CIS Ombudsman Teleconference "Application Processing Times: A Conversation with USCIS" Wednesday April 27, 2011
1. What is the role of the Office of Performance and Quality within USCIS?
USCIS Response: The Office of Performance and Quality (OPQ) is responsible for fulfilling the following mission critical activities for USCIS:
Developing application specific adjudication plans and performance goals for all field offices and service centers.
Identifying and setting staffing levels for all field offices and service centers based upon established workload and performance standards.
On a monthly basis, publishing national and local office performance reports enabling data driven strategic analysis of field office adjudication activity and the ability to adjust plans as needed.
Providing data analysis and reporting of immigration statistics to fulfill a broad spectrum of internal and external stakeholder information inquires, as well as to bring increased visibility and transparency to USCIS operations.
Directing and overseeing the administration of monthly national quality assurance (QA) reviews to ensure established procedural and decisional quality review standards are being achieved.
Leading and overseeing the introduction of a new National Quality Management Program that is built upon eight specific quality criteria. The quality criteria, when acted upon in a coordinated fashion will deliver the tools and methods by which USCIS Directorates and Program Offices will be able to achieve unprecedented quality in the delivery of immigration services. The quality criteria will be used to guide improvement efforts by placing focus on important organizational elements such as leadership, employee development, process improvement, customer service and communications.
2. Can you describe how USCIS calculates processing times?
USCIS Response: USCIS strives to complete cases on a “first in – first out” business practice. However, many cases are completed out of this sequence due to issues such as the need to request additional information from the applicant. The need for additional information suspends application processing until the information is received, which disrupts the first in – first out business practice. The USCIS processing time calculation assumes the first in – first out method, therefore even though the calculations may indicate the Service is processing all cases within established processing time goals, there may be some cases that are actually processed outside the time limit. The processing time calculation is based on the volume of “active” pending cases as represented by the number of weeks or months of new applications received by USCIS. Active pending cases are those cases that are available for processing, as opposed to active suspense cases that are waiting for applicants to accomplish a step in the process such as re-taking the naturalization test or providing requested information. An example of the process used to calculate processing times is as follows: if the active pending was at 200 cases for the reporting month, and for the past four months applications received were exactly 50 cases each month, the processing time would be calculated as 4 months.
3. As a user of the website, what is the best way for me to lookup processing times?
USCIS Response: Processing times are available on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov. To the left of the homepage under Customer Tools, users can find a link for “Check Processing Times.” After clicking the link, scroll to the bottom of the page and select the field office or service center tasked with processing your application or petition, then click on the “Field Office Processing Dates” or “Service Center Processing Dates” action tab. The resulting web page has instructions and a large table showing all form types processed at that office and their processing times.
4. How often are the times posted?
USCIS Response: Processing times are posted monthly on or about the 15th day of the month. The processing times are calculated from final statistics compiled 45 days prior to their posting. Based upon the methods currently used to collect performance data, USCIS requires 30 days to conduct quality control audits and make needed corrections before final data can be published and processing times calculated. Another 15 days is needed to receive field office and service center concurrence with the processing times calculated and to get them uploaded to the USCIS website.
5. What is the internal Quality Control process used to ensure the integrity of the posted processing time information?
USCIS Response: USCIS publishes its processing time information only after all field offices and service centers have reported their performance data into the OPQ and it has undergone routine quality control checks. The collection and reporting of performance data is conducted on a monthly basis and most often the OPQ will complete the reconciliation process by the end of the following month. As an example, the reconciliation of the data received for the January 2011 reporting period was completed on the 28th day of February 2011. At that time, processing times were calculated and sent to the field offices and service centers for review and comment. The offices are instructed to return their comments by the 8th day of the subsequent month to enable OPQ to finalize the processing times and get them posted to the web page by the 15th day of the month - 45 days after the end of the actual performance month.
Although the processing time information has become somewhat aged by the time it is posted to the USCIS website, it generally remains accurate since there is normally little change from month to month. However, when USCIS experiences periods of unusually high application filings and is unable to immediately respond to the increase, temporary case backlogs develop and processing times tend to fluctuate with more frequency. Consequently, during these periods, the 45 days required to calculate and post the processing time information to the website may adversely affect the overall usefulness of the processing time information for the customer until USCIS is able to eliminate the backlog and smooth out application processing.
