IGA Stakeholder Meeting – Lots of Chatter, Little Substance

Anyone who’s watched the scene where Ralphie Parker in “A Christmas Story” solves the secret code only to discover the code was an Ovaltine™ commercial can probably recall the sense of disappointment he felt. I’ll admit, yesterday’s Intergovernmental Agency Stakeholder Meeting evoked similar feelings of disappointment. The IGA Quarterly Stakeholder Meeting was meant to provide updates to the public on the progress of various government agencies but from sitting through the nearly two-hour meeting, there was plenty of chatter but little substance (IMHO). Present at the meeting were representatives from seven different government offices, of which I’ve included a few highlights in today’s article:

U.S. DHHS Office of Refugee and Resettlement (ORR)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee and Resettlement (ORR) released an updated website for ORR for Asylees and Refugees to obtain more information on resources that are available to them once their asylee/refugee status has been granted. The website is categorized based on the state where the applicant lives. The new interactive map on this website should help guide asylee/refugees in locating their local asylee/refugee coordinators who will direct them to the appropriate state resources. Additionally, USCIS has indicated that asylum approval packages originating from USCIS or EOIR will have contain translation inserts moving forward, until USCIS can update its internal case management system to reflect the changes to the updated ORR website. The translation inserts are available in eight different languages. When asked about how ORR would evaluate the effectiveness of the website in assisting Asylee/Refugees who have limited English proficiency, the ORR indicated that they will look into the matter.

USCIS Office of Citizenship

USCIS has been focusing on steadily increasing the applications for citizenship. Part of this effort involved awarding grants to participating public institutions who can demonstrate experience in providing naturalization and/or citizenship preparation services. Documents for state and local governments and other community organizations are available for download online.

USCIS Office of Transformation

To date, more than 9,000 accounts have been opened in the ELIS system and more than 7,000 benefits requests have been processed. USCIS is working on expanding the ELIS system to include other types of applications beyond the I-539. To that end, the External Data Interface Standards program will be temporarily on hold until it can further develop ELIS and understand how the system interfaces with users. USCIS indicated that applicants through the ELIS system will still receive paper approval notices where a benefit is conveyed. Receipt notices may only be electronically delivered if that was the option selected at the time of initial registration. In this regard, attorneys who are acting on clients behalf should be careful in selecting mail delivery options for their clients.

USCIS Service Operations on TPS

USCIS indicated that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) extension requests for certain countries are currently being considered and will be determined at a later time. USCIS mentioned that due to Hurricane Sandy, the agency will consider accepting late re-registration filings where there is good cause shown. In this regard, attorneys assisting TPS clients should be sure to include evidence of good cause for late filings.

USCIS E-Verify

USCIS recapped the September system enhancements and updates during this meeting. We wrote about these updates back in September on our sister blog here. Other updates included employee website pages and user manuals. USCIS will continue to provide updates later this December. [Please visit our sister blog for general updates on I-9 and E-Verify.]

CBP I-94 Automation

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not provide many updates on the actual details of the I-94 automation. Currently, the process is under review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where they have up to 90 days to review the process. In the meantime, the general public will not have access to any I-94 numbers generated electronically (or not) for foreign nationals upon their initial entries. The primary mode of verifying valid status would be a foreign national’s passport. [You heard this correctly.] In the event the foreign national’s passport is lost, stolen, or renewed, CBP currently does not have a method by which the newly generated passport number would replace the prior passport number in order to maintain the foreign national’s valid status in the U.S. CBP will be “working on the guidance for this.” [I’m eager to hear what our readers have to say about this new development. Please leave your comments below.]

USCIS SAVE

In response to CBP’s I-94 automation, SAVE is switching to the use of the unexpired passport number as the primary tracking number for status validity (rather than the I-94 number). This involved an actual system modification. SAVE has also updated its system to include DACA and TPS. Additionally, SAVE will be releasing a SAVE Case Check, which goes live today, November 28, 2012. It allows applicants (individuals) to follow up on their case and allows benefit-granting agency personnel to focus on trouble cases. Visit its site online.

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Any additional queries can be sent directly to uscis-igaoutreach@uscis.dhs.gov. Were you as eager as I was to receive more substantive updates? Which areas were lacking in updates? Please send me your feedback below and subscribe to this immigration practice blog for regular updates via email. [Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog post is provided for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. The updates may be revised without advance notice. If you have questions regarding immigration matters, please consult a qualified immigration attorney or BIA representative.]