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Saturday, December 2, 2023

USCIS ‘Turning the Tide’ on COVID-Driven Backlog of Cases

More than a million new U.S. citizens were welcomed by USCIS in FY 2022, a 62 percent reduction in the net backlog of naturalization applications.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a new report that the agency is “turning the tide on its pending caseload” and has stopped its backlog from getting any larger “through an ongoing hiring surge and drive to find new efficiencies in case processing.”

The USCIS Fiscal Year 2022 Progress Report also details how the agency surged resources to meet the needs of war-impacted refugees in Operation Allies Welcome and Uniting for Ukraine, with more than 92,000 work permits issued for Afghan nationals and nearly 120,000 travel authorizations issued to Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members.

USCIS also highlighted its implementation of several new Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations, redesignations, and extensions, including for Afghanistan, Burma, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen. “In FY 2021 and FY 2022 combined, USCIS received 483,000 initial TPS applications — an extraordinary number of new filings, of which nearly half have been approved,” the report said.

“Every immigration case entrusted to us represents an individual or a family seeking to build a better life in the United States,” USCIS Director Ur Jaddou said in a statement accompanying the report. “We have made measurable progress towards building a more humane immigration system thanks to the innovation and dedication of the USCIS workforce. There is more work to do, especially to reduce processing times for all people we serve, and congressional support is critical to achieving our ambitious backlog reduction goals in the year ahead.”

More than a million new U.S. citizens were welcomed by USCIS in FY 2022: “a 62 percent reduction in the net backlog of naturalization applications (Form N-400) from the end of FY 2021 to FY 2022, and the highest number of naturalized citizens in almost 15 years.”

USCIS and State Department worked together to issue “all available employment-based immigrant visas in FY 2022 – double the pre-pandemic number.”

“This was an all-hands-on-deck effort across the agency given that any unused visas at the end of the fiscal year would become unavailable starting on Oct. 1, 2022, the start of FY 2023,” the report states. “In the final quarter, USCIS worked cases 7 days a week to effectively address pending applications. This surge of overtime resources was made possible by congressional appropriations specifically directed for backlog reduction efforts.”

The report underscores that innovation has been key to reducing the backlog of applications and processing times, along with “every workforce, policy, and operational tool” at the agency’s disposal, such as a “temporary final rule, published in May 2022, that extended the [Employment Authorization Documents] validity period for over 400,000 noncitizens and immediately restored the ability to work for tens of thousands of noncitizens whose EADs had expired through no fault of their own” due to reduced agency capacity during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The pending caseload has returned to a normal level for immigrant visa applicants awaiting an EAD renewal, USCIS said, as the agency strives to meet more backlog reduction goals in the coming year.

The fiscal year saw more supplemental H-2B seasonal nonagricultural worker visas made available than ever before: 64,716. The agency also doubled the typical number of employment-based immigrant visas, it said.

USCIS said that goals in FY 2023 are “implementing premium processing for all employer petitions for immigrant workers (Form I-140) and certain EAD applications for students and exchange visitors (Form I-765), removing the requirement to submit biometrics for applicants for change and extension of nonimmigrant status (Form I-539), and simplifying several major forms, including the applications for EADs (Form I-765), adjustment of status (Form I-485), and naturalization (Form N-400).”

USCIS also has vowed to improve asylum filing and adjudication processes in the upcoming fiscal year, utilizing “robust public engagement on humanitarian immigration programs” and “leveraging technology solutions to increase the integrity and efficiency of TPS case processing.”

The report also details the agency’s rebound from its financial hit suffered at the height of pandemic restrictions, as 96 percent of the agency’s funds have traditionally come from fees. USCIS lifted its hiring freeze in 2021 and “has returned to firmer fiscal footing, with cash reserves well on their way to the designated target level, to ensure the agency avoids another fiscal crisis,” the report said.

“In early 2022, USCIS stopped the growth of the backlog through an ongoing hiring surge and drive to find new efficiencies in case processing,” the report stated. “The dedicated workforce of USCIS is turning the tide on its pending caseload, even while bolstering government-wide efforts such as Operation Allies Welcome and Uniting for Ukraine.”

Going forward, the agency added, USCIS “will require continued congressional support to help eliminate its current net backlogs and meet its humanitarian mission, and plans to pursue a new fee rule to prevent the accumulation of new backlogs in the future.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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