In his November 2014 memorandum on “Modernizing and Streamlining the U.S. Immigrant Visa System for the 21st Century,” President Obama, using his authority to take executive action, directed members of his cabinet and top immigration officials, stakeholders, and technology experts to develop recommendations to continue welcoming immigrants to the country while also reducing government costs, fraud, and inefficiency in the current system, thus improving the overall user experience and maximizing use of available visa numbers.
The White House has now released a report detailing how technology can be used to create a comprehensive, clear, and user-friendly online visa processing system that would resolve many of the issues of the current “antiquated” system whereby physical documents travel thousands of miles, wasting both time and money. The report is aimed at boosting the American GDP by billions, expanding the labor force, and raising wages over the next decade using interagency digitization for data transparency, accuracy, and availability. There are also proposals for clearer and more accessible instructions, statistics, and policy guidance.
The report begins by detailing some of the myriad benefits of diverse “high-skilled immigrants, entrepreneurs, students, and families” in the entrepreneurial sector who contribute to local economies and communities with their labor and consumption. According to the report, in 2011 immigrants made up only 13% of the population but started 28% of businesses, many of which are successful and ultimately create job opportunities for Americans as a result. The report predicts that immigrants will help fill the gaps in the labor force in certain occupations, highlighting that immigrants in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields make “outsized contributions to research and innovation.”
Since the President's Executive Action on Immigration in November, USCIS has extended work authorization for some H-4 spouses, clarified L-1B intracompany transferee policies, expanded protection for victims of crime (U) and human trafficking (T), and worked to reduce separation of visa-eligible relatives and Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) families. USCIS hopes to expand opportunities by implementing a parole program for entrepreneurs who provide a “significant public benefit” and improving the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for foreign students.
USCIS has also worked over the past two years to rebuild the previously inefficient Electronic Immigration System (USCIS ELIS), which permits applicants to file certain applications electronically with the immigration service. The new version is intended to screen individuals properly prior to granting immigration benefits. Finally, the Department of State and USCIS indicated they are preparing to launch the modernized immigrant visa (MIV) pilot project, which would digitize as much of the process as possible in certain overseas consular posts, with further expansion of the program slated for 2016. The United States Digital Service (USDS), the government’s design team which conducts technical assessments and works to improve government technology, is currently using research to help people navigate the legal immigration system in a comprehensive and understandable way, and hopes to increase lines for feedback from users on future improvements.
Further, the report recommends changes which would allow applicants to access information through Department of State and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interagency collaboration and to file forms and make payments electronically. The report also proposed digitizing Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support), allowing electronic filing and processing of Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), and improving interview scheduling with increased international collaboration.
Another set of recommendations focused on updating the monthly State Department Visa Bulletin to better estimate immigrant visa availability and issue all available immigrant visas for the fiscal year. There were also proposals to clarify and expand the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC-21) to increase job flexibility for H-1B visa holders.
Next, the memo suggests strengthening the integrity and functioning of the EB-5 program by updating requirements and clarifying that potential investors may visit the U.S. to examine whether they are qualified for the EB-5 investor green card.
There were also proposals regarding the Exchange Visitor Program and the J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, aimed at increasing transparency and providing additional protections to Exchange Visitors, and strengthening the cultural activities available through the program.
Other recommendations include long-awaited improvements to the PERM Labor Certification green card process, enhancing opportunities for employment-based immigrants and nonimmigrants, enhancing the H-1B program, allowing those seeking extensions of H-1B and L-1 status to provide evidence of past adjudications, clarifying dual-intent issues for certain nonimmigrant visas, and increasing the number of American STEM workers.
DHS and the State Department will also work to provide a “best-in-class international arrivals experience,” by increasing automation and technologization of the entry process for low-risk travelers while also increasing screening of high risk-travelers.
The report concludes with affirmation of the President's commitment to pursue more permanent solutions to fix the immigration system, and a push for Congress to finally pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.