Ombudsman’s Office Works to Improve the USCIS and Assist the Public

Maria Odom, the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, gave a presentation on various immigration issues on May 21, 2014. The setting was a meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Washington D.C. Chapter, which was attended by several attorneys from the Murthy Law Firm. Ms. Odom discussed a number of topics the Ombudsman’s office reviewed during the past fiscal year, with much of the focus on concerns related to H1B and L1B petitions.

Purpose of Ombudsman’s Office

The Ombudsman’s office is responsible for identifying areas that require improvement and/or action within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and presenting these findings in an annual report to Congress. In certain situations, the Ombudsman’s office may also intervene, often as an avenue of last resort, on behalf of individuals and employers who are experiencing difficulties with the USCIS.

Frequency of RFEs on H1B and L1B Petitions

The Ombudsman’s office worked to identify instances of unnecessary and unduly burdensome RFEs issued on H1B and L1B petitions during fiscal year 2013 (FY13). During this investigation, the Ombudsman’s office found that RFEs were issued on between 25 and 28 percent of H1B petitions filed. Overall, 94 percent of H1B filings were approved. For L1B petitions filed with the Vermont Service Center, 41 percent were issued RFEs, while the California Service Center issued RFEs on 52 percent of the L1B petitions it received. The overall approval rate for L1B petitions was approximately 67 percent.

Continued Delay of L1B Memo

As reported in Part 1 of the MurthyDotCom NewBrief, DHS Report Points Out Flaws in L-1 Program (18.Oct.2013), the USCIS drafted a memo that was under review to provide adjudicators with further clarification on the meaning of the term specialized knowledge in the context of L1B cases. Odom noted that the memo is still forthcoming, but that it has been stuck in interagency comments since before 2012.

Recommendations Made to the USCIS

The Ombudsman is scheduled to release the annual report to Congress on or near June 30, 2014. This year, the Ombudsman’s office worked with the USCIS to improve the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) status update information. The goal is for the reports to become more detailed and substantive, rather than merely indicating that a case is “in process.” The Ombudsman is also pushing the USCIS to improve how processing times are calculated.

Criteria to Request Ombudsman’s Assistance

The USCIS Ombudsman’s Office WebSite was recently updated to list the criteria that should be followed before requesting case assistance from this office with an application or petition filed with the USCIS. For instance, the Ombudsman’s office generally should not be contacted unless a case is more than 60 days outside the normal processing time listed on the USCIS website, or 75 days for employment authorization document (EAD) applications. Also, the applicant first should make every effort to resolve the problem with the USCIS.

Avoid Duplicate Requests with Congress and Ombudsman

If an individual has placed a Congressional inquiry, s/he should not submit a duplicate request with the Ombudsman. If, however, there remains a need for assistance after the Congressional request is concluded, it is permissible to approach the Ombudsman’s office.


The USCIS Ombudsman’s Office continues to help guide and inform policy and procedural improvements on a large scale within the USCIS. This office can also be an invaluable resource when the USCIS fails to resolve a particular problem.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.