USCIS is different than some other agencies, in that the agency self-finances though petition fees that they process. USCIS has requested $1.2 billion dollars in emergency funding from congress to cover their expenses over a two-year period. In an effort to reduce their costs, USCIS has notified 13,400 of their employees that they will be furloughed. USCIS stated that they don’t expect the furlough to last more than 90 days, stating that the budget crisis is a result of COVID-19 and decreased petitions. The agency has seen a drastic reduction of applications for, what can only be assumed, a variety of reasons. People who are not working cannot afford to pay the huge filing fees to petition for their immigration benefits. People who want benefits know that the process will take an exorbitant amount of time and choose not to undertake the process. This process will further be delayed by a lack of USCIS employees and restrictions on travel under the COVID travel ban.
Over the course of years, USCIS has added additional requirements and scrutiny’s to the requirements of an immigration application. They have added multiple layers to the application process, mailing applications from location to location and from department to department. The agency cashes and receives the funds for applications at the time the application is sent in. The retain the funds for biometrics testing, even if they elect not to require the testing. The application, depending on the benefits sought, takes two years or more to complete the administrative process and issue the approved benefits. These applicants have already paid the agency for their benefits, who openly admit are not receiving the volume of new applications, should be receiving their approvals faster, owing to the smaller number of cases. The agency should be using the money they were already paid to process the current applications, and worry about having a smaller department in the future because they have less applications to process as fewer are coming in. Agencies who operate on income generated by applications, should operate under the same constraints that businesses do. USCIS operates on their own timeline, with no accountability to applicants.
How do we reconcile this problem in the future?
The question arises on how to “fix” the problem. The first step is to simplify the application process. Applications for familial benefits, such as a spouse, should require three questions. Are you currently married (to a U.S. citizen)? If yes, we move on to question two. Is the purpose of this marriage solely for immigration benefits? If no, we move on to question three. Have you even been arrested for, convicted of, or associated with any of the crimes and organizations that are forbidden to receive benefits? If no, issue the approved application and move on with the next matter. A background check can be done, almost instantaneously, to determine the veracity of the final question. This whole process should only take about an hour to complete. Any additional information requested is intended to slow down the application process or trip up the applicant. Our government should be in the business of improving our interactions with them, not throwing up stumbling blocks and friction in the procedures. By simplifying the process, the agency would be able to consolidate their resources and the applicant could receive their approvals in a reasonable time frame. Now is the time that USCIS should reconsider the overly complex system they created and refocus their efforts in serving the public on their immigration needs.