AFGE applauds the Biden administration for seeking to hire more employees to handle the current workload and new responsibilities of workers at an important immigration agency.
The Biden administration is overhauling the asylum process to speed up claims processing. Under the plan, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will take over the claims adjudication from the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
Currently, USCIS asylum officers conduct preliminary credible fear screenings to determine whether the migrants have demonstrated they will likely face prosecution or torture if they return to their home countries. If their initial fear claims are successful, they will get a hearing with an EOIR judge in a defensive asylum process.
Under the new plan, the migrants will get a hearing but with an asylum officer. If their cases are denied, they can request a hearing with the EOIR judge.
The current system was put in place in 1997 when there were not many asylum claims filed. The opposite is true today. The immigration courts currently have a pending caseload of approximately 1.3 million cases. The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
USCIS plans to hire between 794 and 4,647 total new positions to handle approximately 150,000 cases annually. USCIS is primarily funded by fees collected from immigration applicants. It currently has a backlog of 400,000 cases.
“The Departments believe that the proposed changes in this rule are necessary to establish a more streamlined and timely adjudication process for individuals who establish a credible fear of persecution or torture, while simultaneously ensuring fundamental fairness,” said the administration in a proposed rule notice.
Of a total of 71,363 credible fear cases between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2020, a majority, or 59, 280, received positive credible fear determinations. The new rule would benefit asylum seekers who can establish credible fear as they will be granted asylum sooner. The proposed rule would also allow them to apply for a work permit while their applications are being processed.
Most current asylum officers are employed at the GS-12 pay level or lower. Most new employees will be hired at the GS-13 level as they will have more responsibilities.