An Outdated System Slowed Immigration Benefits During the Pandemic

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has had difficulty processing benefits due to its dependence on paper files. This problem occurred during the pandemic and continued to occur once the offices reopened after they had closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the slow processing time in adjudicating immigration benefits and temporary work visas, which is done by the USCIS and the Department of Homeland security, is due to the ineffective technology of the USCIS. This issue caused a large backlog of cases and increased waiting times for applicants.

The Office of Inspector General issued a report recommending that the USCIS put in place a plan to digitize work on benefits and incorporate more technology into their system in order to update their response to the pandemic. The USCIS has stated that they are already in the process of complying with the recommendations.

The current administration has said that it will decrease the waiting times at the USCIS. However, backlogs have increased during the last year. Some immigration groups have recently filed class-action lawsuits against the USCIS because of the long wait times for obtaining benefits.

The USCIS is only able to electronically process 17 of every 102 of the benefits it adjudicates. The rest of the benefits were delayed due to office closures that occurred as a result of the pandemic when it began early in 2020. When those offices reopened, they only allowed limited access to the facilities, which slowed down the work the staff was able to do.

The staff has had only limited ability to handle normal work such as printing and scanning documents, mailing forms to applicants, or obtaining signatures from their supervisors. There were also difficulties with technology performance, further slowing the work of approving new benefits in addition to the field and asylum offices lacking access to a sufficient number of devices such as tablets that would enable them to conduct video interviews after they did reopen.

All of these problems caused a considerable slowdown in the agency’s work. In fact, from March through June of 2020, 50% fewer cases were completed by the USCIS when comparing the work to the same period in the previous year.

The USCIS stated that they will have a report on what they have learned from the COVID-19 experience and that this report will be a part of an updated pandemic action plan. Additionally, the agency has sent a five-year plan to digitize its benefits work to lawmakers. The best way to prevent your hiring process from being slowed down by needless paperwork is to use an electronic I-9 management tool. This can make the employment verification process simple by guiding HR staff through it every step of the way.

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