Recent initiatives to shorten processing timeframes and eliminate backlogs were disclosed during an hour-long interview between Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) Phyllis Coven and Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ur Jaddou.
On September 21, a fireside session covered the difficulties, successes, and objectives for the fiscal year FY 2023. Jaddou talked about funding, congressional appropriations, and customer service in addition to processing times and backlogs. Coven spoke on the office's support programs for the general public, suggestions for improving USCIS' fee-for-service funding model, and their 2022 Annual Report to Congress.
The publication of a temporary final rule that temporarily extends the automatic extension term for EAD categories from up to 180 days to up to 540 days was one of the successes in the previous 12 months, according to Felicia Escobar Carrillo, Chief of Staff at USCIS. She claims that doing this will allow 420,000 people to continue working while their EAD applications are being processed by USCIS.
Carillo said that they are aware that this benefits not just the affected people and their families but also their employers, the whole economy, and the neighborhoods where they interact and reside.
USCIS Aims to Connect with Communities Nationwide
Approximately 114 national engagements and more than 3600 local, virtual, and in-person engagements with more than 151,000 participants have been held because of increased national and local engagement strategies, according to Carillo.
When Jaddou joined USCIS, it was in the midst of the epidemic, and she claimed that since then, conditions had improved.
Jaddou stated that she entered at a time when the agency was experiencing, is experiencing, and at the time, it was still one of the largest backlogs this agency has ever had. She also left the company a year and a half or so after the agency's financial problems, which led to a hiring freeze and left vacancies unfilled. Consequently, a challenging moment.
She claims that the organization is always seeking new methods to reassure the public that USCIS is moving in the right path. She believes that the organization is attempting to increase efficiency to get ahead of the backlog.
Jaddou also remarked it is really large and difficult. She is aware that everyone is suffering extremely elevated processing times as a result of it. However, they have a lot of suggestions and solutions, many of which are currently in use. So, returning to regular order is her desire and objective.
Comments from USCIS Regarding the Effects of the Visa Backlog
The avalanche of backlogs, according to CIS Ombudsman Coven, was the focus of their annual report in 2022.
“And what that was really about was that we came to recognize that the backlogs themselves had sort of a snowball impact, that when people were waiting longer than they should get their cards indicating their status, they still needed to work, they still needed to be able to verify their employment they needed to travel and those needs created for the agency sort of secondary workloads or collateral workloads and so that the detriment of the backlogs is not only on the customers but also on the agency,” stated Coven.
She said that the focus of their report this year was on how to address some of those sources of tension for both the agency and its clients. For instance, they conducted research on the challenges of requesting advance parole for those who must go abroad urgently before their card is issued, as well as the procedure for submitting expedited petitions.
The advice, she added, "may help individuals get on with their lives and lessen some of the worries, right, that is generated by the lengthier processing periods."
According to Jaddou, every delay resulted in a call to their contact center, which caused someone else to have to wait longer. Every delay, according to her, may lead to legal action.
And now, Jaddou continued that lawyers and the Office of Chief Counsel are preoccupied with lawsuits rather than possibly examining issues of policy and law to make adjustments. They are now only concentrating on lawsuits, thus. Their offices are flooded with requests to prolong and requests to extend emergency advanced paroles around the nation. People ask for urgent action on their job authorizations, which, once again, has a snowball effect.
Jaddou claimed that the harm caused by USCIS's inability to handle cases quickly and effectively "ends up causing so many other portions of our agency to as well be overloaded with resources that were never allocated for that."
She claims that as a result of these factors, customer service is overburdened. She said that customer service is trying to ensure that consumers get prompt responses to their inquiries.
To ensure that the procedure doesn't take a year, 18 months, two months, or two years, Jaddou added, it needs to be done promptly.
How USCIS Manages the Processing of Visas
According to Coven, they have prioritized their cases and made a great effort to be open and honest with the public about the issues they can help with and the areas in which they can truly make a difference. When people have had trouble obtaining a safe document like employment authorization or a green card, this has to do with people aging out and losing the chance to acquire a benefit due to age.
