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US State Department's Jill Esposito Talks New Pilot Program to Streamline Immigrant Visas, Improve Communication

Tuesday, 07 April 2015

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs is set to improve its immigrant visa process with a new pilot program and improved communication, which could particularly impact the tech sector.

U.S. Department of State Director of Public and Diplomatic Liaison for the Bureau of Consular Affairs Jill Esposito spoke with Latin Post about new initiatives impacting the immigrant visa process, including after President Barack Obama's Nov. 20, 2014, immigration executive actions.

For her role at the State Department, Esposito explained she has been asked to coordinate the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs' efforts on how to communicate with clients and identify possible changes to guarantee that people understand the requirements requested by the department.

Esposito said the State Department has been trying to improve communication in efforts for all parties improve communication in efforts for all parties involved in ensuring that those who utilize an immigrant visa do not encounter any setbacks. She added, "I don't see that anybody loses by the efforts we're taking to provide our services more quickly, more expeditiously, and part in parcel with that is taking a hard look at the way we communicate with our customers."

One area Esposito said the department is "most closely" focusing its efforts on is improving its immigration system. She acknowledged Obama's latest immigration executive actions forced the State Department to "take a hard look" at its procedures. As a result, the department is moving away from the current paper-based environment in which they process immigrant visas -- that includes both employer-based visas, many of which are used in the technology sector, as well as family-based visas.

"Right now, we're in this antiquated role; we are shipping paper across three different government agencies, no less than six times spanning the globe when you're talking about an immigrant visas," said Esposito, adding the amount of time it takes for immigrant visa paper files to move from several key destinations could take several weeks. "We think by moving this process to an electronic one, where we are transferring electronic files instead of paper files, we're going to be making really great cost savings in terms of time for all of us."

The electronic method is currently developed as a pilot program, and it is to be tested this summer in six overseas post, which includes Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Frankfurt, Germany; Montreal, Canada; Hong Kong, China and Sydney, Australia. Once the pilot program concludes, Esposito said the department will determine estimated cost savings and specifics from switching from paper-based to electronic-based immigrant visa applications.

Latin Post spoke with Esposito following the Bureau of Consular Affairs hosting an interactive panel session at South by Southwest (SXSW) about immigration, visas and the tech industry on March 14.

"This was the first time for high-level representation in the Bureau of Consular Affairs ... what we really wanted to do was demonstrate our commitment to facilitating legitimate travel, and to recognize that this travel facilitation is vitally important for all business but especially the tech business," Esposito said.

At SXSW, Esposito mentioned the 228 visa processing posts, worldwide. During the 2014 fiscal year, Esposito said 9.9 million visas were issued, but identified that half of the visas were issued in only four countries, which have a significant interest in the tech world, namely Brazil, Mexico, China and India.

"The travel facilitation that comes from those millions of visas, just from those four countries, is in the best interest of the tech community," continued Esposito.

"One of our challenges, and this is something I pointed out at [SXSW], is that we are dealing with a very old piece of legislation that we are being asked to implement, and although we do everything we can within the legal constraints of the law, it is nevertheless sometimes hard for us to be as responsive as we would like, and a lot of the concerns that folks raised, we have legal constraints that prevent us from really giving any specific relief, because for instance the H-1B cap, that is not something that we have the executive authority to fix or change," said Esposito.

"I do think that there were a number of times where we had to explain that some of their concerns were not concerns that we were going to be able to address within context of our existing authorities."

"The immigrant visa law is extremely complex and there are a number of different avenues for legal immigration to the United States, some of those categories do have caps, others do not," added Esposito, noting employment-based visa caps do exist due to congressional legislation.

Esposito said Spanish linguists have helped the department translate the immigrant visa webpages into the Spanish language, "so that we are able to provide better information to the public and to the Spanish-speaking public on what the current information and rules about immigrating to the United States are."

"I think it is important for us to be reaching all of our customers at their communities, to be explaining to them how they can understand what we can do for them and how to communicate better with them," Esposito said. "That's why we made the efforts to go out to SXSW and reach this community and explain what we're doing and try to be a human face behind what can often seem like an impenetrable wall of regulations and explain that behind the law and regulations, we are human beings, we are committed to facilitating legitimate travel, we are committed to facilitating immigration within the constraints of the law and here's how we're trying to do it."

Source: The Latin Post

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