As immigration lawyers, we deal extensively with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and when the agency announced in June that it needed to furlough almost 70 percent of its staff to deal with budgetary shortfalls, we were concerned. As we wrote at the time, the budgetary challenges USCIS faced were largely the result of the current administration adding unnecessary, labor-intensive steps to routine processes, which made them more costly without bringing in additional revenue to an agency funded by users’ fees.
Since then, two possible solutions have been proposed, neither of them particularly good:
Both solutions address USCIS’ budgetary issues, but they come with problems:
The Emergency Stopgap Bill proposes to address USCIS’ budgetary needs by expanding premium processing. Premium processing allows applicants to pay an additional fee for expedited processing. Normally, when a company or an individual files an application with USCIS, the processing time is at the mercy of the agency. In some categories and in some occasions this may be a reasonable time, say a few months. In many cases, it is an unreasonable time given the benefit sought. For example, it can take more than 10 months to extend a work visa—a visa the applicant already has—and these delays can causes knock-on hardships. A delay getting a work visa extension can prevent an applicant from being able to extend a driver’s license.
Currently, a handful of applications can be filed under premium processing. Applicants pay an extra $1,440 to, basically, get USCIS to do its work in a timely manner, roughly two weeks. This does not mean applicants get approved in two weeks; it means USCIS makes a decision in two weeks. Every immigration lawyer can tell you horror stories of getting kitchen-sink requests for evidence or worse, requests for documents that were submitted on the last day of the premium processing period.
Expanded premium processing comes with benefits. I would love to be able to file as many things as possible under premium processing because it gives us better ways to track applications and communicate with USCIS. The latter is valuable since almost all of the channels of communication with USCIS have been shut down in the last three-and-a-half years. And really, most people would pay an arm and a leg to know that everything is okay.
Again though, applicants would essentially be paying USCIS additional fees to communicate with their immigration lawyers, something that should be basic customer service.
As lawyers, we often get paid when someone hires us, but we have to put that money in our trust account until we earn it. USCIS has spent all the filing fees of all the people who have filed applications with them for that specific piece of work—money they haven’t earned yet—and now they want to charge even more to not earn the fees. I have a suggestion that wouldn’t further burden applicants. In FY 2019, the Department of Homeland Security levied more than $14 million in fines against employers engaged in unauthorized hiring, primarily I-9 violations. How about we just take that money and direct it to USCIS?
Are you having legal issues with Immigration? Do you need legal representation?