INS works overtime on a plan to clear backlog

INS works overtime on a plan to clear backlog

BY PREETI VASISHTHA | GCN STAFF

On the heels of upgrading an antiquated application processing system, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is expanding a program to speed the approval of work permits for foreign nationals.

Through the Premium Processing Service, INS charges applicants an additional $1,000 to complete application requests in 15 days. The processing generally takes between 60 to 90 days and costs $1,100. The service will require INS employees to work overtime, but it should make the agency money that can be plowed into systems projects.

'The enhanced revenue will allow INS to improve service and expand infrastructure to the benefit of all our customers,' said Bill Yates, deputy executive associate commissioner for the Immigration Services Division.

INS estimates that beginning in October, it will collect about $80 million annually from the service.

With the extra money, the agency in part plans to implement a servicewide automated case management and tracking system. It has an old system that agency officials acknowledge fails to meet their needs and, in fact, has failed to produce reports for six years.

Guaranteed action

The agency's inability to provide applications status information has incurred wrath from Congress and the General Accounting Office, which last month issued a stern critique of INS applications processing.


Who can use premium service

INS now provides rush processing for these foreign nationals seeking work visas

' Treaty traders and treaty investors

' Agricultural and temporary workers

' Trainees

' Transfers within a company

' Aliens of extraordinary ability or achievement

' Athletes and entertainers

' Participants in cultural exchange programs

' Temporary workers in specialty and religious occupations

' Professionals engaged in commerce under the North American Free Trade Agreement

Through the new premium service, INS guarantees that within 15 days it will approve or deny an application, request additional information on it or begin an investigation if it suspects fraud. If the service fails to meet the deadline, it will refund the $1,000 fee but continue to process the application.

Earlier this year, INS began expedited processing for nine types of applications. Three other categories were added today.

The goal is to clear the backlog of pending foreign visas within five years, after which INS will discontinue the service, she said.

INS uses its Computer-Linked Application Information Management System 3.0 for processing all applications other than naturalization forms at service centers in California, Nebraska, Texas and Vermont, and at district offices in Baltimore and St. Paul, Minn.

The agency last month completed a project to improve transmission of CLAIMS data from field offices to a mainframe data center in Washington. The project followed efforts to upgrade software and standardize file servers used for data storage at service centers and to upgrade end-user and peripheral hardware.

Over the years, the agency has come under criticism for its inability to provide immigrants with timely decisions on their work permit applications. Between fiscal 1994 and 2000, the number of applications INS received increased by about 50 percent. The application backlog grew from 1 million in 1994 to 4 million last year.

Some 767,000 of 3 million applications for naturalization, permanent residence and immigration that were pending as of Sept. 30 had been in process for 21 months, GAO reported last month.

INS lacks an automated case management and tracking system for applications other than those for naturalization, GAO noted in its report, Immigration Benefits: Several Factors Impede Timeliness of Application Processing. The result: The service cannot easily determine the size and status of pending applications, processing times, operations bottlenecks or staff deployment needs, GAO concluded.

CLAIMS, which INS has been using for at least a decade, captures information about fees, records the results of each application and provides some case status details, INS spokeswoman Elaine Komis said.

For CLAIMS, each INS service center and the Administrative Appeals Office in Washington runs its own server. That's in addition to the mainframe system at INS headquarters. The service centers use IBM Netfinity 7000 servers for transaction processing and IBM Netfinity 5000 servers for data backup and recovery.

INS uses Btrieve SQL 2000 from Pervasive Software Inc. of Austin, Texas, to manage its CLAIMS files.

The data collected and processed at each service center is uploaded to the CLAIMS mainframe, which serves as the central data repository, Komis said.

The system is accessible to all INS offices nationwide via the agency's WAN.

System stumbles

INS officials told GAO that CLAIMS is operating beyond its original design capacity, which leads to frequent breakdowns.

In 1999, CLAIMS was unable to accurately identify the number of applications approved that year.

And the system has not produced management reports since July 1994, when its reporting function failed and INS could not fix it.

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