Border Shenanigans. (from the Deputy Director).(United States Immigration and Naturalization Policy, fees)(Brief Article)

Article excerpt

The recent revelation that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service sent a Florida flight school confirmation that they had approved student visas for Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi--exactly six months after the two terrorists hijacked and crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center--would be a sick joke at the federal agency's expense if it weren't true. According to David Johnston of the New York Times, "The mistake was another embarrassing gaffe for an agency that has long been criticized in Congress for sloppy management and inept record keeping and for being unable to control the borders or keep track of foreigners in the United States legally or illegally."

In the past year, a legislative change designed to address some of the procedural problems at the INS and to generate more revenue for the agency (the INS earns most of its budget through fees rather than through congressional appropriation) has inadvertently created new problems for not-for-profit arts organizations. Effective on June 1, 2001, Congress authorized the collection of a $1,000 "premium processing fee" (to be paid in addition to regular processing fees) for certain categories of employment-related visa applications--including O and P visas, which are used to bring foreign artists and theatre companies to perform in the U.S. An employer who elects to pay the extra $1,000 is guaranteed that the application will be processed within 15 calendar days; applicants also have access to special phone numbers and e-mail addresses to check on the status of their requests. If the INS fails to act within 15 days, they must refund the $1,000 fee and still "process the petition expeditiously."

In an INS press release, deputy executive associate commissioner Bill Yates promised, "With this program, businesses can rely on INS to meet the demands of today's fast-paced workplaces. The enhanced revenue from the program will ensure faster service for these businesses without causing delays in the adjudication of other petitions." The release also stated, "INS estimates that...it will collect approximately $80 million annually from the program. The revenue generated from the program will be used to hire additional staff and make infrastructure improvements. These enhancements will improve INS processing of all petitions."

The reality, however, has been quite different. Despite the INS's assurances, the imposition of the premium processing service has demonstrably introduced significant delays for ordinary visa petitioners. Before the new system was implemented, two of the INS's four regional Service Centers, in Vermont and Nebraska, could process O and P petitions within 5 to 21 days, while the Texas and California centers routinely took 30 to 90 days. Since the introduction of the premium processing service, however, processing time in Vermont now takes 60 to 70 days and the other three centers take 90 to 120 days. …