United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Emilio Gonzales recently told the House subcommittee on Immigration that his agency is implementing a plan to address the long delays in the processing of applications and petitions.
The delays were caused by the dramatic surge in the number of applications and petitions filed last summer. Many had feared that the delays would be up to three years.
According to Gonzales, over 3 million were received during the three-month period, including over 737,000 naturalization applications and over 800,000 adjustment of status and related work and travel permit applications.
The sharp increase was due to the filing fee hike and the sudden opening of the employment-based 3rd preference category last July.
Gonzales said that they have expanded the work hours, added shifts and hired additional contract staff. They have also updated the USCIS website, participated in community forums and kept their customer hotline updated with information to keep the public informed about the status and progress of their applications.
To address the anticipated higher volumes, the Director outlined the Service’s strategy to expedite the processing of the applications and to manage their workload more efficiently and effectively.
The USCIS strategy is threefold: staffing, technology and process improvements.
In terms of staffing, the USCIS anticipates hiring close to 1,800 additional personnel as administrative and technology staff as well as adjudication officers to meet the increased workload.
In terms of process improvement and technology, the Service plans to transform the agency from a paper-based operation to an electronic environment. It has identified effective computerized systems for this purpose.
Among the technological initiatives is the automated processing of certain applications such as replacement of permanent resident card and temporary employment authorization. While this program will not yet be applied to naturalization applications, this technology can be used to improve on the background check process and to produce system-generated Naturalization Certificates.
Some other key enhancements by the USCIS include: “the creation of the National Security and Records Verification Directorate to oversee fraud cases; establishment of a Transformation Program Office to guide the agency’s modernization and information technology efforts and an improved USCIS web-based service and tools that will allow customers to schedule appointments, change their address, access the status of their case online and submit certain applications through e-filing.”
All these approaches will be done with the view of not compromising integrity, security and sound decision-making.
Gonzales expressed his optimism that the USCIS’ two-year response plan and innovations will result in reducing the usual processing time for naturalization applications and adjustment of status applications from the average of seven to eighteen months to six months by the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2010.
Editor’s Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at http://www.seguritan.com/