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Immigration and Naturalization Service's Premium Processing Program
Report No. 03-14
Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division, has completed an audit of the Immigration and Naturalization Serviceís (INS) Premium Processing program.† The Premium Processing program was established in June 2001 to allow for the payment of a service fee for expedited processing of certain employment-based applications.† The INS guarantees processing of premium petitions within 15 calendar days for the basic application fee ($130) and an additional service fee of $1,000.† According to the regulation that established the Premium Processing program and INSís internal budget documents, the INS will use Premium Processing revenue to hire additional adjudicators, contact representatives, and support personnel to provide service to all its customers and to improve the infrastructure so as to reduce backlogs for all types of petitions and applications.† Currently, only the Form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker, is eligible for the Premium Processing program.
The audit focused on determining if:† (1) the INS was achieving the program goals for the expedited processing of employment-based petitions and applications; (2) the processing times for similar routine petitions and applications changed significantly after the implementation of the Premium Processing program; and (3) the implementation of the mandated Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) check procedures impacted the Premium Processing service.1
Our audit examined the Premium Processing program for the period from June 2001 through October 2002.† We reviewed Premium Processing activities at the INS Headquarters in Washington D.C., and at the INSís four service centers:† St. Albans, Vermont; Dallas, Texas; Laguna Niguel, California; and Lincoln, Nebraska.
I. Summary of Audit Findings
Although we found that the INS is essentially meeting its 15-day processing requirement for premium petitions, we identified the following deficiencies in the Premium Processing program:
Premium Processing applications are adjudicated in the INS service centers located in St. Albans, Vermont (VSC); Dallas, Texas (TSC); Laguna Niguel, California (CSC); and Lincoln, Nebraska (NSC).† Currently, only the Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, is available for the premium service.† However, the program is expected to expand in 2003 to include the Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.† To date, the program has generated over $136 million in revenue as shown in the table below.
PREMIUM PROCESSING REVENUE BY SERVICE CENTER
Source:† INS Information Services Division
An additional $100 million in annual revenue is expected once the Form I-140 is eligible for Premium Processing.
III.† Implementation of IBIS Checks
IBIS was established in 1989 to provide a shared multi-agency database of lookout information to improve border enforcement and facilitate inspection of individuals applying for admission to the United States at ports of entry and pre-inspection facilities.† Twenty-seven agencies contribute data to IBIS, including the INS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Customs Service, and the United States Departments of State and Agriculture.
The data entered into IBIS by the participating agencies include lookouts, wants, warrants, arrests, and convictions.† IBIS contains lookouts for suspected or known terrorists and information on individuals who may pose a threat to national security.
Installation of IBIS hardware and software in the service centers was completed in August 2001, but the INS did not mandate IBIS checks until November 15, 2001.† On that date the INS required IBIS checks for four categories of applications.2† The mandate was expanded on January 28, 2002, to include all INS petitions and applications.† However, as discussed in Finding I of this report, the service centers did not institute IBIS checks on all petitions until March 18, 2002, due to a lapse in communication between INS Headquarters and the field.† INS officials informed us that the service centers were unaware of the January mandate until being verbally informed of it in March 2002.
We determined that between January 28, 2002, and March 18, 2002, the INS service centers adjudicated 387,596 petitions, including 11,830 Premium Processing petitions, without performing IBIS checks.† It is unknown how many of the 387,596 beneficiaries of those petitions may have posed a threat to national security.
IV.† Management Oversight
The Premium Processing program has had inadequate oversight from management at both the national and service center levels.† For example, workload data on Premium Processing have not been incorporated into the INSís work measurement systems.† INS officials maintain that because Premium Processing is intended to be a temporary program that will phase itself out as backlogs diminish, it is unnecessary to include it in general statistical and program analyses.† We disagree.† With over $136 million in receipts to date, Premium Processing is clearly in need of active managerial scrutiny.
Because Premium Processing is exceeding initial revenue projections of $80 million per year, we consider a unit cost analysis important for determining whether staff and resources have been adequately allocated to the service centers.† Similarly, a fee analysis should be conducted to examine the appropriateness of the $1,000 premium.†
V.† Conclusion and Recommendations
Although the immediate goal of Premium Processing is to expedite premium petitions, the long-term objective is to reduce or eliminate backlogs in the INSís total adjudications workload.† In our judgment, the INS must bring about greater efficiency in both the Premium Processing and the general adjudications programs to reach this objective.† Accordingly, the INS must develop adequate information about the resources that Premium Processing requires.
In this report we make five recommendations of actions the INS can take to improve oversight of the Premium Processing program and ensure that individuals whose petitions have been approved do not fall within the five high-risk categories established by the INS.3 In brief, we recommend that the INS:
Our audit objectives, scope, and methodology appear in Appendix I.† The details of our work are contained in the Findings and Recommendations section of this report.4