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Ombudsman Recommendation Update: USCIS Adjudication of Applications for Refugee Status

On April 14, 2010, the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (Ombudsman’s Office) recommended enhancements to three aspects of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refugee adjudications: (1) Expedited processing for applicants in exigent circumstances; (2) Interviews leading USCIS to deny an application; and (3) Denials prompting the filing of a Request for Reconsideration (RFR). USCIS responded to these recommendations on July 21, 2010. This One Year Later update is intended to provide the status of any actions taken by USCIS to implement the recommendations made by the Ombudsman as of September 2011.

Ombudsman Recommendation 1

Publicly state, on the USCIS website and through stakeholder groups, the criteria by which USCIS expedites certain emergent cases.

USCIS Response

USCIS agreed with this recommendation and has been working with the Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) to develop expedite criteria and procedures.

Status as of September 2011

In November 2010, DOS provided its Overseas Processing Entities (previously referred to as OPEs and now called Resettlement Support Centers) with draft guidance for review and comment. DOS is working to incorporate this input prior to issuing a final policy document that will be used by both USCIS and DOS.

Ombudsman Recommendation 2

Clearly state the reason for denying a refugee application:

(a) Identify issues of concern during the applicant's interview to enable the applicant to address, at that time, any potential grounds for denial; and
(b) Articulate in the Notice of Ineligibility for Resettlement clear and case-specific information regarding the grounds for denial.

Status as of September 2011

USCIS partially agreed with this recommendation. Regarding recommendation 2(a), USCIS noted that refugee officers are already trained to carefully gather testimony and facts to support their analysis of the applicant's eligibility and to provide applicants with an opportunity to address any issues of concern. Regarding recommendation 2(b), USCIS stated that it is assessing whether the revised "Notice of Ineligibility for Resettlement" (Notice), issued in fall 2009, provides refugee applicants with sufficient information to adequately explain the legal or factual basis for the decision.

Status as of September 2011

USCIS stated in response to the recommendation that no further action will be taken "other than ongoing training and monitoring of the issue." Stakeholders observed: "No matter the amount of training, some officers will do a phenomenal job on an interview and give applicants every opportunity to respond to inconsistencies/issues of concern – while other officers may notÉa serious issue here is the quality of supervisor review (especially the team leaders on the circuit ride) – if the officer misses something, the hope is the supervisor would catch it." Regarding 2(b), USCIS stated in its response to the recommendations and subsequently that it will update the Ombudsman’s Office during the first quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2012 with findings on the "efficacy of the Notice." Stakeholders report to the Ombudsman's Office that the portion of the Notice where space is provided to describe the case-specific legal or factual basis for the adverse decision is often left blank. In such cases, denied refugee applicants are left with the challenge of drafting a precise, concise, and meaningful RFR.

Ombudsman Recommendation 3

Issue guidance on how to file a Request for Reconsideration of a denied refugee application:

(a) Provide a tip sheet on relevant supporting document outlining the information applicants could include; and
(b) Publish mailing address(es) for Requests for Reconsideration submissions.

USCIS Response

USCIS agreed with both elements of this recommendation.

Status as of September 2011

USCIS posted an RFR Tip Sheet and updated mailing addresses on its website in March 2011. The implementation of these recommendations is welcome. USCIS continually updates its website with information and continues to translate the Tip Sheet into various languages. However, stakeholders report that more communication among United States Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP) partners is needed regarding this new USCIS Tip Sheet. USCIS is one of several partners and has sole responsibility for the RFR. In April 2011, subsequent to the posting of the Tip Sheet, stakeholders reported receiving formal information from other USRAP partners pertaining to RFRs that was inconsistent with the USCIS Tip Sheet, including language and length requirements. Ensuring the consistency of information provided by USRAP partners to individuals seeking a RFR would assist with effective implementation of this recommendation.

Ombudsman Recommendation 4

Acknowledge receipt of each Request for Reconsideration submitted.

USCIS Response

USCIS agreed with this recommendation and has been working to refine its newly created case management system for overseas adjudications.

 

Status as of September 2011

This recommendation has been implemented. Prior to the Ombudsman's recommendations, USCIS began refining its overseas adjudication case management system, which has the capability to track RFR processing activities and indicated to the Ombudsman's Office that it expected to have the capability to "issue RFR receipt notices by the end of the 2nd quarter of FY 2011." Through that system, USCIS designed and implemented a standardized notice of receipt and, on May 16, 2011, instructed all overseas field offices to begin providing the standard notice upon receipt of an RFR.

Conclusion

USCIS has implemented a number of innovative strategies to improve the quality and effectiveness of its refugee processing program, both before and after the Ombudsman's recommendations were issued. USCIS should be applauded for these actions. While recognizing these advancements, stakeholders continue to seek additional efforts that promote consistency and transparency of information in the adjudication and review process.

Last Published Date: July 16, 2012
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