USCIS Atlanta Field Office Meeting

I was hoping today’s posting would contain some hearty nuggets of insight and information for my readers about the state of USCIS relations with its stakeholders (at least according to the latest Atlanta Field Office Meeting yesterday). Save for a few vociferous grievances and concerns from attorneys, there were no major “ah-ha” moments. Originally Director Mayorkas was scheduled to address the Stakeholders but in his place came Kathy Redman, USCIS Southeast Regional Director [Director Mayorkas was ill].  Rather than following a formal agenda or a list of prepared questions (which is typical USCIS protocol), the meeting was a welcomed forum for attorneys to air their grievances and concerns in a town hall fashion.  Though there were some interesting plays by one prominent attorney (in crutches who will remain nameless), here are a just a few highlights and my commentary:

  • One update that probably didn’t surprise many practitioners involved the continued delay of the Transformation Program, which is still in preliminary testing stage with Form I-539. The new target date is fall of this year.  (I’ll be reporting more on this later.)
  • USCIS expressed growing concern over the increasing cases of UPIL and notario fraud. I wrote about this development last month and cannot stress enough how critical government intervention is in combating this problem. There will be increased efforts by USCIS to work with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to continue to develop the BIA accreditation program. This is where I think USCIS gets it totally right!
  • The big elephant in the room, as addressed by many attorneys, was the increase in RFEs and denials of business immigration cases (particularly H-1B and L-1 cases). Earlier this month, the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released a report citing data that detailed a consistent and strategic culture of denials and RFEs for H-1B, L-1 and O-1 cases over the past 4-5 years. (Read the article here.) According to USCIS Regional Director Redman had no clue this report even exists!  (At least I don’t think they want to comment publicly on the report.)  I’m curious how our immigration attorneys (and particularly the folks at NFAP) feel about this!
  • To its credit, USCIS did say it was “very concerned” about the rising numbers of RFEs and denials (see above point).  It plans to hire four economists to evaluate the reasonableness of past RFEs.  I had to stop and think about this one…. economists? Why in the world would USCIS want to hire economists to evaluate whether its RFE procedures are “reasonable?”  The only economists I know are at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management preparing for its quarterly forecasts on the economy.  What happened to soliciting the feedback from immigration attorneys on regulatory interpretation rather than from economists?  (I’ve got my theories on this one….)  Anyway, I’ll be polling fellow immigration practitioners (again) on how USCIS’ concerns will translate to actual, meaningful, procedural changes.
  • USCIS is also considering the idea of videotaping field office interviews to be made available to foreign nationals. The issue was unclear whether this would become available regionally or nationally. The biggest challenge seems to be configuring the technology to save, store, and transfer all of the data- not to mention data security issues. (Maybe some start-up company in the Silicon Valley can offer some assistance here?  Oh the irony….)

Despite the lack of substantive solutions, I have to give USCIS credit for keeping the conversation open, even if it’s merely to shake and nod and provide a forum for attorneys to grieve concerns.  Your thoughts on these developments?  Well I’ve expressed my opinion.  Now it’s your turn.  Send me your comments.

[Thanks again to my colleagues internally for personally attending and providing me with these updates!]