Immigration Benefits:

Several Factors Impede Timeliness of Application Processing

GAO-01-488: Published: May 4, 2001. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 2001.

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Congress, the media, and immigrant advocacy groups have criticized the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for its inability to provide immigrants with timely decisions on their applications for such benefits as naturalization and legal permanent residence. INS continues to experience significant problems managing its application workload despite years of increasing budgets and staff. Automation improvements would provide INS with the management information it needs to determine how long aliens have been waiting for their applications to be processed. Automation improvements would also help INS determine whether it is processing all the applications it receives, working on applications in the order in which they are received, and providing prompt and correct responses to applicants' inquiries about the status of their cases. INS does not know how to maximize the deployment of staff to process applications in a timely fashion because it lacks a systematically developed staff resource allocation model. Such a model could help INS determine the right number and types of staff it needs, efficiently distribute staff to the right locations, and ensure that resources are deployed commensurate with the workload to minimize backlogs and processing times. INS could reduce the need to revoke employment authorization documents by providing guidance and training on application screening to its district staff and taking steps to ascertain whether improvements could be made to the application screening process. INS' long-standing problems with its fingerprinting process appear to have been largely corrected. With digital technology now being used by INS to fingerprint aliens and transmit the fingerprints electronically to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, opportunities may exist to store the fingerprints electronically and save the time and expense associated with the refingerprinting process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CIS has responded to GAO's recommendation and developed a staffing model with estimates of staffing needs for each district, sub-office, region, and service center.

    Recommendation: The INS Commissioner should ensure that INS develop a staffing model for processing naturalization applications and expand the model to include other application types as their processes are reengineered and automated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to USCIS, review of denials to determine ineligibility for ancillary employment benefits would yield little valuable information because applications for employment are approvable if the application for adjustment of status is properly filed (per 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9)). On page 30 of our report, we state, "INS does not have agencywide quality controls to ensure that the screening of adjustment of status applications is done properly. INS ... issued guidance on the screening process for its service centers, but guidance and training have not been developed for its districts. INS also does not have a process for monitoring the quality of this screening to ensure that it is performed consistently and correctly." The intent of GAO's recommendation was for USCIS to review denied adjustment of status cases in order to improve guidance and training for adjudicators who conduct the initial review of these adjustment cases. By improving quality and consistency in the adjustment of status screening process, the number of adjustment of status applications rejected up front would increase. This would, in turn, reduce the number of instances in which employment authorization is issued to undeserving applicants. Closed as not implemented in 2008: DHS did not provide the supporting documentation after multiple requests over several years.

    Recommendation: The INS Commissioner should ensure that INS periodically review a sample of denied adjustment of status cases processed at service centers and districts to determine how many and what types of cases should not have been granted employment authorization during the screening process. This could provide useful feedback to INS in how it may improve its guidance and training for conducting the initial reviews of adjustment and status applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2001, legacy INS provided training to representatives from each INS field office on the processing of adjustment of status applications. In January 2002, standard operating procedures for adjudicating adjustment of status applications were issued, and they have since been updated. A review of the standard operating procedures indicates that detailed guidance has been provided for screening adjustment of status applications.

    Recommendation: The INS Commissioner should ensure that INS develop guidance and training for districts on how to screen adjustment of status applications in order to reduce the number of errors made in the initial review process that is used to determine whether individuals whose adjustment of status applications are pending should be granted work authorization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: An ongoing HS&J engagement on immigration application backlogs (job code 440351) will provide current information on USCIS's procedures for estimating application processing times and that USCIS still does not have an automated case management and tracking system in place to calculate actual processing times. According to USCIS, such a system is in development with deployment expected to occur in FY 2007 or later. Closed as not implemented in 2008: DHS did not provide the supporting documentation after multiple requests over several years.

    Recommendation: The INS Commissioner should ensure that INS develop the capability and begin to calculate and report actual processing times for applications as soon as reliable automated data are available from CLAIMS 3 and CLAIMS 4. This includes naturalization applications processed by service centers and districts and all other applications processed by service centers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS conducted a cost benefit analysis of several approaches to dealing with fingerprints. In February 2005, USCIS issued a project plan for its Biometric Storage System. According to USCIS, the system is still being tested and deployment of the system is on hold until testing issues are resolved and a decision is made on which organization should manage the database. Closed as not implemented in 2008: DHS did not provide the supporting documentation after multiple requests over several years.

    Recommendation: The INS Commissioner should ensure that INS prepare a cost-benefit analysis on the digital storage of fingerprints. As part of this analysis, INS should calculate the time and cost savings that would result from eliminating the need to refingerprint applicants whose fingerprint check results expire. INS should also calculate the costs that INS or the FBI would incur as a result of storing the fingerprints.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

 

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