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USCIS Must Prioritize Customer Service and Technology to Reduce Visa Backlog, Says Ombudsman

Jul 5, 2023

Each year, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman publishes an annual report on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is reviewed by the U.S. Congress.

An ombudsman is an official that plays a key role in U.S. federal agencies. An ombudsman investigates and resolves complaints through recommendations or mediation. Overall, these government officials provide a third-party option for people using federal agency services to address their issues.

The annual report by the current CIS Ombudsman Nathan Stiefel is a summary of the most pervasive problems facing USCIS and recommendations for how to tackle these challenges. For 2023, the report focused on persistent application backlogs and how to improve efficiency and the customer experience overall.

Reducing Processing Times and Visa Backlogs

The most detailed portion of the report was a deep examination of USCIS’ current processing times and the state of the visa backlog. The visa backlog and processing time delays remain a key issue for USCIS in 2023. According to government data, median processing times for 2023 show a lack of significant improvement for many form types when compared to 2022.

The Ombudsman report attributes this lack of improvement to several factors. In 2022, USCIS chose to prioritize employment-based visas and naturalization at the expense of other application types. The addition of new humanitarian parole programs and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations also exacerbated processing delays and left USCIS strapped for resources.

USCIS has attempted to tackle the backlogs by creating a new service center in 2023 with remote capabilities that is dedicated to processing humanitarian benefits and other application types. The agency also extended the validity of several kinds of receipt notices, so applicants can still work and travel while their forms are being processed.

Despite these efforts, the report discusses the many ways in which processing delays have an undeniable negative impact on customers with pending applications. Here are some of the report’s recommendations to speed up processing times and improve USCIS operations:

  • Utilize more technological solutions to increase efficiency
  • Increase staffing across USCIS to review applications more quickly and tackle persistent backlogs
  • Explore digitizing certain forms, such as Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record)
  • Build on efforts to create innovations in the adjustment of status process, such as eliminating the biometrics and interview requirements for certain green card applicants
  • Create a more coordinated approach for humanitarian parole applications
  • Streamline the TPS process by eliminating the separate Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for TPS applicants and extending TPS designation periods

Improving the Customer Experience

The second major focus of the 2023 report was how USCIS is working to improve the customer service experience and build trust. As a federal agency, USCIS must serve a large customer base that encompasses diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and education levels.

As part of its report, the Ombudsman laid out a series of recommendations for USCIS to provide more effective customer support:

  • Utilize technological solutions to expand in-person services
  • Test new virtual appointments to serve more customers
  • Roll out regular, more accessible communications to improve customer understanding
  • Provide updated training to ensure the agency is customer-service oriented
  • Invest in training and support for Contact Center representatives so they are able to resolve issues more quickly

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