The immigration slow-down: negligent or deliberate?
This office has noticed a culture change in the various offices of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State with respect to the processing of benefits for immigrants and non-immigrants. The primary indication of this culture change is evident in the processing of the millions of requests for benefits from H-1B visas to work authorizations for those with a pending immigrant visa.
These processes do not have to do with undocumented immigrants, they are requests by the people that the Trump administration points to approvingly as doing it the right way; legal immigration. The previous administration, early on, established an efficiency standard mandating that all applications and petitions for benefits be processed in six months or less. For the most part, they accomplished this, through various methods, after about one and a half years. Only the most difficult cases took longer than six months to adjudicate.
The current slow-down has some indicia of ordinary bureaucratic foot dragging as well as intentionally orchestrated delay. In the past six years, a thorough review of a case would be undertaken followed by a well-targeted and focused request for further evidence required to complete the adjudication. These requests would typically be explained by the adjudicator in one or two pages. Today, requests for evidence take the kitchen sink approach. They ask for evidence that has already been submitted as well as missing essential evidence. These requests are usually contained in a disjointed and confusing litany of between 7 and 12 pages apparently designed to discourage the applicant.
A prominent example of the slow-down was evident in last spring's processing of the H-1B visas. The USCIS had for many years offered the popular premium processing program which insure a rapid turnaround on well documented petitions. This year, the USCIS announced, about a month before the filing date of April 1, that premium processing would not be available for the upcoming cycle of H-1B petitions. A credible explanation for the suspension of this program has not been offered by USCIS.
The Department of State processes for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas have been completely automated since 2013, allowing applicants to prepare and file online and thereby substantially reduce the processing time. The review and interview times for these visa applicants by the National Visa Center and the consulates has noticeably increased since January of this year. The phases of the process that require human intervention have slowed down the whole visa process by the DOS. Applicants for immigrant visas in Central America in the past four to seven years, would typically receive a decision on their application within days of an interview. Cases now are taking many months with no explanation other than that they are "under review."
The publication of the processing times which were used by immigration stakeholders to plan cases and determine if a case is being processed within normal parameters, are now often inaccurate because the data reports on case completions is sometimes two or three months late. This heightened inefficiency appears to be the hallmark of the Trump administration. Whether the slow-down is by design or simply a result of incompetence, it is difficult to challenge in any judicial setting and will probably be with us until someone who believes in government retakes the reins of power.