No Surprise: Ombudsman's Annual Report Says USCIS Faces 'Unprecedented Challenges' Due to Pandemic, Backlogs, Financial Issues
The Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman's Annual Report for 2021 states that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) "faces unprecedented challenges this year on virtually every front-from financial pressures to substantial backlogs across applications and petitions of all types." The Covid-19 pandemic "created unique challenges for USCIS," the report notes, including temporary office closures and a lack of the ability for "end-to-end electronic processing." Once USCIS returned to operations at a reduced capacity, the agency had substantial backlogs of in-person appointments that needed rescheduling. The pandemic also exacerbated the agency's preexisting financial issues and "decimated carryover funding needed to maintain its operations." The problems began in 2020 and persisted into 2021: "The lingering effects of temporary office closures, insufficient revenue, and budget cuts continue to impact processing time and customer service functions."
The report also identified other key areas of focus, including persistent problems with the issuance of Notices to Appear; challenges in the medical disability test waiver process; continuing complications in USCIS's digital strategy; and issues in international student programs, among others.
The report identifies several key objectives, including expanded electronic filing and processing capabilities, increased outreach with stakeholders, and improved coordination between USCIS and other government agencies.
· Annual Report 2021, Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, June 30, 2021, Dept. of Homeland Security, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/dhs_2021_ombudsman_report_med_verified.pdf
OFLC Releases FAQ on Implementation of Revised ETA-9141
On July 16, 2021, the Department of Labor's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) released Round 3 of frequently asked questions (FAQs) from the National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC) to respond to inquiries from a webinar on implementing the revised Form ETA-9141, Application for Prevailing Wage Determination. The revised form provides a separate section to be completed by employers who accept alternative job requirements in addition to the minimum job requirements.
OFLC said the new alternative job requirements section (1) improves NPWC's ability to ensure that prevailing wages provided to employers and listed on the Form ETA-9089 do not adversely affect U.S. workers and support a valid labor market test in instances where the alternative requirements would result in a higher wage; and (2) reduces employers'' burden of completing a separate Form ETA-9141 for each set of requirements.
· OFLC notice, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor
USCIS Updates Addresses for Filing Locations for Certain Forms I-131
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has adjusted the addresses for certain applicants filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. USCIS did not change any filing locations but "refined attention lines and ZIP codes to improve internal processes at our lockboxes." The address update affects:
· Applicants with a pending Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, who are filing Form I-131 alone with a Form I-485 receipt notice;
· Haitian family members filing for advance parole under the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program;
· Cuban family members filing under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program;
· Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients;
· Humanitarian parole applicants;
· Refugee travel document applicants;
· Temporary Protected Status applicants; and
· All other applicants as noted on the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-131 page.
USCIS said that it will still process any I-131 applications that were already mailed to the previous lockbox address.
· USCIS release, July 22, 2021, https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/filing-location-updates-for-certain-forms-i-131 · Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-131, updated July 22, 2021, https://www.uscis.gov/i-131-addresses
USCIS Conducts Second Random Selection From Previously Submitted FY 2022 H-1B Cap Registrations
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on July 29, 2021, that it needed to select additional H-1B registrations to reach the fiscal year (FY) 2022 quota. On July 28, 2021, the agency selected additional previously submitted electronic registrations using a random selection process. The petition filing period based on registrations selected on July 28 will begin on August 2 and close on November 3, 2021. Individuals with selected registrations will have their myUSCIS accounts updated to include a selection notice, which includes details of when and where to file. Registration selection only indicates that petitioners are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions; it does not indicate that the petition will be approved.
USCIS conducted an initial random selection in March 2021 of electronic registrations submitted for the FY 2022 H-1B cap and of beneficiaries eligible for the advanced degree exemption. The initial filing period for those selected for FY 2022 was April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021.
On July 27, 2021, a group of plaintiffs in Liu v. Mayorkas filed a motion seeking to preliminarily enjoin the defendants from implementing, applying, or enforcing the H-1B cap registration rules (8 CFR § 214.2(h)(8)(iii)). They alleged that the Department of Homeland Security exceeded its authority and argued that implementation of the rules is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law. This was because there was evidence and data indicating that the FY 2022 registration process, if implemented, would lead to fraud, abuse, and a likely second lottery. Arguments regarding the injunction request will be heard on August 27, 2021.
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