Top 8 Ways USCIS Can Pandemic Proof Immigration Processing
The Novel Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on not just the human respiratory system, but entire economies, as a result of fear-induced aversion to public gatherings, including and especially the workplace. The U.S. government infrastructure is faced with an unprecedented need to accommodate to this pandemic in order to slow its impact. For the first time, the Office of Personnel Management is urging federal agencies to permit remote work for its employees.
Now is as good a time as any for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to consider revising its processing of civil immigration matters. Our top proposals include:
1. Revising I-9 Rules for Employers
Currently, USCIS rules require employers to verify every single U.S. employee’s work authorization by completing a Form I-9. Employers are required by law to verify and physically inspect the authenticity of the new employee’s work and identity documents.
Assuming we don’t head straight into a recession after this pandemic, and employers continue to hire, USCIS must come up with a novel way to permit employers to remotely verify the work authorization of its workforce. Once such method would be to allow teleconferencing during the I-9 document inspection and allowing employees to fax or email in documents to employers for record-keeping.
2. Accepting Wider Online Petition and Application Submission
Although Ellis was a force to be reckoned with on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, the same cannot be said for the ELIS system created by USCIS in 2013. Sadly, the Electronic Immigration System had such high hopes and dreams yet it was shuttered fairly quickly, without much fanfare, to be replaced by a new system, myUSCIS, which currently only allows a handful of applications to be submitted online.
USCIS should further enhance the system to provide a wider availability of applications and petitions to be submitted online, with the option for payments to be remitted simultaneously.
3. Moving to Digital Confirmations in Lieu of Paper Notices
While Form I-797 Notices of Actions are as varied as the colors in the rainbow, does this digital revolution still mandate paper-only interactions?
USCIS should permit applicants and petitioners the option of receiving digital only receipts, notices and approvals (or at least provide a portal where this documentation can be downloaded). Considering the USCIS already produces barcoded government notices that contains critical metadata when scanned, there is simply no reason not to move to a digital-only medium, if an applicant or petitioner affirmatively requests. This would also further result in a savings in mailing costs as well as a savings in time to print and send physical documents.
4. Eliminating In-Person Employment-Based Greencard Interviews
Counsel wasn’t thrilled when USCIS announced in 2017 it would begin requiring the interviewing of foreigners applying for their greencards based on employment. The rationale was that USCIS had already reviewed the paperwork, and background checks were already conducted, and the fact the foreigner already was employed (or had a job waiting for him/her/them), the interview was excessive and served to delay the process, as well as create a backlog. (A backlog it has become indeed!)
USCIS’ limited resources would be better served eliminating this in-person interviewing requirement altogether, and, like the olden days, reserve the right to an in-person interview should the facts of the application necessitate it. Given the wide work portability rules, what legitimate interest does the employment-based interview serve anyway?
5. Allowing Digital RFE Responses
Currently, when USCIS issues a request for evidence, a response exceeding 25 pages normally must be filed via hard copy. The irony is that USCIS will typically fax this request for additional evidence and then ask for the response to be submitted in hard copy.
Oh dear…. Need I say more?
6. Permitting FOIA responses to be downloaded digitally
It is not uncommon for USCIS to respond to a FOIA by providing a compact disc. (Cue the forehead slapping emoji here…) Why?
If the data has been saved digitally on a CD, why spend additional funds and time to physically mail it? Why not permit a digital download from a secure portal?
7. Enabling Digital Expedite Requests
Today, a request to expect an advance parole, after it has already been filed and pending with USCIS, must be made affirmatively by phone whereby USCIS will then call the applicant to schedule an appointment locally (if the applicant is lucky enough) …. For those of you who have never called the USCIS 800 phone number, it is truly a unique way to spend an entire afternoon.
If only there was a mechanism online that allowed applicants to schedule an appointment locally at the USCIS office closest to them…. Wait, there used to be that system called INFOPass.
We don’t need to bring back INFOPass in its earlier form, USCIS could certainly develop an INFOPass Version 2.0 to enable applicants needing emergency travel request to request so digitally, provide justification online.
Also, USCIS should enable an online expedite process for other processes. Currently, for any matters where premium processing is allowed, petitioners must do so via hard copy and send in a check or money order.
Yawn… can USCIS please implement an online expedite process where the premium processing fee could also be paid online?
8. Permit Teleconferencing of Interviews
Prior to the live rollout of the H-1B online lottery registration, Counsel attended no fewer than 4 webinars presented by USCIS…. So there is proof that USCIS is aware that web conferencing technology (including Live YouTube) exists and can be successfully deployed.
USCIS should consider providing teleconferencing, as an option, to petitioners, applicants and beneficiaries on matters that normally require an in-person interview, especially in low-risk, no-fraud, clearly approvable cases.
Ann Cun is the Managing Attorney at Accel Visa Attorneys, PC, a U.S. immigration and nationality law practice based in San Leandro, California. During this pandemic, Ann has been taking prudent measures to ensure the well being of her employees and help the firm’s clients navigate the evolving immigration landscape. Ann can be reached at accelvisa.com.