6. Why are processing times posted for certain applications and petitions and not others? For example, USCIS does not post the times for the I-914 or I-918.
USCIS Response: Most form types not included in the processing times table are those that are used to provide supporting evidence, such as the I-864 Affidavit of Support or the N-648 Medical Certification. Since these forms are not considered applications or petitions for immigration benefits, USCIS does not assign a processing time goal to them. At this time there only a few applications or petitions that confer a benefit that do not have a processing time posted to the USCIS website. For the most part these are very low volume forms that generate minimal customer inquiries. However, the I-914 and I-918 are two form types included in this group that USCIS began collecting performance data in FY2009 and has recently begun calculating processing time information. USCIS intends to include these form types in an upcoming web posting.
7. Why does OPQ sometimes post the processing time goal and in other cases the actual processing time?
USCIS Response: USCIS will post the processing time goal (e.g. 5 months) if an office is processing a form-type at or within the stated goal. When USCIS is not meeting its goal, the actual receipt date of the application/petition currently being processed in the office or service center is posted. This alerts applicants/petitioners of delays and offers them the ability to better understand their potential wait time by comparing their receipt date to the receipt date of the application/petition currently being worked.
8. How does USCIS develop its processing time goals?
USCIS Response: Fundamental to the process of developing processing time goals is the ability to capture, analyze, and report operational performance activity generated by USCIS field offices and service centers. The Office of Performance and Quality is the lead USCIS component responsible for defining and calculating performance measures, goals and metrics used to evaluate and assess the delivery of immigration services. These measures and metrics allow field and headquarters managers to determine whether established performance goals and customer service standards are being achieved. OPQ calculates annual performance goals and associated staffing requirements to ensure USCIS field offices and service centers are properly staffed to meet all processing time goals. It is through this analytical process that USCIS is able to identify a range of possible service delivery scenarios.
The development of processing time goals is, by its nature, a complicated undertaking given the broad and diverse fiscal implications that must be considered when establishing processing time goals. For example, lower processing time goals typically require more staff to process more cases. More staff triggers the need to conduct an impact assessment of USCIS facilities to determine whether the additional staff could be accommodated, or if facility alterations would be required. When all personnel and related support items are identified and a cost estimate is developed, USCIS must then determine whether these costs can be supported through its current fee schedule. If they cannot, the increased costs will generally cause application fees to rise.
In summary, the process for developing processing time goals is a complex undertaking that requires the balancing of numerous service and cost considerations. USCIS makes every effort to balance those considerations and is committed to providing the most timely customer service at the lowest possible cost. USCIS last updated its processing time goals on July 30, 2007 in conjunction with publication of a final rule in the Federal Register adjusting the Immigration and Naturalization Benefit Application and Petition Fee Schedule.
9. Will USCIS’s business transformation program affect the posting of processing times?
USCIS Response: Yes, the USCIS Transformation Program, once fully implemented, is expected to improve USCIS’s ability to calculate and post processing time information to the web. The source of these improvements is the transformation of the agency’s adjudication system from a paper-based, form specific process to an electronic account-based, person-centric process. Under the current paper-based process, USCIS calculates processing times using applications pending and applications received. The processing times derived under this model are the result of mathematical computations. Under the transformed electronic account based, person-centric processing system, USCIS will be able to identify the actual age of every case being processed within the system. Therefore, by using a single system for processing immigration applications and petitions, USCIS will be able to quickly identify the actual age of each application processed within the system after the close of the specific reporting month leading to near real time reporting of processing time information that is of greater value to the customer.
FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS FROM CALLERS:
1. Can OPQ address how premium processing impacts calculations of processing times posted on the website? Does OPQ include/exclude premium processing cases as another factor when calculating processing times? Can USCIS post both premium and regular processing times on the website? The concern is that premium processing appears to skew the average processing time.
USCIS Response: USCIS does not apply any special treatment to premium processing cases when calculating processing times. OPQ’s official database of record does not distinguish between cases filed under the premium processing program from all other cases submitted through normal filing channels, therefore making it impossible to calculate both premium and regular processing times. We acknowledge that including the premium processing cases in the overall calculation of processing times may mask the true processing times of those cases not filed under the premium processing program.
