President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ur Jaddou, has a tremendous opportunity to make meaningful changes to the current system that would not only make the immigration system more effective for all involved, but save taxpayers in the process. The long-standing critique of the agency is its inefficiency and lengthy processing times. Oftentimes we forget that the agency is a customer service agency, and its operations are 97 percent funded by immigrants paying application fees.
With a number of straightforward administrative fixes, Jaddou can make things easier both for her agency and for visa applicants without the need for legislative battles and lawsuits. This will help not just to cut down administrative costs, but also to bring in people prepared to spur on our nation’s economy as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the simplest steps Jaddou can take is to waive the requirement stipulating that permanent status (green card) applicants go through an in-person interview process before USCIS in their home state. Though this is already in place for some applicants, for many it is not.
Given that the pandemic forced USCIS closures and prevented those who needed an interview from attending one, this could go a long way toward alleviating the rapidly building backlog of applications. This would also save valuable time and resources, as these interviews often do little more than go over the same information provided in an initial application – already attested to and signed – and can add an entire year to the process.
By waiving the interview altogether, USCIS would be saving time and money while also making the entire process less burdensome for all parties. It would remove unnecessary steps from an already lengthy process and lessen wait times, meaning applicants can start jobs and open businesses faster, which helps the entire economy.
Beyond waiving in-person interviews, the new director of USCIS can help improve the current immigration process by expanding what’s known as “premium processing” to employment-based visas. With premium processing, an applicant can pay $2,500 to expedite their application, which has a 15-day turnaround time versus the much more drawn-out, monthslong traditional timeline.
Right now, though, a lot of applicants who should be able to apply for premium processing (or who previously were eligible but no longer are) don’t even have it as an option. Applicants for a National Interest Waiver, for example, don’t qualify for premium processing despite their application by its very definition being in our country’s best interest. Oftentimes, even high-level executives looking to bring their business to the United States are left waiting.
Expanding this to include more work-based visas would not only generate greater revenue for USCIS, but it is also a commonsense fix that would ensure job creators and employees are not forced to spend unnecessarily long amounts of time waiting to come to the United States and get to work, helping to bolster our economy. Making that process quicker by expanding premium processing means companies develop more swiftly and jobs are created faster.
There are also two smaller — but no less important — fixes Jaddou can implement after arriving at USCIS to make the application process both easier and more transparent. The first would be to publish a formal memorandum detailing all recent policy changes in the visa application process, which will help to clarify for applicants exactly what needs to be done by announcing changes that have not yet been officially publicized. Oftentimes lawyers are left to understand policy changes through responses they receive to filings, which only delays the process further.
The second would be to resurrect the online InfoPass system for scheduling USCIS appointments and requesting case-specific information. While this was once possible, it is now simply an automated 1-800 number that makes the entire process less effective. By bringing back the online system, USCIS can avoid the lawsuits that resulted from eliminating it, while preventing hardship for applicants, attorneys and the agency’s own employees by making it easier to resolve problems and emergencies in individual cases.
Once confirmed, Jaddou will face no shortage of challenges that have built up in the U.S. immigration system in recent years. However, with these simple policy fixes – none of which requires any legislative action from Congress – she can quickly eliminate some of the more urgent issues her department is facing and help to bring in the executives, entrepreneurs, job creators, artists and more hoping to work in the United States and play their part in our economic recovery from the pandemic.
Hera Javed is an immigration attorney at J&K Law.
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