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28 October 2011

USCIS Celebrates Statue of Liberty’s Birthday with a Special Event and Birthday Present

Today the Statue of Liberty celebrates her 125th birthday! To commemorate the big day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held a special naturalization ceremony at her home on Liberty Island. Exactly 125 immigrants, including 14 members of the military took the Oath of Allegiance and were welcomed as new U.S. citizens.

Welcoming remarks were provided by the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, David Luchsinger, followed by the call of countries and presentation of candidates for citizenship by USCIS New York District Director, Andrea Quarantillo. The Oath of Allegiance was administered by USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

USCIS also brought a special gift to the ceremony: A photographic mosaic depicting the Statue formed from a vast collection of still images taken over the past three years at naturalization ceremonies in venues throughout New York City, including the Bronx Zoo, Federal Hall and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

A photographic mosaic depicting the Statue of Liberty

The artwork was created by USCIS Immigration Services Officer Stephen Wittreich of the New York District Office, and was presented as a gift to the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service (NPS) in honor of the Statue’s 125th birthday. The inspiration for the mosaic came from the concept of creating unity out of diversity, which is embodied in the work that USCIS and NPS perform in welcoming new U.S. citizens. Out of many images of our newest citizens, one clear image emerges of America’s enduring symbol of welcome – the Statue of Liberty.

For pictures of today’s events, visit our twitter feed.


26 October 2011

The USCIS Plain Language Program: Striving to Communicate More Clearly

(By Kathryn Catania, Acting Chief of the Plain Language and Content Division, Office of Communications, USCIS)

Let’s face it: The immigration process can be complex and frustrating – even if you are a native-speaker of English. So just imagine how those who speak English as a second language sometimes feel. In many instances, it is not the complexity of a process or task that poses the greatest obstacle – but the dense, jargon-laced language that we use to describe it. In other words, how we communicate is just as important as what we communicate.

That’s why we started the USCIS Plain Language program, which teaches employees how to provide clear and usable information to those we serve. As head of the USCIS Plain Language program, I start by putting myself in the reader’s shoes. Before I put pen-to-paper, I ask three simple questions:
  • Who am I writing for? 
  • Will my audience understand what I’ve written? 
  • Will readers be able to act competently (if action is required) on the information I’ve provided?
We need to be mindful that not everyone is an immigration expert, understands complex legal references, or is familiar with the acronyms we use.

That’s why I'm so passionate about plain language, because at the end of the day, it's really about common sense and showing consideration and respect for those we serve. I also enjoy sharing the importance of writing clearly with others in government. On October 13, I had the chance to speak at the Center for Plain Language Workshop at the National Press Club.
Kathryn Catania speaks on plain language
Above: Kathryn Catania speaking on Plain Language
The workshop, attended by over 50 federal employees, was timed to coincide with the Plain Writing Act of 2010 going into effect. This law requires government agencies to write documents that the public can easily understand. At the conference different agencies discussed how they were working to start plain language programs for their employees. Since USCIS already has a program, I had the honor of sharing best practices with the attendees. USCIS provides employees with in-person classes, video conferences and educational videos (check them out on YouTube) that explain how to write for the reader by using:
  • Active voice – showing who is doing the action upfront in a sentence
  • Pronouns 
  • Short sentences and paragraphs
  • Lists of required items
  • Tables for complex "if"/"then" procedures
  • Words that don’t require the reader to pick up a thesaurus.
We also teach employees to remove excessive legalese from their documents and limit their use of jargon and undefined acronyms. USCIS also just held its annual Plain Language awards ceremony this past October 17, and awarded teams that:
  • Improved e-filing instructions on our website;
  • Provided clearer web pages on international adoptions in response to a Congressional inquiry;
  • Re-organized, shortened and clarified the information from the Customer Service Number;
  • Created the new Avoid Scams section of our website; and 
  • Wrote the I-9 Central web pages.
I want to thank those who have taken part in plain language training and worked to improve the way we communicate. By using plain language we can continue to effectively inform the people that we serve. I look forward to working with everyone as we continue with our mission.

25 October 2011

New High-Tech Security Features for Top USCIS Documents

Stopping counterfeiters and other scammers from tampering with official USCIS documents is a top priority. That’s why we added new security features on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560).

Although the look and feel of the documents is new, the application process to receive these documents is still the same. We will replace EADs already in circulation as individuals apply for their renewal or replacement. 

If you have an EAD already it will stay valid until the expiration date printed on the card. If you are already a proud owner of a Certificate of Citizenship, your current certificate will not expire.

Here’s a quick look at some of the improvements.

Redesigned Employment Authorization Document

Read more about the new security features on our website.

21 October 2011

Director Mayorkas Attends Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman's First Annual Conference

On October 20, Director Mayorkas attended the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman's First Annual Conference.  The event featured a discussion among more than 200 government immigration stakeholders on key immigration issues.  At the event, Director Mayorkas spoke about progress USCIS has made in a number of areas related to employment-based and high-skilled immigration.  The Director further discussed this progress in a recent message to stakeholders.

20 October 2011

A Dream Come True; Make-A-Wish Executive Now a U.S. Citizen

After making dreams come true for thousands of children with life-threatening medical conditions around the world, Jon Stettner paused earlier this month to fulfill a personal wish. At an October 14 naturalization ceremony in Phoenix, Arizona, he became a U.S. citizen.

Originally from Canada, Mr. Stettner has served as the President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Foundation® International since 2007.

Jon Stettner (right) shakes hands with Charles Harrell, Acting Director of the USCIS Phoenix Field Office

Above: Jon Stettner (right) shakes hands with Charles Harrell, Acting Director of the USCIS Phoenix Field Office

Since 1980, Make-A-Wish has brought hope, strength and joy to more than 270,000 children in the United States and around the world. 

For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation®, visit both and


05 October 2011

Addressing the Challenges Ahead: Immigration and American Competitiveness

Posted by Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Recently, I had the opportunity to give remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The event, hosted by the National Chamber Foundation and the Partnership for a New American Economy, focused on immigration and American competitiveness.

Director Mayorkas (right) prepares to speak before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Photo: David Bohrer /© U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Above: Director Mayorkas (right) prepares to speak before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Photo: David Bohrer /© U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

My remarks emphasized the tools we have in current immigration law to grow our nation’s economy and the progress we are making to support American businesses.  Business leaders understand the obstacles to attracting top talent in an increasingly competitive world. The contributions that immigrants make to American prosperity are undeniable, and we must work in the short-term to use existing immigration tools more efficiently and effectively.

USCIS has taken several significant steps in three main channels to improve our effectiveness: policy, process and people. These include:
  • Clarifying our policies to reflect the availability of the H-1B visa and National Interest Waiver under the EB-2 immigrant visa category to foreign-born entrepreneurs, and providing the corresponding training;
  • Expanding accelerated, or premium processing to immigrant petitions for certain multinational executives and managers;
  • Providing new training, starting in early October, to our adjudicators in the review of L-1 petitions;
  • Making significant changes in the way in which we adjudicate cases in the immigrant investor, or EB-5, program – a program designed to create jobs in America.
In addition, USCIS will hire people with business experience and consult with business leaders to inform our policy development and training. This will allow us to more ably address the realities and needs of the business community we serve.

We have many challenges before us. Each presents an opportunity to better our immigration system in an effort to improve our nation’s economic prosperity. America’s entrepreneurial spirit attracts the best and the brightest from around the world whose talents, skills and ideas are essential to growing this nation’s economy. USCIS has taken significant steps and will continue to make progress so that the engine of growth that is American business can thrive.