U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Actions Needed to Address Pending Caseload

Government Accountability Office
Date of Publication: 
August, 2021
Source Organization: 

This report takes a look at the pending caseload at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and identifies several issues that hinder the agency from effectively dealing with the growing backlog of cases. The report notes that, while the number of applications for immigration benefits ranged between 8 and 10 million per year between Fiscal Years 2015 and 2019, the number of cases awaiting a decision grew by 85 percent during the same period. While there have been a number of near-term factors exacerbating this trend—among them, the effect of the pandemic on receipts and operations; the reassignment of adjudicators to deal with an increase in asylum seekers at the border; an increase in the length of some forms (for example, the Employment Authorization form, I-765, went from 18 questions on 1 page to 61 questions on 7 pages); and expanded interview requirements—most of the report (and the included recommendations) focus on longer-term problems USCIS has faced for many years. The report, for example, found that USCIS lacks a clear understanding of the number of pending cases, due to the fact that certain legacy case processing software did not record completions for cases processed in the 1980s through the early 2000s. (An estimated 12 million of the 19 million cases recorded in the CLAIMS-3 software may or may not be completed.)  This complicates an assessment of what is needed to reduce the pending caseload. For several of its forms that make up a large percentage of its caseload, USCIS also lacks timeliness performance measures, making it difficult to assess whether the implementation of efficiency measures has produced the desired results. In addition, USCIS staffing models do not take into account attrition and delays in hiring that occur during the year, and how these staffing shortfalls affect case completion, since the number of cases projected to be completed assumes the agency has filled all authorized staff positions. The report also found that USCIS does not have a strategic workforce plan to develop long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff. The agency has consistently faced workforce challenges; the report notes that between Fiscal Years 2015 and 2020, staffing levels were lower than what the agency was authorized to hire. Finally, the report found that USCIS has not identified additional resources needed to address its backlogs. The GAO makes a number of recommendations to address these failings, and the report notes that the agency has concurred with most of the recommendations. (Maurice Belanger, Maurice Belanger Associates)

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Actions Needed to Address Pending Caseload. (2021, August). Government Accountability Office. https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-21-529