Avert the USCIS Budget Crisis but make USCIS Accountable

Before I get into the specifics of this blog, it is important to explain the function and funding of USCIS. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the governmental agency that handles applications for permanent residence based on family or employer petitions, handles non-immigrant matters for students, temporary workers, religious personnel, issues work permits and adjudicates naturalization petitions. It is expected to be self-funded by filing fees paid by the applicants and not by taxes.  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is an enforcement agency that investigates aliens within the US that are not eligible for immigration benefits. CBP (Customs and Border Protection) is the agency that works at the US border to verify that everyone entering the US is eligible to enter and has the proper paperwork for a legal entry. ICE and CBP are funded by taxes. 

This article is about USCIS, their furlough notices for 13,400 employees (from August 3 until October 1) and its request for $ 1.2 billion in taxpayer funds from Congress to avert the furloughs. Covid-19 is given as the reason for it’s “dramatic decrease in revenue.” This problem was unfolding well before Covid-19. Over the last two years, new filings have decreased significantly (and thus revenues declined) and applications are being processed 46% slower. This is a problem that USCIS has created by its own actions. Since 2017, USCIS have implemented numerous policies and procedures that have decreased efficiency, driven up the costs of adjudications, slowed case processing and discouraged submission of applications and petitions to USCIS. This has included requiring in person interview for all employment-based residence applications, eliminating a decades-old policy to give deference to prior applications that are materially the same and unprecedented issuance of RFE’s (requests for evidence). The RFE’s routinely ask for information that has already been provided or that is not relevant to the case. 

Cases are rejected for things such as not writing in none or N/A for questions that don’t apply (such as in the block for the name of the second or third sibling when the applicant has only one sibling) or writing their name and case number on the back of photos in pencil rather than in black ink or rejecting cases signed in blue ink rather than black. This not only costs USCIS money in sending the entire package back to the applicant, but also results in USCIS having to process the same application a second time, when the reason for rejection had absolutely no bearing on the merits of the claim or the ability of the agency to review and adjudicate the application.

It is clear that USCIS, an agency that only a few years ago had significant budget surpluses, has run itself into the ground through its own policies and inefficient processes. Now, the USCIS budget shortfall threatens to bring the US legal immigration system to a halt, negatively impacting families, US businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and religious organizations. 

The position of the American Immigration Attorneys Association (AILA) is that the funding requested should be approved by Congress, but that Congress should hold USCIS accountable. They ask for:

  • Measures to ensure USCIS is transparent, fiscally responsible and efficient.
  • Cost-efficient measures for adjudicating immigration applications and petitions, such as reinstituting the agency’s 2004 “deference” policy, giving adjudicators discretion of when to require in-person interviews, and reusing previously captured biometrics for all form types;
  • Measures to ensure that USCIS remains focused on its service-oriented statutory mission, rather than transferring funds to enforcement agencies;
  • Measures to generate new revenue, such as by expanding premium processing to other form types, and to increase the filing of applications and petitions, such as by improving USCIS customer-facing tools and resources and expanding the agency’s engagement with the stakeholder community; and
  • Measures to address challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as suspending all deadlines and extending all nonimmigrant statuses for at least 90 day beyond the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency and permitting naturalization oaths to be taken through video.

I am asking my readers to TAKE ACTION NOW

Email your member of Congress and ask Congress to act now to:

Linda M Kaplan
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