The National Visa Center occasionally has trouble getting notification of accepted applications, which is required for consular processing, according to Coven. "And another huge area where we've done a lot of effort this year is in making sure that."
Jaddou expressed her happiness at being able to report that the USCIS and the State Department would soon be able to grant every visa for this fiscal year.
According to Jaddou, many family-based visas were not provided overseas for family-based petitioners and instead were carried over to this year in our employment-based system as a result of COVID and the consulates' limited opening as they were before COVID. And the majority of the employment-based visa numbers that we obtain are processed by USCIS as adjustments of status. We thus received more than we ever had.
"So taking all that we learned in the prior fiscal year and applying it to this fiscal year, we were able to beat even that achievement," Jaddou explained. "We have adjusted a lot more than we have ever done, 50% more."
USCIS and Cycle Time Objectives
Because of the restrictions, Congress has set on this program and, for that matter, visas, employment-based, and even family-based visas, Coven said she understands the suffering brought on by the years of waiting. Many individuals still wait, she added. Giving people information about
the few visas that are available and how they are divided up among the countries by the legislation, according to her, is highly beneficial.
Jaddou added that Cycle Time targets have been introduced. And by the conclusion of the upcoming fiscal year, they want to have the majority of their key forms completed within six months, often even sooner. According to her, they are moving forward. So far, they have made progress.
According to her, the Cycle Time for the N-400, the Application for Naturalization, was 13 months in December 2021 and was reduced to 9.6 months in July 2022. She claimed that they are also noticing that to some extent in other kinds.
"We require the time to resolve it. 8.5 million outstanding cases are almost 5 million more than the cycle time targets for the first six months, which is a very large quantity. Consequently, we have a ton of work, explains Jaddou.
Jaddou spoke on customer service as well, using the renewal of an I-90 and a Green Card as examples.
According to Jaddou, you require an appointment and must visit a field office when there is a delay or when it is about to expire. Just consider the resources required, not to mention the inconvenience to the person, of having to contact, schedule an appointment, travel, and obtain a stamp for them to have a longer time while they adjudicate taking into account the backlog.
According to her, the organization is looking at ways to prolong the time that appointments are automatically scheduled so that people don't have to call in the first place and to free up those resources.
To keep the wait time for a phone call coming in under 10 minutes, they are also considering the notion of a stakeholder inquiry mailbox for systemic concerns. They are figuring out how to make the automated systems more effective so that calls are sent to the appropriate individual.
USCIS is Considering a Method for Electronic Filing
Jaddou expressed her excitement for their plan to make the USCIS computerized so that applicants may finish the entire procedure online. 13 benefit forms are presently accessible for electronic filing, according to her, and 18% of their submissions are being made online. She said that the problem was that not everyone was utilizing it. People are still preferring paper even though 46% of the forms that are accessible for electronic filing can only be submitted electronically, according to her.
Jaddou explained they comprehend that the G-28, the attorney form, and the handshake between the lawyer and their client are two problems, and that the ability for the lawyers' representatives to have their case management systems and have those systems be able to communicate with theirs, rather than having to fill out those forms, is one of the issues. Therefore, these are all difficulties that they are overcoming.
Going electronic, according to Jaddou, increases efficiency and reduces the problem of human mistakes. She claims that the organization is aiming to simplify the procedure so that everything can be done online in one location.
"This will be very beneficial, effective, and economical. And I believe the outcomes will be better. However, we are aware that there are several problems and that we must reach representative accounts as well. But we have given these things a higher priority. And we are committed to," Jaddou remarked.
Coven stated that they are now deciding what topics they want to focus on for research and study as well as their objectives for the upcoming year.
One of them, according to Coven, had to do with a concern that stakeholders have been raising around RFEs and whether or not they're getting sort of repetitive and superfluous requests for further proof. And they already know that's a topic they want to research next year.
According to a study by CIS, USCIS employs more than 20,000 people, has more than 200 offices and other facilities around the United States and internationally, and has an annual budget that has averaged over $4 billion since 2018.
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