Known Employer Program a Model of Efficiency, USCIS Director Says

Rodriguez defends his agency’s recent fee increases

By Roy Maurer Jun 21, 2016
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The Known Employer pilot program to preapprove employers that frequently hire foreign workers, which launched in March 2016, could become a model for more efficient government processes, said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Leon Rodriguez.

Rodriguez told attendees of the Council for Global Immigration’s 2016 Symposium June 20, in Washington, D.C., that while “it’s too early to tell what we’re learning from the pilot, I personally think that this is a very promising and very common sense idea.”

Known Employer would save time and paperwork for both employers and the government, and it draws on ideas long advocated by the Council for Global Immigration.

“The system upon which we operate is outdated,” Rodriguez said. “It does not reflect the realities and needs of business. [Known Employer] will give us a way to avoid petitioners having to submit the same information over and over again when they petition for different beneficiaries. It’s my hope that it becomes not just a platform for the particular visa categories for which it is being used now but becomes a model for how we define efficiencies in many areas of adjudication and the work we do at USCIS.”

Portability Rule Imminent

Rodriguez explained that President Barack Obama’s November 2014 business-oriented executive actions on immigration “put us in as improved a position as we could be with respect to the talent competition around the world.”

USCIS is working with “deliberate speed” to finalize a rule to improve job portability for certain beneficiaries with approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions. Proposed in January 2016, it would protect workers with approved green card petitions from losing their priority date in green card backlogs while they change jobs, establish a 60-day grace period for temporary foreign workers who have lost their jobs, clarify various H-1B status extensions and cap exemptions, and automatically extend certain work authorization documents to minimize authorization gaps.

Fee Increases Defended

The director also defended the agency’s recent decision to raise filing fees for immigration and naturalization applications and petitions by an overall average of 21 percent, most likely later this summer. After a review, USCIS found that current fees do not recover the full costs of the services the agency provides.

But Rodriguez has heard the feedback that “if we’re going to charge more, we had better improve our service.” And he agrees with that notion. “That’s a point of accountability. But I’m convinced we need the increase, in order to be able to deliver the service we should. We have not had significant across-the-board increases since 2010. Our subsidized lines of business have exploded since then.”

Make Sure You Contact the Correct Service Center

On March 1, USCIS began transferring certain cases to the recently opened Potomac Service Center in the Washington, D.C., area from other service centers to balance workloads. The affected casework includes I-765 applications for employment authorization filed for students and I-90 applications to replace green cards.

“This decision was based on staffing and available resources,” said Sophia Cox, a senior policy advisor at USCIS. “We are continually looking at where we have capacity, filing volumes and staffing issues,” she said.

One of the workload distribution changes involves certain H-1B petitions moving to the Nebraska Service Center in Lincoln, specifically petitions for continuation of previously approved employment without a change of employer. The grace period for employers to continue filing these petitions with the California and Vermont service centers will end Aug. 31.

“We are encouraging all employers to file these petitions directly with Nebraska. Inadvertently sent petitions after Aug. 31 may be rejected,” she said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy

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