AILA Conference 2022 Day 1, Session 3: Keynote with Dr Jaddou

2022 AILA Conference Day 1, Session 3: Keynote Address with Dr. Jaddou

Categories: Resources
Published: June 20, 2022

Tags: AILA

2022 AILA Conference Keynote Address Summary:

In this video attorney Joseph Tsang discusses a recent meeting between the Director of USCIS, Dr. Ur Jaddou, and a group of immigration attorneys. They address issues related to immigration services, including backlogs, erroneous decisions, false denials, and the future of USCIS. Dr. Jaddou explains the challenges faced by USCIS, including financial difficulties and workforce reductions during the pandemic. She also talks about efforts to improve efficiency through technology, hiring additional staff, and focusing on customer service. Dr. Jaddou’s commitment to collaborating with immigration attorneys to create a better system is highlighted. The video emphasizes the challenges and changes facing USCIS in 2022 and the efforts to address them.

Watch the full video to learn more.

Full Video Transcript

The director of USCIS, Dr. Ur Jaddou, just met with a room full of immigration attorneys. Hundreds of us! You can imagine what kind of questions we had. If you feel like you’re frustrated with immigration services, imagine a room full of attorneys: The backlog, the erroneous decisions, the false denials, the bad training, the future of USCIS. What is it gonna be like? It’s one thing to make a speech before Congress that doesn’t work with USCIS on a day-in day-out basis. It’s another thing to sit before hundreds of immigration attorneys who’ve been doing this for their entire lives and the specific questions we’ve had, but she had some amazing responses. I’m going to boil it down right here. Let’s get to it.
[Tsang Intro Spalsh]
[0:43] Hi everyone. My name is Joseph. I’m the USCIS Managing Partner here at Tsang & Associates where we solve legal problems with creative solutions. We are here in New York, the Javits Center, for AILA 2022’s conference. The moderator of this panel was Benjamin Johnson. He’s the Executive Director of AILA. And so he was asking questions on behalf of all the immigration attorneys. And let me tell you, some of the questions were brutally honest, harsh, and direct. Why is the agency taking so slow? Are they going to be able to catch up with the backlog? How are they going to navigate this next year because if you’re just making false promises, well then that’s going to be a very dire situation?
[1:16] Now almost everybody already watched or read the key points that USCIS put out on how they are going to improve the system. There were some very ambitious plans. It sounded all really good before Congress, and of course, they got a huge amount of funding to support everything they’re doing. But we’ve heard promises before so: how is USCIS going to solve this? How is Dr. Jaddou going to actually turn USCIS around? During this keynote panel discussion, instead of just talking the broad picture points, she actually gave us an insight into how USCIS is doing. She reminded us, two years ago, USCIS almost went bankrupt because USCIS as an agency is 95% funded by fees. So if people stop filing, then they don’t collect the filing fees and then the whole agency will crumble, right? So it’s it’s not like Congress-supported like the military. It’s fee-supported.
[2:07] And then the second thing is, prior to the fee increases, they hadn’t increased fees in six years. With all the costs rising, it was tremendously difficult for USCIS to stay afloat. And then, they actually lost 20% of the workforce at USCIS during the pandemic. That is huge for any government organization, for any organization for that matter. If you lose 5%, you come to a grinding halt. If a government agency loses 20%, it’s actually super bad because it’s really difficult to hire in the government agencies. And I can attest to that. A lot of my friends work for USCIS and the consulate, and the background check takes like two-three years just to go through before you’re even offered a position. And then with all the new things that they needed to do, with Ukraine, with Afghanistan, there’s an influx of all these additional applications that they have to process, and then with Covid slowing down, the whole world coming back to immigrate to the US, with new filings taking place, it’s just so ridiculously hard to keep up. So how is USCIS going to tackle this particular problem?
[3:08] So the first thing is getting USCIS back to its fiscal health so it could stay afloat. And that includes a lot of different things, not just fee increases. A lot of it has to do with just cutting out the process that just doesn’t make sense. And all things tie together, so they’re increasing personnel hiring, they got the highest level clearance, being able to directly hire from the agency so that they don’t have to go through the rest of the federal government, through the normal hiring process. Whatever USCIS needs, they can just directly hire. So if anybody’s interested in working for USCIS now, is a good time to put in your application.
