The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman released its annual report stating that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) needs to digitize the entirety of the immigration process to optimize the American immigration system. This move could help address the challenges that many immigrants face who have to endure long processing times and certain complexities when seeking citizenship.
Tackling USCIS Challenges
Ombudsmen are third-party, independent officials in American federal agencies whose job is to investigate certain complaints and determine the best solutions to resolve them. In the CIS Ombudsman annual report to Congress, this ombudsman discusses challenges affecting USCIS, followed by details of actionable methods to resolve them.
The most recent report examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. immigration process as of 2020. Because of the pandemic, USCIS was forced to close all of its offices across the globe, which led to an increased application backlog and other complications. Staff shortages also led to the shifting of resources to compensate for this hindrance.
The report also determined that digital technology was another issue worth addressing, including the lack of sufficient online communication with non-English-speaking applicants. A lack of accessible technology also led to limitations in the number of resources and quantity of information available to applicants.
Pushing for Better Technology and Transparency
Based on the issues the report identified, it also provided specific solutions. One potential solution included the improvement of pandemic preparedness, which would help address the challenges resulting from USCIS office closures preventing in-person appointments. Specifically, the report called for more digitization of processes along with revenue sources extending beyond certain fees and Congress.
Currently, only 40% of filings go through a digital process. Meanwhile, 40% are still done using paper, while 20% use a hybrid of the two. To help resolve this, USCIS plans to make the filing process entirely electronic for all immigration applicants, in addition to two-way electronic communication systems. USCIS intends to put this plan into action by 2026.
The report also recommended certain ways to improve USCIS transparency. This would entail improving technology to optimize customer service, identify trends, provide quicker responses to requests for assistance, and produce in-depth studies that provide suggestions for further improvement.
With the help of upgraded technology and improved transparency, the immigration process would be far less challenging to navigate for immigrants as they seek U.S. citizenship.