OIG Issues Recommendations on USCIS Benefits Delivery Shortcomings During COVID-19
Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) February 04, 2022 – The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on December 28, 2021, that found the continued reliance on an archaic technology system and paper files slowed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) benefits delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report issued two recommendations aimed to improve the agency’s electronic processing of benefits. USCIS concurred with the recommendations.
“While it is encouraging to see that USCIS agrees with both recommendations made by the DHS OIG, this is just the first step. Now USCIS has to act,” commented Stewart Rabinowitz of the Dallas and Frisco law firm of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “The COVID-19 pandemic has given USCIS a golden opportunity to accelerate productivity by implementing the smart use of technology. For a user fee-based structure, USCIS owes timely adjudications to its petitioners and applicants, while complying with the security portion of its mission.”
OIG recommended that USCIS update its pandemic response action plan to incorporate additional technology by December 30, 2022. The second recommendation calls for the agency to adopt a revised strategy to digitize work on benefits and monitor the outcome of improving case processing times.
The inspector general’s recommendations are based on the determination that ineffective technology and a dependency on paper files slowed the work of USCIS amid office closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the agency digitized key benefits in recent years, the report found that eliminating reliance on paper files and manual workflows can help shorten processing times.
USCIS closed its offices and halted in-person services in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s infrastructure enabled the electronic processing of 17 of the 102 types of benefits it adjudicates to continue through May 2021, according to the OIG report. USCIS processed 50 percent fewer cases from March to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
USCIS had limited capacity to electronically process more than 80 types of benefits, which still required some paper files and manual workflows to adjudicate cases. Frequent technology performance problems and equipment limitations further hampered USCIS staff productivity and the approval of new benefits even after offices reopened.
OIG attributed the shortcomings to funding cuts and lost fee revenue. The operational challenges slowed the work of USCIS, increased processing wait times for applicants and led to a backlog of 3.8 million cases as of May 2021.