Essay on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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Middlebury College
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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal agency tasked with overseeing the lawful immigration of people into the country. The agencys primary objective is providing accurate and useful data to its clients, giving citizenship and immigration benefits, promoting understanding and awareness of American citizenship while maintaining the integrity of the countrys immigration system ("About Us," 2016). The agency comprises of more than 18,000 federal employees and contractors stationed at 250 offices globally. USCIS achieves its goals by engaging its employees and partners to work toward common strategic objectives, which include improving the security and trustworthiness of the immigration system, and supporting immigrants while they integrate and participate in the American civic culture ("About Us," 2016). The objectives also encompass improving the infrastructure that supports the agencys mission and promoting flexible and efficient immigration programs and procedures.

The Challenge: Processing Delays and Incorrect Processing Times

Despite the significance of the department to the US and other countries, the agency has in the recent past experienced challenges related to processing delays and incorrect processing times. Recent reports have revealed the high likelihood of pending cases more than the agencys stated processing times. Although the management has reported it has instituted measures to improve the accuracy of its processing times, current reports are inaccurate and do not demonstrate judgments that delayed due to requests for evidence (RFEs) and notices of intent to deny (NOIDs). These challenges were slated to be resolved by the full automation of processing immigrants by 2009. Rather than solving the existing difficulties by digitizing the immigration paperwork, the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) has used billions in failed efforts that have resulted in product delays, budget deficits, and software defects. These challenges have extended to the loss of more than 200,000 green cards of approved applicants in the last three years (Department of Homeland Security-Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG), 2016).

Initially, ELIS was projected to cost $500 million and to be fully functional by 2013. However, recent projections estimate that the system will cost about $3.1 billion to be completed by 2019 (Sternstein, 2015). In the 21st century where most of the federal processes are automated, the only immigration forms available for filling and signing online is the I-90, which permits permanent residents to renew their green cards. Even with the availability of form I-90, there have been numerous complaints of the filling process gone wrong. In fact, the US government has acknowledged the inefficiency of the USCIS after ELIS was found directly responsible for the production of 19,000 green cards with incorrect information or produced in duplicates. The report by the Department of Homeland Securitys Office of Inspector General released in 2016 showed that cards that should have never been issued were given out and the recovery efforts were marked with urgency and inconsistency (DHS-IOG, 2016).

Effect of Organizational Culture on the Problem

The organizational culture of USCIS has arguably contributed to the growth of the problem. The culture emphasizes on enforcement rather than service to the immigrants. In fact, the agency is primarily funded by the money charged to immigrants and partially by the federal government. Together with the lack of service-oriented approach to immigrants, funding has played a significant role in stalling the digitization of the immigration paperwork. This is exemplified by the announcement by the executives that the organization will be funded by the reserve money after the revenues from visa charges had diminished. Typically, the management teams of many organization are worried when the revenues subside. In such cases, drastic measures are taken to resolve the challenges causing losses. On the contrary, the executives at USCIS seem unmoved by the decline in revenues. The team has reiterated its position to suspend premium processing notwithstanding the delays for thousands of applications for new visas, and their effect on the business organizations and the American economy that heavily rely on the expertise of immigrants.

The exacerbation of the problem at USCIS could be explained by the inadequacies of its mission and vision statement. In particular, the mission statement does not include efficiency as part of its strategic goals. Instead, it focuses on strengthening the framework that vets immigrants and maintains integrity. Although the organizations strategic objectives include facilitating dynamic and comprehensive immigration rules and programs, most of them are security-oriented instead of service-oriented. Also, despite vigilance being one of its core values, lack of commitment has created room for mistakes that have undermined the agencys core mandate of strengthening national security by issuing green cards with incorrect data ("About Us," 2016).

With the advent of advanced technology in the 21st century and information systems forming the core of many business organizations, it is expected that USCIS could have followed such footsteps. Many federal agencies such as Federal Transit Authority have digitized all the paperwork, and only a few processes are carried out manually. The organizations commitment is seen in the strategic goals and its vision and mission statement. However, the USCIS is yet to make digitization of the paperwork a part of their strategic goals despite facing the same problems for more than a decade now ("About Us," 2016). This explains causes of the woes facing the agency.

