The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency charged with adjudicating and managing as many as 7 million visa applications sent to the government each year, is an agency in transition, its director says.
The agency is involved in an internal overhaul designed to make immigration policies clearer and more uniform and to speed up response times, said Director Alejandro Mayorkas at the American Council on International Personnel's annual symposium in Arlington, Va. on Tuesday.
In May, USCIS unveiled a system to accept and manage visa applications electronically. The system known as Elis will shorten response times, Mayorkas said.
But it was the question-and-answer period that hinted at the sometimes rocky relationship between USCIS and the American businesses that rely on high-skilled immigrant labor.
A symposium attendee asked what was being done within the agency to address the "antipathy" toward businesses. Another asked whether adjudicators, the people who vet company's visa applications, really read the lengthy reports she submits.
Businesses feel the examiners suspect them of doing something wrong when applying for foreign workers to come to the U.S., said David Leopold, general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Others feel like they are punished with paperwork or given the runaround.
"There is widespread evidence that there's definitely a restrictive approach on business visas" within the agency's bureaucracy, said Leopold, who was not at the symposium. "That's not just bad for businesses trying to bring in essential personal; it's bad for the economy."
"I have not found antipathy toward business," said Mayorkas, who noted that they were engaging in a "rigorous training regime" for adjudicators to address concerns that policies were inconsistently applied at different USCIS facilities across the country.
Businesses should remember that examiners were charged with identifying fraudulent applications; a failure could result in the admittance of a threat to national security, Leopold said.
"Adjudicators don't pose questions they don't think are relevant," he said.