Immigration during the downturn


I reported last year on Citizenship and Immigration Services’ struggles with fees and backlogs. So I was interested to see a new GAO report (pdf) on the agency’s user fees.

GAO found a few problems, most of which are easily correctable. An example: CIS charges $1,000 for “premium processing,” one of its largest sources of revenue. Most of that revenue is used for business process modernization, not the actual costs of premium processing; GAO is concerned that regular applicants are subsidizing premium processing.

Seems there’s an easy fix: Figure out the extra costs of premium processing, and make sure those costs come out of the appropriate user fees.

The more troubling issue is with “carryover balances,” the money CIS carries from one year to the next:

…without analyzing its full contractual and operating costs and determining an appropriate target carryover balance, USCIS is at risk of reducing, disrupting, or discontinuing services should collections decrease.

In other words, CIS isn’t sure how much money it needs in the “carryover” fund.

Why is this a problem? Legal immigration tends to drop during economic downturns — no point in coming to the U.S. for work if you can’t find a job — and that could leave CIS with a big drop in collections.


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