U.S. Citizenship and Immigration SERVICES (REALLY!?!): Where the Wild Things Are
[Blogger's Note: Today's guest posting on immigration dysfunctionality offers a view on pop culture. The parenthetical "(REALLY!?!)" in the title -- inserted as an editorial comment by the blog's usual author -- suggests the smarmy skepticism of an Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers riff on Saturday Night Live. The Haloween-themed guest post is by Nici Kersey, my colleague at Seyfarth Shaw LLP and a rising star in the immigration-lawyer firmament.]
For Halloween, I have decided to dress as Max from Where the Wild Things Are. I was not able to locate a Max costume at any of the traditional Halloween costume stores, so I channeled my former costume designer self, pulled out the sewing machine, and made one. I chose Max because the costume was much easier to make than the costume for any of the other "wild things" and because I have of late been feeling a lot like Max. Bottled up anger and frustration, often directed toward the immigration authorities, make me want to tear through the woods screaming. "Roar! Roar! ROAR!"
A recent example:
A colleague asked if I could help his friend with an immigration issue. For immigration attorneys, this is a frequent occurrence. Typically, the question is about a boyfriend, fiancée, friend, nanny, or neighbor who is in the U.S. "illegally." Those discussions are often heartbreaking, as there is frequently not much that we can do to help.
This time, the discussion was upsetting for a different reason. A gentleman who had been in the U.S. for several years, working in H-1B status, complained that his wife was unable to obtain a driver's license. The man's employer had violated numerous immigration laws and regulations by requiring, for example, that he pay the costs and attorney fees associated with his H-1B visa petitions and with his labor certification application, but he was not interested in trying to recoup those costs (totaling more than $10,000). His main concern was that his wife was not able to drive.
In Atlanta, not being able to drive is a fairly serious disability, as public transportation is unreliable and inconvenient. This man's wife was suffering from a frustrating lack of independence and a serious case of cabin fever. (Still, I was surprised by the lack of concern over the ten grand.)
Due to government error in issuing the H-4 approval notice to this man's wife, the notice did not include a start date or an expiration date. When she went to the license branch, she was turned away, as her immigration document did not contain the information necessary for issuance of the license, and the SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements) system could not verify that she was legally allowed to be in the United States.
She tried contacting USCIS to correct the error and was told she would have a response within 45 days. (The wild things roared their terrible roars ...) No response ever arrived. (... and gnashed their terrible teeth ...) We contacted USCIS and SAVE to attempt to correct the error, and we were told that we would have a response within 45 days. (... and rolled their terrible eyes ...) Again, no response ever arrived. (... and showed their terrible claws ...) Because of the length of time the woman's husband had spent in the U.S. in H-1B status, her H-4 status was only valid for 1 year, and by this time, nearly half of that year was already gone.
In the end, rather than continue to seek a revised approval notice or a driver's license, the couple decided to move to Canada, where the gentleman has been offered a job. The good news is that the new employer treats its foreign national employees well and will pay all of the immigration-related costs for the couple's move to Canada and for their maintenance of immigration-status in Canada. More good news? The man's wife should be able to obtain a Canadian driver's license. The bad news is that the U.S. lost a talented individual who had hoped to make the U.S. his permanent home. He had to uproot his family, which had lived in Atlanta for nearly a decade and had come to consider this his home. All of this, over something as simple as a driver's license. Roar.
As has been noted in this blog in the past, USCIS does not offer an acceptable form of customer service. I accept that the government makes mistakes; we all do. But it should never take 45 days to correct a clear government error - an error that could be corrected by re-printing a single sheet of paper and sticking it in the mail. Here, it took more than 90 days to not correct the error or do anything at all to cure the problem. (If I regularly treated my clients this way, I would likely be not only fired but also disbarred.) It is due to problems like this that the U.S. is becoming a less desirable destination for so many talented individuals. It is due, in part, to our immigration system that the U.S. lost the recent bid to host the Olympics.
A Canadian friend recently called and said that his J-2 work authorization was set to expire and that he needed to extend it. "Is that something you can help me with?" he asked. I said that I would be glad to help. "So, can I just bring this down to your office and you can stamp it or something?" I explained that that was not exactly an accurate description of the extension process. "But I thought that attorneys were 'officers of the court' and that you could take care of these types of things." Let the wild rumpus start!