United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has admitted botching a new plan to rollout US work permits for migrant victims of crime after charging more than $4 million for free work visas. The US immigration agency is now scrambling to refund more than 10,000 people who were ‘incorrectly’ charged for US work permits.
Meanwhile, USCIS revealed that it had also wrongly rejected approximately 1,500 work permit applications filed by other migrants who, correctly, did not pay the $410 fee because their work permit was supposed to be free. Much to the frustration of those wrongly rejected, they are now being asked to resubmit their applications for approval.
The USCIS mishap affects U visas, which are set aside for immigrant victims of crime – including migrants that are in the US illegally. U visas give immigrants the opportunity to remain in America for four years and potentially apply for US citizenship.
10,000 U visas issued per year
The number of U visas that can be issued is capped at 10,000, and they are granted to crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement authorities in helping to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of a crime.
In June of this year, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that USCIS would be issuing work permits to many of those caught up in the backlog, giving them tentative legal status and granting them access to some taxpayer benefits while they are waiting for a decision on their U visa application.
The Biden administration said that the fee associated with a U visa work permit application would be waived, but USCIS mistakenly charged people anyway.
According to USCIS, almost 10,500 applications were filed with payments and approved, despite the fact that the application fee should have been refunded.
Biden team rushed
According to the former head of USCIS’ Office of Policy during the Trump-era, Robert Law, the Biden administration ‘rushed things’.
Mr Law said: “This is an example of an administration announcing a policy change without considering operational realities or impact. The Biden administration obviously failed to train people or ignored advice that the ‘freebie’ policy would be difficult to implement.”
The former head of USCIS’ Office of Policy, who is now the director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, described USCIS’ faux pas as ‘another fiscal black eye for an agency whose budget is out of control’.
USCIS is totally funded by fees charged for US visas and immigration, and is one of the few federal agencies that does not rely on funds that come from taxpayers.
However, an increasing volume of work carried out by USCIS is now ‘fee-free’, meaning that applications for things like asylum are no longer charged for, but the cost is meant to be covered by applications for other immigration routes such as US green cards or business visas.
Unfortunately, the pandemic hit USCIS hard, especially following a Trump-enforced entry ban, which means applications for US work visas, business visas, visit visas, student visas and more, quickly dried up along with the fees for such visas.
At one point, USCIS was on the brink of collapse, leaving the immigration agency desperately grasping at funding from the federal government.
Recently, USCIS had to beg Congress for funds to handle the cost of processing Afghan refugees arriving in the US having fled the Taliban. Meanwhile, the beleaguered immigration agency has also asked for another injection of taxpayer funds for its regular 2022 budget.
Despite increasing financial challenges, the Biden administration is seemingly offering more ‘fee-free’ routes into the US, including the changes to the U visa route.
According to current data, more than 160,000 migrants claiming to be victims of a crime are waiting for one of the 10,000 U visas made available.
The Biden administration claims that they are ‘supposed to be helping the police’ and that the US ‘owes them for it’.
An official for the Department of Homeland Security said: “Speeding up the point in the process when they can get US work permits is an expression of our appreciation toward crime victims who are cooperating with police.”
New U visa rules
Under the new, fee-free U visa rules, applicants can be granted a work permit and deferred action – which stops people being deported – once they have filed their petition, provided biometric information and deemed to have made a ‘good-faith’ claim. The process is more commonly known as Bona Fide Determination.
Under previous rules, applicants had to wait until they were much further along in the process before being given permission to work or receive protection from deportation.
The new rules also make the family members of crime victims eligible for US work permits.
An official statement issued by USCIS said: “The payment problem was discovered during a routine review of evidence submitted by applicants. Those who paid can expect a refund by March 2022.”
“USCIS continues to advance policies and procedures that reduce barriers in the immigration system; increase access to eligible immigration benefits, and reassert America’s humanitarian values,” the statement added.
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