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20 July 2004

Homeland Security Works to Improve Immigration Process

Ombudsman outlines new procedures, policies

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

A senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security July 20 outlined new immigration procedures and policies at a Washington press conference.

"As a nation of immigrants with a rich immigration heritage, obviously a significant challenge that we in the United States have in the 21st century is forging a system that ensures both the safety of our borders, and yet openly welcomes immigrants as we have done for generations in the past here," Prakash Khatri, citizenship and immigration services ombudsman said.

"My office is charged with making recommendations for changes to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on problems that we have identified that both individuals and employers are having in their communications and their trying to seek the benefits that USCIS provides," Khatri said.

He identified three issues his office currently is studying in order to make policy recommendations: prolonged processing times for visas, immigration benefits fraud and case-status information improvement.

"To do those three in a way that is non-intrusive, customer-friendly, and shows the welcoming nature of the American immigration system is truly what we're all committed to, and that's what we're hoping that we will be able to do," Khatri said.

He said that his office recommended streamlining the immediate-relative immigrant processing system and the re-engineering of the permanent resident card replacement program, "which many permanent residents of the U.S. who travel quite frequently were having issues with.

"We made a recommendation on the family-based immigrant processing. Here in the United States, if you have a foreign national that has come to the U.S. and is married to a U.S. citizen or is the parent or child of a U.S. citizen, they can file, in most cases, an application to get their green card here," Khatri said. "And what we did was we actually made a recommendation to do the processing in a manner which would substantially increase the speed."

He noted that a USCIS pilot program in Dallas lowered green-card processing time to 75 days or less, in contrast with New York City where processing can take three years or more.

When asked how much time it takes for sponsorship of an immediate relative to be processed, Kharti responded, "For individuals who are immediate relatives, such as parents, spouses or children, there is no limit on the number of immigrants that can come in. What we are trying to focus on is ensuring that USCIS is using the most up-to-date technology to quickly and securely process all of these applications.

"Once a person is here in the country with an application for a green card here, if they have a family emergency they're required to have what's known as advance parole to leave this country, and then return in that same status so that they can continue to get the benefit that they initially sought," Khatri said.

He noted there should not be a situation where a person cannot leave the United States because the immigration service was unable to process an advance parole.

"We have been working on a number of fixes to that, and some recommendations will be forthcoming in the coming months on the advance parole issue that a number of people that are impacted," Khatri said.