OIG Report Criticizes USCIS Mismanagement of the U Visa Program07 Feb 2022
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a report, criticizing the USCIS for not effectively managing the U visa program. In the report, the OIG proposes five recommendations for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to take corrective actions.
The U Visa Program
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 created the U visa category. U nonimmigrant status is available to noncitizens who have been victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and who are or have been helpful to law enforcement in the prosecution or investigation of those crimes. The goal of the U visa is to encourage foreign nationals who are victims of certain crimes to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
Findings of the DHS OIG
The OIG audit found that the USCIS has not adequately managed the U visa program and has not taken steps to address recommendations from previous program reviews. The OIG pointed to a number of specific areas of concern.
First, the USCIS did not properly screen petitions for fraud, with the OIG finding at least ten approved petitions with forged, unauthorized, altered or with suspicious law enforcement certifications. Further, the USCIS did not track outcomes of U visa program fraud referrals, thereby discouraging individuals from reporting suspected fraud and missing opportunities to address fraud risks.
Second, the USCIS did not establish quantifiable and measurable performance goals for the U visa program. Third, USCIS data systems did not accurately track and monitor the number of U visas granted. Finally, the USCIS did not effectively manage the growing backlog of petitions and failed to offer timely protection to U visa victims. As noted in the report, a victim petitioning in 2021 likely would wait ten years or longer to receive a U visa.
Recommendations of the DHS OIG
Based on the above findings, the OIG recommended that the USCIS implement additional controls to mitigate fraud risks, such as requiring certifying officials to submit signed forms directly to the USCIS.
The OIG suggested that the USCIS improve data systems to ensure accurate reporting of U visas granted, and to develop a plan to track the outcome of U visa-related fraud referrals to further reduce fraud risks. The OIG also advised the USCIS to resolve backlogs and timely protect eligible petitioners awaiting initial adjudication. Further, the OIG told the USCIS to enhance performance record keeping to ensure the achievement of the program purpose.
In response to the report, the USCIS concurred with some recommendations, but disagreed with some of the findings of the OIG. The USCIS also noted that it has taken steps to address some of the concerns raised by the OIG.
The USCIS must take action to protect the integrity of the U visa program. The USCIS must ensure that fraudulent petitions are not approved and take steps to provide timely protections for foreign nationals with legitimate cases, given the tremendous backlogs in this visa category.
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