United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is planning a new visa and immigration fee structure that will prevent legal US citizenship being limited to the ‘very wealthy’, according to a report published by Newsweek.
In a recent interview, USCIS director Ur Jaddou said: “Number one, we believe the US immigration system should not be reserved to the wealthy.”
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, USCIS, which is funded entirely by fees paid for US visa and immigration applications, was on the verge of furloughing nearly 70% of its 20,000 employees in the summer or 2020, amid fears that its income would dry up following a COVID-induced visa and travel ban imposed by former US President, Donald Trump.
However, despite those fears, USCIS officials went on to report that the agency would end the year with a ‘large surplus’.
Ur Jaddou said: “A temporary hiring freeze, spending controls and no longer requiring new biometric data for renewal benefits, which began in March 2020, went a long way toward saving USCIS.”
The operating costs for USCIS amount to approximately $5 billion per year. However, at the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, USCIS had reserves of $1.5 billion. Jaddou said: “This is where we want to be. Fees on wealthier applicants have also helped to support other operations, such as asylum.”
“I do understand what the problems were and how they’ve been ‘resolved’ — I want to say that in quotes because we have an unsteady situation, but we’re pretty strong.”
Questions about USCIS’ work
Fears over USCIS’ financial state sparked questions over how the agency was run. Commenting on USCIS’ finances last year, former Democratic representative for a Miami district, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, said that around 70% of calls to her office were in relation to the work of USCIS.
Former Trump administration officials have claimed that USCIS’ return from the brink of bankruptcy was down to raking in ‘higher than expected’ fees and ending some contracts.
The Trump administration did introduce a raft of changes to USCIS, including the expansion of the agency’s fraud investigations unit and pushing for US visa and immigration applications to be rigorously checked to ensure that immigrants were self-sufficient enough to remain in the country.
Jaddou, born to Mexican and Iraqi immigrant parents in San Diego, previously served as chief counsel at USCIS under former President, Barack Obama, working alongside current Homeland Security Secretary and former USCIS director, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Under Trump, she was the director of DHS Watch, a group funded by US immigration advocacy group, America’s Voice.
In October 2020, Ur Jaddou impressively recited key financial and operational metrics from memory and insisted that a fiscal review should be the first priority of the new USCIS director.
USCIS recently released a list of ‘accomplishments’ following the end of the fiscal year on September 30. On that list was the naturalization of 855,000 people, 172,000 work-based green cards granted and help for tens of thousands of Afghans and their families who arrived in the US after the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
However, despite the agency’s so-called successes, wait times for US citizenship applications grew significantly in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, there are huge backlogs in US visa and immigration processing caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jaddou has also failed to reverse a 2018 change made to USCIS’ mission statement by Trump appointee L. Francis Cissna, whereby the US was no longer referred to as a ‘nation of immigrants’. This has sparked criticism among immigrant advocates.
Jaddou said: “This is something we are working on.”
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