Areas of Weakness

In the recent past, the USCIS has laid out plans and measures aimed at transforming the organizational culture as well as solving the existing problems. Such measures include establishing a Transformation Program Office headed by the Deputy Director. The office ensures leadership commitment, the dedication of the human resource and resources, redefining the mission, vision, and strategic goals. The new office is also tasked with directing and setting priorities, defining core values, and improving employee engagement. Despite these steps, some areas need attention to address the agency's problems effectively.

Performance measurement is one of the critical areas that need the attention of the management. Successful firms understand that setting objectives and assessing performance is a source of incentives that significantly influence the organizational behavior and employee character (Sinha, 2008). Although the USCIS has created tentative performance metrics for the changed organization, it is yet to define the targets for the projected level of performance to be realized. To make matters worse, the majority of the metrics are inadequate and poorly developed making them difficult to evaluate.

The USCIS management also needs to focus on strategic human capital management. The current measures do not adequately address key elements of strategic workforce planning. For instance, the plans do not describe the qualifications and prerequisites required for the digitized organization, a roadmap to maintain the continuing cooperation with the human resource department, or even focus on the past, present and future leadership wrangles. Moreover, despite the transformation program office establishing the performance expectations of its employees, it is yet to conduct a formal evaluation of the staff against the expectations. Importantly, the USCIS has not however instituted transformation-based performance targets and skills for the executives to hold them accountable for failing to realize the objectives of the transition.

Although the institution has improved communication of information between the management and its employees, the process is flawed. The communication strategy that involves an efficient path of communication between the employees and the stakeholders is key to the success of transition process (Sinha, 2008). Although the immigration body has made efforts in improving communication about the digitization process to the staff and the stakeholders, the overall plan has many inconsistencies. Precisely, the method does not describe how to carry out outreach to the stakeholders globally during and after the transition period. Importantly, the strategy does not explain how the organization will communicate with individual government agencies and close partners such as security departments.

Even though the management of information systems and technology is the primary ingredient to a successful transition, it remains an area of weakness within the USCIS. Currently, the USCIS is yet to acquire and implement information systems and services in a manner that demonstrates leading technology practices such as those defined in the federal guidance. However, the organization is developing its enterprise architecture although it does not include performance elements which are significant architectural components. In addition, while the agency follows the Department of Homeland Securitys (DHS) protocols to align the transition with the DHS enterprise architecture, it is notable that the laid procedures are not sufficient and complete. Notably, the USCIS strategy entails information on costs and revenues though it has not finished developing information systems hence the cost estimates are uncertain.


Recommendation 1: In order to address the challenges facing the USCIS, it is essential for the executives to ensure that the design of the Electronic Immigration System and problems related to its functionality are resolved to prevent the reoccurrence of incidences of loss of Green Cards. The developers should build controls that mitigate issuing cards with incorrect information or duplicating cards. Constant tests are required to verify that all card processing errors are resolved.

Recommendation2: Development and implementation of procedures for card recovery. The organization should review the end-to-end processes used to recover Green Cards. The issues identified and lessons learned should be used to develop better procedures for recovery efforts. This process should be completed within six months.

Recommendation 3: Develop and implement identity-proofing mechanisms to allow clients to submit changes in address in the Electronic Immigration System. It is paramount that the USCIS creates an online platform that remotely verifies the identity of a new immigrant. That platform would enhance security by ensuring that only the immigrant has access and can alter his or her information in the system. It is prudent that this recommendation is considered and implemented urgently.

Recommendation 4: Assess the pros and cons (costs and benefits) of utilizing United States Postal Services Signature Confirmation as another safe way of shipping Green Cards to the immigrants. USCIS should not limit itself to this alternative but should also explore and conduct an in-depth analysis of pros and cons of using other safe methods to deliver the Green Cards.

In conclusion, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services plays a critical role in the American economy and safeguarding the country from people with ill intentions and criminals. Many American organizations rely on the immigrants for labor and expertise. As a result, millions of people migrate to the country annually. Delays or errors in processing the applicants have enormous implications on the economy. With the advent of Trump administration that aims at minimizing the number of immigrants flocking the U.S, the obligation of the USCIS in...

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