New CIS Initiatives to Reduce Backlogs; Just PR, or the Real Thing?
June 25, 2004

A recent CIS (formerly INS) press release lays out a “Backlog Elimination Strategy” designed to cut down the waiting time on all applications, including the 2+ years processing times now affecting most applications for permanent residence. The press release is sprinkled with all kinds of slick, corporate feel-good language in pronouncing its 3 primary objectives:

  1. “Achieving a high level of performance by establishing clear, concrete milestones and actively monitoring progress towards these milestones;
  2. Transforming business practices by implementing significant information technology improvements and identifying processing improvements to transform the current way of doing business; and
  3. Ensuring integrity by instituting comprehensive quality assurance measures.

According to the press release, CIS, in striving to achieve these objectives, is determined to reduce the maximum processing time for any application to 6 months by the end of 2006.

These objectives sound great and no one in their right mind would take issue with such a righteous plan. The question, however, is whether the means by which CIS seeks to achieve these objectives are realistic or effective.

The president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, an 8,000 member not-for-profit organization, testified this week before Congress’ House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims raising important questions regarding CIS’ proposed and current measures to execute on their new mission statement.

Outsourcing: Like many organizations in corporate America, the U.S. government has hopped on the outsourcing bandwagon. CIS touts the establishment of a user-friendly customer service program – which AILA’s president pointed “must have seemed like a good idea at the time”, serviced primarily by non-CIS employees. In theory, information on pending applications is to be available at the touch of a 1-800 national customer service line. In reality, the representatives providing “customer service” are merely reading off pre-fab scripts and providing information, such as processing times, generally otherwise available online at the CIS website. No contact with representatives at the actual CIS site in question takes place and the attending personnel generally receive little, if any, substantive immigration procedure or policy training. Although CIS has acknowledged shortcomings with this program, it remains unclear whether pending initiatives to further outsource additional CIS functions will be aborted.

Electronic filing and online information: CIS efforts to implement new technologies to streamline the processing of certain applications were applauded, although some of the measures were seen as more show and glitz than substance. Specifically, the availability of online information regarding the status of certain filings pending at the four regional service centers was praised, as were CIS initiatives to receive and maintain applicant biometric information. But new programs for online filing of applications for employment authorization or other benefits was seen as less than efficient since the adjudication of such filings was still subject to the same processing backlogs once the applicant’s information and filing was accepted.

Extending validity periods of employment authorization and advance parole travel documents: A proposal to extend the validity of such documents beyond their current validity periods of 1 year is generally seen as a positive step since eligibility for these types of immigration benefits is at play only while I-485, applications for adjustment of status to permanent residence are pending – and that processing of I-485 applications are generally taking in excess of 2 years. Thus, on the one hand, obviating the need and expense for applicants to renew such documents after 1 year is a good thing, but on the other hand, aren’t we just creating a temporary (and prone to be permanent) band aid solution to a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place?

Copyright © 2004-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois