MUMBAI: Words matter. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has unveiled its new mission statement terming America as a ‘nation of welcome and possibility’ for immigrants. It’s new mission statement reads: USCIS upholds America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity and respect for all we serve. USCIS is the immigration arm of the US government, the new mission statement is viewed as putting USCIS back on track to its role of adjudicating visa applications, employment authorisation documents and other immigration benefits, backed with the promise of fairness, integrity and respect towards the foreign applicants who wish to work, study, reside, become citizens of, or even seek refuge in US. The new mission statement is a stark contrast to the step taken by the Trump administration, which in February 2018, had deleted the reference to America being a ‘nation of immigrants’ from the mission statement. Under the Trump administration, USCIS resorted to extreme vetting – for instance, under a policy change, each visa extension – such as for H-1B visas, was treated as a new application. This had led to an increase in requests for additional documentation (known as requests for evidence – RFEs) which increased administrative costs for sponsoring employers and led to delays. Or in other instances, there was an outright denial of visa extensions on various grounds. In April last year, this was done away with, and USCIS resorted to its earlier practice of deferring to previous approvals when extending visas. A release from the USCIS states that the new mission statement is a reflection of feedback from its employees on the agency’s role, the priorities of the Biden Administration, and Director Ur Jaddou’s vision for an inclusive and accessible agency. “At its core, USCIS is about delivering decisions to families, businesses, workers, and those seeking refuge in our country on their applications, petitions, requests, and appeals. This new mission statement reflects the inclusive character of both our country and this agency. The US is and will remain a welcoming nation that embraces people from across the world who seek family reunification, employment or professional opportunities, and humanitarian protection,” said Ur Jaddou, director, USCIS. Jaddou emphasised that, “At USCIS, we know that every time we grant an immigration or naturalization benefit, we are fostering the opportunity to help us build a stronger America. And when we offer refuge to those in need of protection we are living up to our nation’s highest ideals.” Immigration attorneys and policy think-tanks have largely welcomed the change. Atlanta based, immigration attorney, Audra Doyle has posted on LinkedIn, a professional social media platform, “I believe this is an important change from USCIS, for the better. The agency’s leadership is signalling that it will take a new, less hostile tone towards applications. I expect for this notion to take a while to trickle down to the everyday work of USCIS, but it is great to see the leadership’s stance changing.” She added that while the USCIS is not an enforcement agency, that job is given to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the line has been muddied over the years. “The USCIS’ role should be to facilitate lawful immigration to the US for qualified applicants. Nothing else,” Doyle posted. While the term ‘nation of immigrants’ has not been reinstated, the new mission statement has a welcoming tone which promises fairness when dealing with immigrant’s applications. Jeremy Robbins, executive director at the American Immigration Council, welcomed the new mission statement. “This new declaration of their values is a reminder that USCIS doesn’t just administer our immigration system— it transforms lives and helps us build a stronger nation that benefits all.” USCIS continues to face the flak for delays in processing of various immigration benefit applications – a fact acknowledged by the immigration agency. Earlier this month, Jaddou had stated “It doesn’t matter what benefit we are talking about or what you applied for, every single applicant who seeks a benefit from USCIS is entitled to a timely decision. USCIS is clear-eyed about this and we are taking important steps to ensure that we are addressing case processing times in a meaningful way and, although there is still much to do that will take time given our large backlog, we have made progress in key areas.” Funding continues to be an issue for this agency, but it remains unclear when the revised higher fees for various visa applications will be rolled out.

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