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USCIS Director Outlines Plan to Address Delays in Processing
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In a testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International law, Director Gonzales outlined the agency’s plans for dealing with the dramatic increases in applications and immigration petitions.

During his testimony, the Director noted that in the months of June, July and August 2007, USCIS received more than 3 million applications and petitions which was a substantial increase from the year before when the agency received 1.8 million. Specifically focusing on naturalization applications he stated that in FY 2007, the agency received double the volume of the year before and in the summer 2007 the naturalization applications surged to 350% of the volume in summer 2006. He acknowledged that this sharp increase was in part due to changes in the fee structure and the open-window provided by the July 2007 Visa Bulletin. However, he also indicated that the agency believes that this higher volume trend will continue into the future regardless of the changes in the fee structure.

To address the anticipated higher volumes, the Director outlined the agency’s strategy for the new fiscal year and beyond. The strategy revolves generally around investment and changes in three components: staffing, technology and process improvements. The stated goal of the agency is to move towards an electronic environment and automatization for certain applications such as replacement requests for expired permanent residence cards or temporary employment authorizations. They also are aiming to use technology to improve the background check process and to produce system-generated Naturalization Certificates. The Director then outlined certain other changes that the agency plans to make in its administrative procedures, especially addressing the naturalization application process, that he stated will be centralized to a Lockbox, with pro-processing at the National Benefits Center. Finally, the Director highlighted the agency’s plans to hire close to 1,800 individuals and spend $480 million dollars over the next two years to meet its higher efficiency and responsiveness goals.

While outlining the agency’s strategy, the Director insisted that although the agency is interested in improving its efficiency it will not compromise on its integrity, sound decision making or national security issues.

Finally, the Director explained that the surge of applications in 2007 will have a long-lasting effect on the agency’s adjudications timelines. Specifically that the surge has led to longer wait times for customers and the average processing time for naturalizations has increased from 7 to 18 months and for family-based adjustment-of-status applications from 6 months or less to 12 months. The agency plans to reduce these times back to six months by third quarter in FY 2010.

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