What’s It Worth: Will New O-1 Visa Policy Reflect Customer Feedback?
by Vera L. Fry
The USCIS Office of Public Engagement recently hosted a teleconference with stakeholders regarding the evidentiary standards of the O-1 nonimmigrant visa classification. USCIS’ stated goal for the April 28, 2011 conference call was to solicit comments and suggestions from immigration practitioners on how the immigration agency should evaluate evidence that is submitted in support of O-1 visa petitions.
According to an Office of Public Engagement representative, this is an important step in the agency’s long term goal of planning a comprehensive memo offering guidance on evidentiary standards. On this point, USCIS clarified that the memo would address the O-1 visa’s evidentiary standards within the current regulatory framework, as there is no intent to alter the regulations themselves.
While the meeting offered practitioners the opportunity to voice concerns, an open question is whether this and similar forums produce any tangible improvements for customers. Billed as “an opportunity to hear from stakeholders,” the conference may have been useful for USCIS officials, but did not afford participants a platform to discuss and brainstorm with USCIS officials on improvements to the policy memorandum. USCIS routinely responded to comments during the session only by saying that the conference was an opportunity to receive feedback and it would take feedback into account in drafting the new policy guidance. Stakeholders may have found the meeting more productive if it involved engagement with officials and a greater opportunity for dialogue versus one way information flow.
To initiate the discussion, USCIS reps first summarized the three types of “O” visas and standards:
The teleconference lines were then opened to allow stakeholders to offer their input. Practitioners voiced many concerns about the evaluation of evidence submitted and how the adjudicators are interpreting the regulations, noting — it is important for adjudicators to have flexibility versus bright line rules and “check box” forms. A synopsis of the comments from stakeholders:
USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas and the Office of Public Engagement are to be commended for their efforts to solicit stakeholder comments as they embark on the herculean task of consolidating and revising policy guidance. At the same time, a true show of transparency will require more than simply soliciting comments. Indeed, USCIS has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is responding to stakeholder feedback by incorporating the valuable suggestions offered by experienced practitioners into the resulting policy memorandum on evidentiary standards for the “O” visa. A new policy memo on the “O” visa that accounts for stakeholder comments will affirm the agency’s stated goal of collaboration and dialogue with its customers.
Vera L. Fry is a Partner at Goel & Anderson. She advises clients on complex legal matters involving all of the major U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant visa classifications including PERM, H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, E-1, E-2, and B-1 issues. Vera began practicing immigration law in 1999 when she was selected to be an Honor Law Graduate in the highly competitive U.S. Department of Justice Attorney General's Honors Program. She served as Assistant District Counsel with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, advising operational units and litigating a wide variety of asylum, removal and deportation cases in California and Arizona immigration courts. Subsequently, she lived overseas in Japan for eight years, serving as the U.S. immigration law consultant to a Japanese law firm. Vera later opened and operated her own Japanese registered foreign law office as a registered foreign attorney (gaikokuhou jimu bengoshi) and assisted Japanese companies with their business immigration needs. Additionally, she taught U.S. immigration law in Japan at the University of the Ryukyus, Graduate School of Law. Vera also studied commercial dispute resolution at the Law Society of Hong Kong and successfully competed in the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, Mediator Accreditation Process, to be certified as a mediator. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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