The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) annual report to Congress focused on reducing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) backlog of immigration cases. The USCIS has a backlog of approximately 5.2 million cases and about 8.5 million pending. This backlog is even more than the 2.7 million cases in 2019.
One of the problems causing the backlog is that the USCIS is severely short-staffed and struggling to hire enough employees. It also takes 97 to 118 days to complete the onboarding process once the USCIS decides to hire someone.
Lately, the agency has concentrated mainly on hiring supervisory personnel. In addition, they have increased internal promotions and improved the human resources infrastructure to support a more extensive staff. This change is vital because the USCIS plans to hire over 4,000 employees by the end of 2022. Furthermore, the agency has set new cycle time goals for the 2023 fiscal year. These goals are internal management metrics and are similar to median processing times.
USCIS has been trying to improve the processing times for applicants in certain vital positions, such as childcare and healthcare workers, by making accommodations for these applicants to speed up the process. Individuals in these industries who need to renew their employment authorizations may ask for an expedited review and completion of the documents necessary for their work authorization. Additionally, the validity period of the work permit has increased to two years from the previous period of one year.
Another step the USCIS is taking to help reduce backlogs and speed up processing times is the expansion of premium processing. Premium processing is available to eligible applicants for an additional fee. However, because human workers run the premium processing, there is a limit to how many cases will be processed. Therefore, the USCIS must also hire more workers to increase these processing times.
Another issue the USCIS needs to address is the funding model. The USCIS predominantly depends on the fees it receives for its services. The lack of dedicated appropriations can make it difficult for the USCIS to handle its backlog of cases and provide other services that are not fee-based. Dedicated allocations would make it easier for the agency to hire personnel and work through their backlog of cases.
Making the necessary improvements will take time, but according to the DHS, the USCIS intends to succeed. The USCIS will continue working on the approximately 5.2 million backlogged cases and 8.5 million pending cases in the meantime.
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