Sunday, December 5, 2010

Engagement or Dis-Engagement?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has an Office of Public Engagement. According to USCIS, "[t]he Office of Public Engagement (OPE) coordinates and directs agency-wide dialogue with external stakeholders. OPE actively collaborates with, and seeks feedback from, stakeholders to inform USCIS policies, priorities, and organizational performance reviews. OPE facilitates open and transparent communication between the Agency, external stakeholders, and the customers they represent by sharing feedback, working with Agency leadership, coordinating follow-up, and reporting back to stakeholders. The Office also works closely with other USCIS offices to support the implementation of highly visible outreach programs and public education initiatives."
OPE has three divisions: the Community Relations and Engagement Division, the Intergovernmental Affairs Division, and the Protocol Division. The first and third divisions are those with which I have had the most "engagement". I must say that Community Relations and Engagement is trying. I have been to a couple of community relations events and it appears USCIS district offices are reaching out to the general public to offer better information about what it does.
What is not working are the stakeholders' "engagements" conducted by the Protocol Division, specifically with reference to a little-known job-creation program that could provide badly needed jobs to out-of-work Americans. As I write this, the national unemployment rate has jumped to 9.8 percent!
Each time USCIS has had an opportunity to choose a way to change the EB-5 Program (as this foreign investor immigrant visa program is called), either via memo or via request for evidence, it has always selected the most restrictive change, thus strangling to death the only immigration-related visa program Congress seems to like and support.
Today, for example, USCIS is misapplying its own regulations and guidance and is denying about one-third of the Form I-829 investor petitions to remove conditions on residence (for the permanent green card). This is not sustainable and will be the death of the EB-5 Program.
I have a recommendation. Toss the word "engagement" and use the word "conversation". "Engagement" has a very military meaning to me as someone with 12 years of prior service in the Army. I prefer the word "conversation." Then let's have a few before this important (and unique) job-creating investor visa program goes down the tubes.