Report Finds USCIS Benefits Slowed During Pandemic

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on December 28, 2021, finding that continued reliance on manual processing slowed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ benefits delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OIG found that USCIS had limited capability to electronically process more than 80 types of benefits, which still required some manual workflows and paper files to complete cases. Recurring technology performance issues and equipment limitations further constrained USCIS employees’ productivity, OIG said, attributing the challenges to “funding cuts and lost fee revenue that limited spending during this time.” OIG noted that these challenges “further increased processing times and resulted in a backlog of 3.8 million cases as of May 2021.”

The report includes two recommendations aimed at improving USCIS’s electronic processing of benefits, with which USCIS concurred:

Recommendation 1: Update the USCIS pandemic plan to incorporate additional technology guidance and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. The estimated completion date is December 30, 2022. OIG considers this recommendation to be “open and resolved.” OIG said a formal closeout letter to be submitted should be accompanied by “evidence of completion of agreed-upon corrective actions and of the disposition of any monetary amounts.”

Recommendation 2: Develop an updated strategy for digitizing all benefits work and tracking the outcome of improving case processing times, including a detailed funding plan, in accordance with the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act. OIG considers this recommendation to be “resolved and closed.”

Source: AILA Newsletter, January 9, 2022

  • “Continued Reliance on Manual Processing Slowed USCIS’ Benefits Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” DHS/OIG, Dec. 28, 2021, https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2022-01/OIG-22-12-Dec21.pdf

E-Filing Mandated by Executive Office for Immigration Review Beginning February 11, 2022

Effective February 11, 2022, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) will require electronic filing and records applications for all cases before the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Users can view training materials on EOIR’s website, including infographics and videos on how to upload and download documents on its Courts & Appeals System.

Source: AILA Newsletter, January 9, 2022

  • EOIR final rule, 86 Fed. Reg. 70708 (Dec. 13, 2021), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2021-12-13/pdf/2021-26853.pdf
  • ECAS User Manual and other how-to information, https://www.justice.gov/eoir/ecas/attorney-and-ar-resources

NBC Reports that Decline in Immigration Is Fueling the ‘Great Resignation’

One of the biggest stories in the U.S. at the start of 2022 is what has been called the Great Resignation: people of all ages and occupations walking away from their jobs in the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to worker shortages.

The forces behind the shortages are complex, from fears of infection to childcare needs to worker burnout, but one factor that may be overlooked is that fewer new Americans are coming into the country. Immigration has dropped sharply in the last few years, and the declines have had real impacts on the worker pool.

The impacts can be seen by looking at the most basic measure, net international migration into the U.S. According to the census, that figure last year was one-quarter what it was in 2016.

The latest figure for that population was 247,000. Five years earlier, it had been more than 1 million. (The figures are gathered midyear to midyear, so the above numbers represent figures from July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next.)

There may be some questions about the 2021 number, because data collection occurred during the pandemic, when reaching survey respondents was difficult. The challenge around data collection remains the biggest unanswered question about the 2020 decennial census. Just how reliable was the tally?

But the trend of declining immigration numbers began long before the pandemic started. The net international migration figures have been falling every year since 2016. So even though the pandemic has almost certainly played a role in the last few years, policy changes also seem to have had an impact.

And all those declines since 2016 mean there would have been millions more immigrants in the country today if migration had kept at a steady pace.

The big story out of the 2020 census was slow population growth. The last decade had one of the slowest rates of growth for any decade in U.S. history. And behind the slow growth was a declining birth rate, coupled with slower immigration. Add in longtime workers’ opting out of the workforce and you have the makings of an economic problem.

When you look at the kinds of jobs foreign-born workers tend to fill, you can see some of the industries that have taken hits in the pandemic.

Foreign-born workers, for instance, are more likely to work in service jobs than native-born citizens. Among the foreign-born, 21 percent work in the service industry, compared to 14 percent of the native-born population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Preparing and serving food, along with building and grounds maintenance, are examples of jobs for which the differences between the two population groups are notable.

Natural resource extraction and construction also over-index for foreign-born workers — 14 percent of foreign-born workers, compared to 8 percent of native-born workers.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean foreign-born workers dominate those fields, but if you remove enough immigrants from the labor pool, you are more likely to have shortages in them. That means employers are probably going to have to look harder to find good candidates.

Source: Dante Chinni, NBC News, January 9, 2022:

  • https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/slowing-immigration-worsens-job-shortages-n1287219

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