CFGI Quoted – “USCIS Flagged for Continued Processing Delays After Raising Fees”

7/25/2017
SHRM


“Foreign workers and the employers that sponsor them continue to experience processing delays after filing for immigration benefits and services, despite substantial fee increases that went into effect in 2016, according to the federal office charged with improving immigration administration.

“The Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman's 2017 Report to Congress calls on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to improve the accuracy of processing forecasts, ensure the administrative review process is more transparent, and refocus efforts on moving from paper-based to electronic filing and case management.

“…USCIS has spent over $3 billion on its modernization project to go digital and to improve service, operational efficiency and security. However, ‘the decade-long effort to accomplish this initiative has thus far yielded minimal positive impact to applicants, who can now fully perform just two functions online, accounting for less than 10 percent of the agency's workload,’ said CIS Ombudsman Julie Kirchner.

“The modernization project is due to be completed in March 2019, but that date is likely to be postponed given the little progress made at this point. 

“…Historically, USCIS has tied increases in filing fees…with commitments to reduce processing times.

“…The most recent increase raised fees by an average of 21 percent and went into effect in December 2016. But processing delays at the agency have continued…

“…‘We have not seen any real changes in processing at USCIS since new fees were implemented,’ said Justin Storch, manager of agency liaison at the Council for Global Immigration…‘Furthermore, we are concerned that USCIS revenue will be negatively impacted, as they have turned off a valuable revenue stream by suspending premium processing for H-1Bs, a major revenue-generator for the agency.’

“…Processing times have also been impacted by the introduction of a Quality Workplace Initiative, which de-emphasized quantitative productivity measures in favor of quality and resources being diverted to unanticipated programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals…

“…USCIS has indicated to the Ombudsman's office that processing times will get worse before they get better due to a lack of staff resources, especially as more is asked of agency officers…USCIS plans to partially address its staffing shortfall by seeking congressional approval to use premium processing fee revenue to fund additional staff positions.

“…The agency's publicly posted case processing times are another area the Ombudsman's office flagged for improvement.

“Processing forecasts are an essential tool for employers conducting workforce planning and for workers following their cases. ‘For strategic workforce planning, employers need to know how long it will take for their foreign national employees to get visas or other work authorization,’ Storch said. ‘Without reliable information from USCIS, employers have unpredictable circumstances for employee start dates, and planning for projects and business processes can be affected.’

“…The Ombudsman credited the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), which allows employers to appeal agency denials, for improving its processing times by completing most administrative appeals within 180 days. But it stated that anticipated processing times could be more accurate if the time it takes to conduct the initial field review was included.”

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