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CIS Ombudsman Addresses Excessive Name Check Delays

by Murthy Law Firm

The CIS Ombudsman's office recently addressed various issues, including their ongoing efforts to reduce name check delays. Mr. Prakash I. Khatri, the CIS Ombudsman, held a teleconference on July 20, 2007. The purpose of the teleconference was to discuss recommendations he recently made to the USCIS. These teleconferences are part of the CIS Ombudsman's Community Call-In Teleconference Series, designed to collect information on current problems and concerns with the USCIS's procedures and practices.

Role / Functions of CIS Ombudsman

The DHS/CIS Ombudsman provides recommendations for resolving individual and employer problems with the USCIS. The Ombudsman's office also identifies recurrent issues in USCIS practice and the effects these have on customers, thereby making recommendations for improvement to the USCIS.

Ombudsman's Report : 25 Recommendations to USCIS

The Ombudsman began the July 20, 2007 teleconference by giving a brief description of his recommendations that were made to the USCIS on June 11, 2007, in his 2007 Annual Report Recommendations. The Report contains 25 recommendations highlighting the service areas in need of urgent attention. The USCIS has 90 days in which to respond to the Ombudsman's recommendations. The USCIS response has to be filed by September 11, 2007.

The areas identified as being in need of improvement include: failure to provide adequate instructions on the USCIS forms (sometimes contradicting instructions contained in memoranda, various types of guidance, instructions and supplements to instructions to forms); difficult to understand rejection / denial criteria; RFEs written using complex, legalese and technical terms; as well as other important areas. Acknowledged as most important by Mr. Khatri and many of those who participated in the teleconference, the area needing most urgent attention and improvement is long delays in adjudication due to the FBI name checks.

Statistics on FBI Name Check Delays

In his June 2007 report, the Ombudsman provided staggering statistical data on the number of name check cases pending at this time. As of May 2007, there were 329,160 cases awaiting name check results, 32 percent of which have been pending for more than a year. The disturbing tendency is toward a general increase in pending cases, as there are 93,358 more cases pending this year as compared with cases pending as of May 2006. Most troubling, however, is a 44 percent increase in the number of cases pending for 33 months or more. There are 31,144 such cases this year, compared to 21,570 such cases in 2006.

Ombudsman's Recommendations on Name Check Delays

Mr. Khatri made several recommendations to the USCIS with regard to the dire situation created by cases pending due to name check delays. In particular, Mr. Khatri recommended that the USCIS: (a) evaluate the value of the name check in its current format and establish a risk-based approach to screening for national security concerns; (b) work with the FBI to provide the necessary resources to perform name checks in a timely manner; and (c) provide greater transparency to customers by publishing monthly the number of long-pending FBI name check cases.

Mr. Khatri also indicated during the July 20, 2007 teleconference that the value of the FBI name check appears to be minimal. While it is clear that some kind of procedure to identify those who may pose danger to the U.S. security should be used, it is apparent that the FBI name check procedure currently in place is simply not working. As others have asked, if there are people who pose danger to the U.S. security, then why should we allow them to live in the U.S. for years, providing them with opportunities to work and travel into and out of the country while their name checks are pending? Would it not be more logical to identify all these people quickly - before they are able to do any damage to the United States? Mr. Khatri suggested that the government uses too many resources for the FBI name check procedure, and that it has to devote its attention to developing a different and more effective methodology.

Expect Resolution of Certain Name-Check Delayed Cases

According to Mr. Khatri, we should soon see some positive movement in the clearing of the backlog of cases that have been pending name checks for 33 months or longer. The USCIS and the Office of the Ombudsman have been working closely on this problem and there is some hope that the USCIS will soon dramatically decrease the number of cases pending due to security checks in the immediate future. While the Ombudsman appeared quite positive on this matter, no specific dates or deadlines were provided.

Conclusion

The FBI name check issue, for instance, is a good example when public outcry is being effectively conveyed to the USCIS by the Office of the Ombudsman, as a result of his discussions with the general public and the analysis of the statistical data. The efforts of Mr. Khatri are directed towards streamlining procedures used by the USCIS. We at the Murthy Law Firm applaud Mr. Khatri for his initiative to provide an open forum via regular teleconferences to discuss important issues and provide resolution to recurring problems in the USCIS.


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