[3:41] One of the things that’s really interesting is that we know that in the immigration courts, they are about to transfer over 1.6 million cases to USCIS. That’s a lot of cases with a lot of process to go through. So instead of the traditional way of immigration courts closing the case, making the applicants collect the documents, go to USCIS, provide the documents, and then USCIS telling the applicant that they collected the wrong documents and going back to the court, why don’t we just cut out the middleman, the applicant, and have USCIS directly contact the immigration courts? Have the two systems linked that way everything gets transferred over and is able to be internally processed or outsourced, and then the adjudication can be so much faster, save so much time, and don’t have to actually use USCIS internal resources, right? Use technology to solve problems.
[4:31] And we’ve already seen USCIS do this. They’re doing this with the work permit application. And this transition period, I know a lot of people got extremely frustrated because normally, something that’s supposed to take eight minutes, took four months. Now it’s turned into like 15 months for some cases. We actually had to sue USCIS to get the work permits processed because without work permit, people cannot work. Some people couldn’t get a driver’s license. A lot of people couldn’t fly. It was devastating for a lot of families. Talk about their civil liberties being stripped away because they couldn’t get something that should have taken eight minutes to process. That was a transition period.
[5:06] USCIS is fixing this and so it could become an automated process. Why wait for a second officer to adjudicate the work permit when the one officer is already reviewing it, and in the past, why take the case and then transfer it out to a third-party agency to to print the work permit and mail it to the applicant when everything can be done in-house? Imagine if an officer receives an application, within the first few minutes adjudicating, it’s probably going to be processed. Then it’s directly sending it to the printer, and the work permit can directly be mailed to the applicant. That will reduce the 15 months back down to the original four months, and maybe even cut it down to one month or two months. And we’ve already seen USCIS make tremendous strides in this process. Essentially going from contractor to officer to another officer back to another contractor now going down to one direct agency.
So these are the things that USCIS is implementing; using technology to improve efficiency, hiring additional staff to process these cases. And their goal is by the end of their fiscal year to return to 95% to 100% of their hiring force. That is a huge deal for any federal government agency to be able to do such a quick turnaround within one year time.
[6:19] And one of the key components that’s going to make this work is their focus on customer service. And I know, every agency talks about caring about customer service, but this is actually a big deal for a lot of reasons. The first idea is, is USCIS mission even to serve people, the applicants, or is it to protect the American people? And I know it’s not an either/or. It could be at both/and, but it is very clear when you strip away certain things from the mission statement. It’s very clear if it’s a vetting agency or it’s a benefit agency.
If it’s a benefit agency, then the agency is there to do customer service to help the people who are applying. Of course, when you apply, you still have to see if you qualify or not, but the idea is to get people to apply, and to serve them and to help them get approved, right?
If you’re a vetting agency then you think of everybody else is trying to steal your benefits and you’re trying to cut out as many people as possible. It’s a completely different mentality shift and so by USCIS saying that they’re focused on customer service and that they’re going to continue to do these stakeholder engagements over this pandemic… one good thing is that they did a lot of stakeholder engagements with local attorneys, with direct applicants, with people who are disgruntled with USCIS, and meeting with them, and listening to their concerns, and seeing how they can improve, and one thing Dr. Jaddou said that makes me understand that she gets it is that she knows she has to work with AILA and the immigration attorney association because we are the ones helping all these applicants file, right?
[7:46] So yes, they’re creating this massive online system filing, but if nobody uses it then it’s a waste of money. Why aren’t people going to use it? Well, USCIS has a pretty bad track record with these online systems that they create and it fails, and cases get denied, and it’s just frustrating so we just end up mailing everything, right? So if we don’t change our mailing habits, then USCIS online system isn’t going to really succeed. So she understands that she needs to partner with the lawyer community to create a system that works for us, works for our clients, and works for them, and makes it safe so that the things we file is able to be secure. That’s the goal, but the action that she’s doing is making sure that all the cases that are filed, she’s going to try to get them all scanned and digitalized so that any officer adjudicating the case can have access to it immediately instead of having to pull the file from a cave. Literally, they call it a cave. So if everything is digitalized, everything will be tremendously faster, but that is the bottleneck of 2022. She is downstaffed. She has to hire. She has to train. She has to invest heavily in technology during a time when everything is tremendously expensive in order to turn the agency around, but if there’s anybody who can do it, I believe she can.
Okay that’s it now, the next video is actually be really interesting because it’s the opposite of this one.
See you next session.