Lack of visibility into this issue is being addressed through the introduction of the new Enterprise Performance Analysis System (ePAS). The ePAS system is currently undergoing operational test and evaluation and is expected to become the official performance reporting system beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2012. Under the new ePAS system, the OPQ will collect discrete data on cases filed under both the premium processing and regular filing channels. This in turn will allow OPQ to calculate separate processing times for both the premium processing and non-premium processing cases filed with USCIS.
2. How do Requests for Evidence (RFEs) or Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) impact the calculation of processing times that are posted on the website? Would the calculation of processing times stop when an RFE or NOID is issued and then resume when the petitioner submits the requested documentation?
USCIS Response: Processing times are calculated based on the volume of active pending cases at each office or center. Cases on which a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) has been issued are removed from the active pending totals and put into abeyance awaiting response from the customer. Once the requested information is received from the customer the case is reinserted into the adjudication workflow and becomes part of the active pending volume that is used to calculate processing times. It is pertinent to note that processing times are calculated based on the total volume of cases at an office or center rather than on specific applications/petitions. Therefore, published processing times may not reflect the elapsed time for any one particular applicant/petitioner.
3. How does a FOIA request impact processing times? For example, must USCIS pull the case in order to respond and, thus, delay processing of an application or petition?
USCIS Response: When the National Records Center (NRC) requests a file in order to respond to a FOIA request, the office in possession of the file can send a copy if they are currently working on an active application or petition. If the file is sent to the NRC, the office can request that the file be returned promptly (e.g., overnight, within 3 days, etc.). The NRC quickly scans those files and returns them to the office adjudicating the application or petition. Therefore, there is little to no impact on the continued processing of an application or petition.
4. Regarding the use of premium processing for I-140, EB2 Advanced Degree petitions, can premium processing be requested at any time or is it only available for the following situation: the beneficiary’s 6th year of H1B will be completed in 60 days, s/he is a beneficiary of a pending I-140, s/he is eligible for AC21 104(c) but not AC21 106(a)?
USCIS Response: Premium Processing Service is currently available in the EB2 category if Form I-140 is filed on behalf of an alien who is not seeking a National Interest Waiver.
5. How is it that only a few years ago USCIS/INS used to report processing times twice monthly and such times were not aged?
USCIS Response: USCIS began posting processing times to its website twice per month beginning in November 2003 and continued that practice through the end of 2005. During this period USCIS solicited processing information from each of its field offices and service centers which were subsequently posted to the website. Over time it became clear that the agency lacked a standardized methodology by which to calculate processing times, and as a result, the processing time information being provided by the field offices and service centers was determined to be inherently unreliable. This was because it lacked the analytical rigor and data quality to ensure that the processing time information being posted was accurate and reliable.
In response to this finding, beginning in 2006, USCIS terminated the self-reporting and bi-monthly posting of processing time information, and centralized the calculation of the processing time information within the USCIS Operations Planning Division of the former Domestic Operations Directorate. This change allowed field office and service center processing times to be calculated using a standardized methodology that delivered the required analytical rigor to ensure the consistent and accurate reporting of the processing time information once per month. This process has remained in place since 2006 and is now being administered by the Office of Performance and Quality.
6. My understanding is that USCIS processing times are from receipt date, so in theory July 07 filers who have been waiting for a visa number, should be processed immediately after becoming current as most are pre-adjudicated, yet there are reports that USCIS is referring such applicants to the processing times released. However, on the call, you confirmed that USCIS works with a first-in, first-out system, so the fact that some cases have now been in the queue for years is that they should be adjudicated first, but anecdotally, it is not the case. Can you please comment on this?
USCIS Response: USCIS strives to process all cases on a first-in first-out basis and has established a service policy of pre-adjudicating form I-485, Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status applications that are considered approvable if not for the lack of an available visa. Once the Department of State advances the priority date in their Visa Bulletin, USCIS will pull all applications with a receipt data that is equal to or earlier than the date listed in the Visa Bulletin and will commence processing on the fist-in first-out basis. If customers are calling the Customer Service toll free number to inquire about the status of their case, which may have only recently become available for a visa, the Call Service Representative will refer the customer to the processing time page and advise them of the current processing time for the office handing their case.