One of my very good friends from Jamaica has so far spent thousands of dollars in attorney and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) fees to process her permanent residency application, but remains in limbo, caught up in the agency’s backlog.
This means that she is constantly doing the limbo with a mere work permit on keeping her job and her driver’s license, which she has to pay hundreds to renew every couple of months because of the work permit renewal backlog as well.
Sadly, she is not alone but shares the pain of 13 million-plus immigrants awaiting immigration benefit requests currently. It is a dance that is all too familiar for immigrants. When has the USCIS not had a backlog?
On July 7, the USCIS’ Ombudsman office issued its 2022 report addressing the dilemma and shockingly noted that while the “USCIS has always had its share of backlog issues,” there has been “none so severe in recent memory as the ones it currently confronts.”
The report added that “these lengthy processing times and the high number of unadjudicated cases, has been largely created out of the pandemic’s unprecedented effect on its ability to operate, insufficient revenue since the agency is funded by immigrant fees, and employee attrition.”
Sadly these are not just “cases” but real lives, and it is causing harm to applicants and petitioners daily, especially for those without their renewed Employment Authorization documents, who have been let go in some instances.
The Ombudsman is correct in stating that: “The USCIS’ commitment to mitigating its backlogs of cases must be matched with a full commitment to eradicating the worst of these pain points for applicants and petitioners so that they may continue to work, travel, obtain evidence of status, and be able to access expedited processing, when eligible, in a meaningful and consistent way.”
And the Ombudsman’s Office had more recommendations for USCIS, including to:
1: Build on existing automatic extension periods to allow for uninterrupted work authorization while waiting for it to adjudicate a renewal EAD application.
2: Provide better options for nonimmigrant spouses to renew their employment authorization.
3: Allow applicants to file for renewal EADs earlier and issue renewal EADs with validity periods that begin when the original EAD expires.
4: Continue to expedite EAD renewals for workers in certain occupations in the national interest.
5: Further explore and augment the use of technology, including online filing and machine learning, to automate EAD processing.
6: Implement new regulations that provide more flexibility for USCIS and approved workers during periods of backlogs or long processing delays.
7: Increase flexibility in the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification process; and
8: Eliminate the need for a separate EAD application when filing for certain benefits.
The Ombudsman also suggests: “USCIS should: establish a centralized process for expedite requests; create a new form for submitting expedite requests; develop standardized guidance about the requirements and process; and engage in robust data collection to maintain accountability” to make the expedite process more efficient.
These are all very valid recommendations and needed. But what the Ombudsman’s report fails to address is that approximately 97% of the USCIS’s budget is funded by the filing fees it collects from USCIS’ fee-paying customers.
And most importantly, completion rates are based on the number of hours it takes to fully process a specific application. This means that the more time spent deciding a request, the higher the fee the agency can charge to recover the cost of processing it.
So why would the agency want to process applications faster when it can charge more for longer processing and keep itself funded?
It is time the Joe Biden administration also recommends funding the agency with congressional appropriations instead of application fees. The model is failing and USCIS has delivered a 1 star in service on a scale of 1-10, in exchange for the thousands in fees it collects per applicant.
The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow.com – The Black Immigrant Daily News.