Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman’s 2019 Annual Report to Congress
By statute, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman submits an Annual Report to Congress by June 30 of each year. The Ombudsman’s Annual Report must provide a summary of the most pervasive and serious problems encountered by individuals and employers applying for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Annual Report also reviews past recommendations to improve USCIS programs and services.
2019 Annual Report Highlights
The H-1B Program: Wages and Specialty Occupations. The H-1B program has evolved considerably since its inception, and demand continues to outpace the annual statutory cap placed on H-1B visas.The Buy American, Hire American Executive Order tasks agencies involved in administering the H-1B program with suggesting reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid beneficiaries. USCIS should consider additional modifications implementing the Executive Order to promote greater consistency in the adjudication of H-1B petitions, focusing on refining the definition of specialty occupation to more fully implement Congressional intent.
From InfoPass to InfoMod: A Crossroads for Applicant Support Services. In 2018, USCIS made substantial changes—organizational, programmatic, and technology-based—to its applicant support services. One of the main goals of this effort is to improve efficiencies, in part due to the increased demand for services performed in field offices by Immigration Service Officers (ISOs). Part of this effort includes implementation of the Information Services Modernization Program (InfoMod). While the InfoMod program is already demonstrating some benefits, stakeholders have expressed concern that the changes USCIS is making—centralizing the appointment scheduling system and relying on an interactive call center for more inquiries—will not provide the same level of service and assistance they believe they need.
The Asylum Vetting Center: USCIS Centralizes Asylum Screening Operations. In its 2018 Annual Report the Ombudsman noted that 318,624 affirmative applications for asylum were awaiting adjudication. As of January 2019, there were 325,277 cases pending, showing the asylum program continues to carry a significant backlog. The Asylum Vetting Center (AVC), established to implement the GAO’s recommendation to establish a national pre-screening program, is being staffed out and its routines established. Once the AVC is fully functional, it will serve as the location for centralized receipting and initial processing of affirmative asylum applications, enhancing USCIS’ ability to address both the backlogs and fraud concerns.
From Transformation to eProcessing: A New Approach.USCIS began its effort to move the agency into the digital age in 2005, and to date, has spent approximately $3.1 billion on those efforts in its “Transformation Program.” However, as Transformation experienced significant delays and operational challenges, USCIS shifted its strategy to integrating existing systems instead of replacing them with one overarching system. While USCIS has made significant progress on this initiative, called eProcessing, more work must be done before eProcessing can be mandated. System functionality, outreach to filers, and technical support all must be robust to service the millions of applicants, petitioners and other stakeholders.
Challenges Facing Timely Adjudication of Employment Authorization Documents. Between FY 2010 and FY 2018, the number of Employment Authorization Document (EAD) applications filed with USCIS has grown 63 percent and now constitutes the largest category of filings USCIS receives annually. In addition, data provided by USCIS show that EAD processing times began increasing between FY 2012 and FY 2013, and have increased over time since then. There are three factors that have converged, leading to growing EAD processing times in recent years: increased filing volume, technology challenges, and insufficient staffing. To mitigate these factors and help reduce processing times, USCIS should take certain steps, which include accelerating the use of eProcessing and increasing staffing resources.
Link to PDF: 2019 Annual Report to Congress