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We're Listening

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services logo
Last month, former U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Emilio Gonzalez discussed an editorial printed in the New York Times about USCIS’ recent application backlog--at it generated more interest from readers than any other Leadership Journal entry to date, both in terms of the numbers of readers and posted comments.

I am not surprised. We all appreciate that immigration benefits granted by USCIS, including citizenship, employment authorization, and permanent residency for immigrants and their families, are incredibly important to you--our customers and stakeholders--and our nation. We also know that our business processes are not always transparent or easily understood—they are admittedly complex. In this Journal entry, I’ll try to address some of your comments.

Many comments dealt with the surge in applications that took place after USCIS announced its new fees. After a long, in-depth review of our financial situation, we increased our fees last summer. We had to. USCIS is almost completely funded by fees, and the agency was not meeting its obligations or operating costs under the old fee structure.

To meet those obligations, we needed to invest in new facilities and technology and build our staff to improve the service our customers deserve, knowing it would take some time to accomplish. These things do. We needed to ensure funds were actually coming in the door before hiring thousands of new employees or making investments in technology.

We expected an increase in filings prior to the fee increase, but not nearly the volume of filings we received. We did not foresee the impact of the national discussion on immigration reform, or gauge the impact of an overwhelmingly effective drive by community-based organizations to encourage immigrants to file for citizenship.

Now that the fee increase is generating needed revenue, we’re hiring and training 1,334 new adjudications officer and 521 new support staff – totaling 1,855 new USCIS employees, many of whom are already on board. We’ve shifted existing employees where that made sense, moved work where capacity was available. We are rehiring retired, experienced employees, and are developing new facilities to better serve customers. We’re even conducting interviews, where needed, on Saturdays, Sundays and after normal business hours.

At the same time, we’ve embarked on a joint plan with the FBI to eliminate the name check backlog. By providing additional funds to increase the FBI’s capacity to conduct name checks, we’ll eliminate the name check backlog by the end of next summer.

As a result of these combined efforts, we are now naturalizing new citizens at record levels. But just as important as what we are doing to address the surge in naturalization applications is what we are not doing: we are not compromising the quality or national security in processing these increased applications.

Again, thank you for reading and responding to USCIS’ previous Leadership Journal entry, and for reading this one. I look forward to reading your comments. This Journal is an excellent way to communicate with our stakeholders, and one that we intend to continue.

Jonathan “Jock” Scharfen
Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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