By statute, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) submits an Annual Report to Congress by June 30 of each year. Our Annual Report must provide a summary of the most pervasive and serious problems encountered by individuals and employers applying for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Annual Report also reviews past recommendations to improve USCIS programs and services.
Highlights of the 2021 Annual Report
The Pandemic and its Impact on USCIS’ Operations. The pandemic created significant challenges to USCIS operations and compounded an already strained fiscal situation. Temporary office closures led to extensive backlogs for in-person appointments, and adjudications were hampered by the lack of end-to-end electronic processing capabilities for many benefit types. We review how USCIS coped with the pandemic, where it offered innovative solutions - and where it did not. The Report encourages the continued use of creative approaches for gaining operational efficiencies and mitigating challenges, recognizing the Agency’s ongoing resource constraints.
Issuance and Coordination of Notices to Appear (NTAs). Although USCIS has rescinded its 2018 NTA guidance, challenges remain, including a lack of transparency, jurisdictional issues and delays in adjudicating benefit requests for applicants in removal proceedings. While USCIS contemplates the issuance of future guidance, the Report offers suggestions to enhance interagency coordination and operations, along with options to help improve administrative efficiency in moving cases forward.
Petitions for Removal of Conditions for Conditional Permanent Residents. USCIS has perennially deprioritized processing of petitions for removal of conditions for conditional permanent residents (CPRs) based on marriage. This leads to numerous challenges for CPRs, including lapses in status documentation and delays in naturalization. This Report re-examines the creation of the conditions over a generation ago and studies the reasons USCIS has struggled to meet statutory timeframes for adjudicating Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. We also make some specific suggestions to improve processing times and minimize the adverse effect of processing delays, especially in light of cross-adjudication of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
The Medical Disability Waiver Process. The Report looks at naturalization from the perspective of the most vulnerable populations, particularly problems encountered by applicants who submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, to seek a waiver of the English and civics requirements for naturalization. It reviews challenges encountered by those seeking waivers and offers recommendations for making the processing of such waivers more consistent and less cumbersome.
An Update on the Continuing Complications of USCIS’ Digital Strategy. USCIS has made strides in expanding online filing and digital adjudications, but its goal of an end-to-end electronic strategy has yet to be fully achieved. We review the agency’s accomplishments and obstacles to full implementation of a digital platform and offer several recommendations to improve current processing and tackle administrative hurdles. Our recommendations include using electronic filing as a means to minimize lockbox frontlogs and facilitate more efficient adjudication, especially of high-volume filings, developing an online portal for submitting Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative, and allowing credit card payments for all filing fees.
International Student Programs. The administration of international student programs is beset by inconsistent guidance, processing delays, challenges with interagency communication and lack of timely information shared with the Designated School Officials who advise international students. To address these challenges, we offer specific recommendations to bridge the gap between USCIS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to better manage the program holistically and proactively, rather than by reacting to problems as they arise.