Travel Report: VSC at Essex Junction

by Elizabeth Brettschneider

“So Ashley, what surprised you most about today's visit to VSC?” I ask.

In front of the brand new VSC location in Essex Junction! So exciting!

In front of the brand new VSC location in Essex Junction! So exciting!

We’ve just ended the annual stakeholder’s event at the new location of the Vermont Service Center (VSC) of US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), where we get to meet officers of the VSC face-to-face and ask them, “What the heck were you thinking when you issued a request for evidence on my last case?” (Just joking.) Rather, it’s a time for those with a vested interest or who are significantly impacted by the decisions that come out of the VSC (i.e., the “stakeholders,” which includes immigration lawyers) to visit the VSC and participate in informational sessions. Jen reported about last year’s event.

“I think it would have to be the five million pieces of mail that they reported were sent out last year…”

“Yeah, that's a lot of trees,” I say. “Though I was happy to hear about their green initiative.”  

We learned this initiative includes encouraging officers and staff to bike to work and facility rainwater collection efforts. “Wait until they go electronic and we never have to physically file paper applications again,” I say.

“And I continue to be surprised that they let the officers take files home to adjudicate," Ashley interjects. "At least they set a seven-day window of time that the officer is required to return the file to the office so that cases are actively processed.”

“True,” I say.

After having toured USCIS’ St. Albans, Vermont facility two years ago, it was very interesting to see the brand new VSC facility in Essex Junction. Apparently the building was completely renovated after having been an IBM office at one point in time and later a warehouse facility. The new building is clean and spacious. Officers are no longer asked to work double shifts at the too small St. Albans location.

“How interesting that officers are allowed to telecommute and can work overtime from 4am to 11:30pm,” I say.  “I guess that's why we sometimes get Premium Processing receipt notice emails late at night. And I can't believe they hired 227 new employees last year. Can you imaging training all those new officers?"

There's nothing like eating homemade English muffins while staring at place settings glued to the ceiling.

There's nothing like eating homemade English muffins while staring at place settings glued to the ceiling.

We are on the way back to the Burlington airport and as Ashley turns onto the next street, I can't help thinking how convenient VSC’s new Essex location is to the airport. The St. Albans location is at least forty-five minutes from Burlington, but this “road trip” could barely be categorized as such. It’s only nineteen miles, including getting to and from our lovely inn (The Essex Resort & Spa) where the English muffins are made in-house and the dining room decorations include an Alice in Wonderlandesque display of place settings glued to the ceiling.

"One thing I noticed during the business immigration break-out session was the effort to get processing times down and having supervisors focus and specialize on just one visa type,” I say. “I hope that will be helpful to our cases. And maybe that’s why the H-1B cap cases have recently had slightly better adjudication times nationwide compared to last year.”

I tell Ashley about the question and answer session where I asked about the procedures for the new L visa site visit initiative. From what VSC said it appears the L site visits are just in their infancy with VSC estimating only several hundred had been conducted so far. They said that they were seeing similar results to the H­-1B site visits—i.e., most officers were satisfied with the legitimacy of the petitioner and didn’t initiate further investigation.

Ashley shares something interesting she learned in the family immigration break-out session: "They talked about the new memorandum concerning sibling sponsorship and how if DNA testing is requested by USCIS, a test of the two siblings alone will no longer be sufficient. They now require the DNA test of one sibling to the parent and another test of the other sibling and the same parent to show the relationship.” She explains that the National Institute of Standards and Technology said they have no metrics for proving sibling relationships by just comparing the two sibling's DNA. Previously, 75% was viewed as enough but since the entities are no longer advising that this number is conclusive, they will no longer accept these DNA tests as sufficient.

“When we get back to our office,” I say, “we’ll have to remember to give everyone a heads up about the Premium Processing unit’s fax machine number changing. Oh yeah, also the creation of a special team with specific training on business entrepreneurial issues in response to former USCIS Director Mayorkas’ Entrepreneurial Initiative is pretty cool. This should lead to better adjudications for people starting their own businesses in the US."

I had a few peaceful moments in one of these rocking chairs before heading back to the bustle of New York City.

I had a few peaceful moments in one of these rocking chairs before heading back to the bustle of New York City.

“I think everyone also will be interested to hear about our long discussion of the standard of review of cases,” I go on. “It seems like USCIS has been asking us to prove cases to a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt standard’ which is super high and not really what the law requires. I’m really glad all the participants were so vocal about emphasizing that the correct standard of review is ‘more likely than not,’ which is less burdensome on the petitioner.” 

We pull the rental car into the parking garage at the airport and we see other immigration lawyers doing the same thing. We lawyers probably occupied a majority of the hotel rooms last night in and around Essex Junction. Since this was our first time at Essex Junction and we’ve been going to St. Albans for so many years, we almost booked our hotel in St. Albans. Luckily, however, our years of experience with USCIS taught us to read every communication with an eye for detail, allowing us to avoid a detour and enjoy some exquisite homemade English muffins.