More Money Sought. ‘‘Generally speaking, we support reasonable fee increases as long as the agency puts the revenue to good use,’’ Justin Storch, manager of agency liaison with the business affiliated Council for Global Immigration, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 7. ‘‘We’re a business organization and we understand that there’s humanitarian reasons’’ for fee waivers, he said.

‘‘From our perspective, we would just want a return on investment’’ in terms of faster processing times, Storch said.

An example of the kind of problem employers would like to see addressed occurs when they request extensions of temporary H-1B visas for high-skilled foreign workers. Because of processing delays, the employees’ work authorizations frequently expire before the agency grants its approval.

As a result, businesses may be forced to put projects on hold. Employment authorization documents also aren’t being processed in a timely fashion, Storch said.

‘‘Processing times in the most popular visa categories are through the roof right now,’’ Sarah Maxwell, head of global immigration at VISANOW, a Chicago-based immigration services provider, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 7. Many people are thinking that paying the ‘‘hefty’’ fee for expedited processing, one of the only fees not affected by the increase, ‘‘is the only way to guarantee’’ prompt processing at present, she said.

The alternative is that foreign employees ‘‘may end up in limbo,’’ and intercompany transfers of foreign employees may be halted, Maxwell said. ‘‘This causes a significant amount of disruption for employers and employees, both located in the United States and abroad.’’

The Tortuous Shift From Paper. ‘‘We’re not meeting our goals,’’ Donald Neufeld, associate director of the Service Center Operations Directorate at the USCIS, said during the ombudsman’s conference. ‘‘We need to add staff and find efficiencies. We are evolving from a largely paper-based process to an automated process.’’

One specific problem is that requests for evidence are resulting in bulkier files, and additional RFEs or notices of intent to deny are being issued ‘‘based on evidence that should never have been included in the first place,’’ William Yates, principal at W.R. Yates & Associates, said.

There’s a need ‘‘to cut down on this kitchen-sink approach to evidence,’’ he said. 

Much of the problem simply comes down to money. The agency hasn’t raised fees since 2010.

‘‘As a primarily fee funded agency, one of the principal documents we adhere to is the CFO Act of 1990, which requires biannual reviews,’’ Moore said. His office makes volume forecasts of the agency’s workload, using statistical techniques to tease out seasonal fluctuations, he said.

‘‘We are very accurate in forecasting our annual projections and are working to forecast two to three years out,’’ he said.

Moore said he would like to see improvement in congressional oversight of the USCIS’s fee account so the agency could use it more efficiently.

USCIS Director: Believe in Citizenship. Speakers at the ombudsman’s conference all emphasized the extreme uncertainty in this time of transition between presidential administrations, given President-elect Donald Trump’s frequent promises to stop illegal immigration and deport those already in the country illegally.

‘‘The challenge to the new administration and to the country as a whole, is to believe in citizenship’’ for immigrants, outgoing USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez said.

He vowed to continue to promote this cause as a private citizen.

The incoming administration ‘‘has said nothing about doing away with or curtailing the system of legal immigration,’’ Rodriguez said. ‘‘We are enriched by it.’’

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com