The Washington Post reported that US Citizenship & Immigration Services, the federal agency that adjudicates petitions and applications for immigration and naturalization benefits, is creating an internal division to police caseworkers who “may be too forgiving toward applicants for permanent legal residence or citizenship . . .”  See Washington Post, US Immigration agency to more closely monitor caseworkers, documents show, March 16, 2018.   Agency officials confirmed plans for an internal oversight office, but denied that the office would be focused on monitoring caseworkers perceived as too lenient.  See, e.g., The Hill, Federal immigration agency denies that it’s creating a new division to police caseworkers, March 17, 2018.   An agency spokesperson indicated that a final decision had not been made and all mission or structural considerations are “pre-decisional until they are formally announced.”

If the Post reports are correct, USCIS will establish a new Organization of Professional Responsibility, which will have oversight of the way agency employees handle the more than 26,000 cases the agency adjudicates daily. The OPR office will have three divisions, including:

  • an Investigations Division to “manage the agency’s program that investigates cases involving fraud, waste, abuse or misconduct by USCIS employees;”
  • a Counterintelligence Division dedicated to reducing vulnerability to penetration by foreign governments and criminals; and
  •  an inspections division to “conduct independent reviews of specific aspects of agency compliance.”

OPR would be led by Sarah Kendall, a top USCIS official for fraud detection and national security. Kendall would report directly to USCIS director L. Francis Cissna and deputy director James W. McCament, according to the documents reviewed by the Post.  According to the Post reports, USCIS has already begun diverting agency staff to the new initiative.

A Consistent Stance To Stem Abuse

Director Cissna has repeatedly told employees that he seeks to increase professionalism and integrity at USCIS.  As reported in The Mobile Workforce, Director Cissna’s recent deletion of the term “nation of immigrants” from the agency mission statement and elimination of statements describing applicants and petitioners as “customers” echo the anti-abuse stance, and seem designed to reduce approvals based on an expectation that too many abuses have slipped through the cracks in prior administrations.

Inspector General Report Recommended New Investigative Division

Establishment of an OPR division comports with the recommendations of a 2016 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General, which urged a USCIS reorganization to place the agency’s Investigative Division directly beneath top leadership. The report found that public complaints about USCIS employee conduct had fallen significantly, from 1,240 in 2013 to 619 in 2015.

Guidance for Employers

In this climate, getting to “no” is a safe bet for agency caseworkers; getting to “yes” is not.  Savvy employers will ensure compliance with agency standards is unambiguously clear on the filings they submit in the annual H-1B lottery beginning in April, as well as other applications for benefits they are filing regularly.   A well-thought out strategy, that includes a courtroom standard filing with sworn attestations, indexed exhibits, and clarity of why the employer requires services from the candidate, will make it easier for the caseworker to have confidence in a “yes” decision, even if the caseworker first subjects the filing to an administrative request for additional evidence.