A new report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not adequately manage the U visa program.
Congress created the U visa program to protect victims and help law enforcement investigate and prosecute serious crimes. The program allows noncitizens, who are victims of serious crimes, or who cooperate with investigations or prosecutions of such crimes, to temporarily remain and work in the United States.
In 2010, USCIS implemented a waitlist process due to the growing number of petitioners. In August 2019, USCIS estimated that petitioners would wait more than a decade to receive a U visa if policies and processing procedures remain the same. While on the waitlist, principal petitioners and their derivatives receive deferred action or parole and may apply for work authorization. In 2012, USCIS contracted with an independent institute to assess the U visa program. From 2017 through 2020, USCIS internally reviewed its U visa program processes and procedures. Although these reviews are not publicly available, USCIS kept them for internal use and shared them with OIG’s audit team. These reviews identified and recommended ways USCIS could improve education, outreach, and communication with law enforcement.
OIG’s own audit found that USCIS did not fully address U visa program fraud risks. For example, the watchdog identified 10 USCIS approved petitions with forged, unauthorized, altered or suspicious law enforcement certifications. According to OIG, USCIS also did not track outcomes of U visa program fraud referrals.
The audit also found that USCIS did not establish quantifiable and measurable performance goals to ensure the U visa program achieves its intended purpose. Additionally, OIG found that USCIS did not ensure its data systems accurately captured the number of U visas granted.
Finally, OIG found that USCIS did not effectively manage the growing backlog of petitions.
OIG said the issues identified occurred because USCIS has not taken steps to address and implement recommendations from previous internal and external U visa program reviews.
The watchdog’s report makes five recommendations:
- Implement additional controls that mitigate risks of fraudulent forms, such as requiring certifying officials to submit forms directly to USCIS.
- Improve USCIS data systems to ensure accurate reporting of U visas granted.
- Develop a plan to track the outcome of U visa-related fraud referrals and take steps to further mitigate fraud risks.
- Take steps to timely protect eligible petitioners awaiting initial adjudication due to the backlog.
- Enhance performance metrics to ensure the program achieves its purpose.
USCIS argued that it has already implemented robust controls to address fraud risk and added that it is updating technology so that the tracking system is more robust for reporting and detailed tracking, including accounting for complex case-level adjudicative actions. The agency also said it implemented a new U visa Bona Fide Determination (BFD) process in June 2021 to decrease initial review processing times, which it believes would address the fourth recommendation. In addition, it is developing a specific code for Employment Authorization Documents issued under the new U visa BFD program, which it expects to complete by September 30, 2022.
USCIS was critical of OIG’s audit in general, saying it misinterpreted the statutory and regulatory scheme; asserted USCIS did not assist law enforcement; did not recognize USCIS improvement actions; did not account for the statutory cap in the backlog; applied problematic and misleading statistics; and other concerns.