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20 December 2012

Asylum Customer Satisfaction Survey Results

Nearly 1,000 customers from eight of our asylum offices completed a satisfaction survey about their asylum interviews and office visits during the past fiscal year. The survey was conducted by the USCIS Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate and the Office of Policy and Strategy’s Research and Evaluation Division.

Key survey findings include:
  • Front desk staff received an overall satisfaction rating of 94 out of 100.
  • The satisfaction rating for asylum officers was 89 out of 100 which impacted overall customer satisfaction more than any other survey component.
  • The overall Customer Satisfaction Index for USCIS Asylum Offices was 87 out of 100—about 20 points higher than the latest federal government average for customer satisfaction.
The summary and full survey report are available as well.

13 December 2012

USCIS Public Engagement Division Holds Last Enlace Publico of 2012

On Dec. 5, the USCIS Public Engagement Division (PED) held its last Enlace Publico for 2012. The free Spanish-language public engagement was held from 7:30-9 p.m. EST in the Tomich Center at USCIS headquarters, 111 Massachusetts Ave. Participants were able to join through teleconference, live Web stream, or social media. The event was moderated by Mariela Melero, Associate Director of the Customer Service and Public Engagement Directorate (CSPED), and Victoria Porto, Supervisory Adjudications Officer for the Field Operations Directorate and Team Lead for the Office of Transformation Coordination (OTC). They provided brief updates to participants and then answered their questions on a variety of immigration topics, including consideration for deferred action for childhood arrivals, provisional waiver and the Department of State visa bulletin.

Victoria Porto (left), Supervisory Adjudications Officer for the Field Operations Directorate, and OTC’s Team Lead, and Mariela Melero (right), CSPED Associate Director, provided updates and answered participants’ questions during the Public Engagement Division’s last enlace Publico for 2012

Approximately 650 individuals joined through teleconference, more than 137 emails were received, and another 660 joined through live Web stream. The ongoing success of this multilingual public engagement series demonstrates the importance of providing our customers and stakeholders with alternative forms of engagements in their own languages. Look for the 2013 schedule of Enlace Publicos on our website in the coming weeks.

07 December 2012

Naturalized Citizen SGT Saral K. Shrestha Earns Soldier of the Year Honors

Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, SGT Saral K. Shrestha knew he wanted a military career from the time he was a small boy. Watching shows about the military on television, he dreamed of life as a soldier. As a young man, Shrestha's mother urged him to pursue higher education in the United States. At age 17, he applied for a visa and left his home to study in a new land.

"It was a culture shock, it's always rush, rush, rush," Shrestha said about his first time being in the United States. "You're working or studying the whole time. There were a lot of tall buildings, a lot of new things. Everything is surprising, so you stop being surprised."

After spending his first month with an uncle in Philadelphia, Shrestha headed to Nebraska to begin his studies in computer networking. Still, he dreamed of joining the military and embarking on a life of service and discipline, but it seemed impossible.

"MAVNI Was a Blessing"   

Though Shrestha wished to serve in the U.S. military, he initially had no avenue to join without U.S. citizenship or permanent residence. That changed in 2009 when the Department of Defense introduced the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. MAVNI allows visa holders with special, highly needed skills - such as having expertise in languages that are critical to military operations - to enlist in the military and earn U.S. citizenship through their service.

Shrestha was close to completing his degree when he found out about the program, but he didn't hesitate to sign-up. After being screened by USCIS and completing the recruitment process, he headed to Fort Benning for basic training in September 2009.

"MAVNI was a blessing," Shrestha said. "When I graduated my basic training, I had one of the USCIS personnel come onto the field with a United States flag and I took my oath." Shrestha considers it the most special day of his life. "I realized I was part of something way bigger," he said.

From Special Forces to Afghanistan to Soldier of the Year

While training as a specialized Power Generation Equipment Repairer at Fort Lee, Va., a recruiter with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) approached Shrestha, who was then a private. The recruiter knew about his ability to speak Urdu, a language common in Afghanistan and spoken in Pakistan. "He talked me into it, got me excited and motivated," Shrestha said.

In 2011, Shrestha was deployed to Afghanistan and traveled all around the country, including to some of the most remote forward operating bases. He used his language skills to communicate with Afghani locals and Afghani friendly forces working with the U.S. Army. Shrestha worked long hours to keep the U.S. bases supplied with power and fuel, but still found time late-night to complete his college degree.

When Shrestha returned to the U.S., life turned to "garrison mode." This meant staying prepared, sharp, and in-shape. Shrestha also saw the opportunity to take part in competitions for "best soldier." "I tried my best and became my company's top soldier," he said. "The competitions have steps, and it gets tougher as you move up a level. You move from brigade level, to sub-command, to Special Operations Command, to the Army-wide competition."

Shrestha won at the local levels of the competition, and went on to compete against other soldiers at the command level of the competition.

SGT Saral Shrestha (right) is declared the hand-to-hand combat winner in a lower-level Soldier of the Year competition at Fort Bragg, NC.

He then competed in the final round, the Best Warrior Competition, which he described as a five-day "Super Bowl for the Army."

The Best Warrior Competition included events such as the Army Physical Fitness Test, day land navigation, urban night land navigation and shooting. A selection board, headed by the Sergeant Major of the Army, judged the competitors. Shrestha said this invoked pride. The winner was announced at the Association of the United States Army's military convention in Washington, D.C.

When he heard his name called as U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, Shrestha said he was shocked. "I didn't know how to react, it was a big moment," he said.

GEN Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, welcomed SGT Saral Shrestha to his office at the Pentagon and presented him with an award for his recent win at the Best Warrior Competition.

Looking back at his journey from Nepal to the United States and his service to his new country, Shrestha stresses that his accomplishments would not have been possible without support from family, friends, trainers and comrades.

SGT Saral Shrestha and his wife Elisha celebrate the Soldier of the Year victory with his uncle, Purushottam Kuthu.

He remembers how his family would call him from Nepal and remind him that he was in their prayers. "A lot of people help you, it's never just about you," he said. Shrestha said that he tries to always live and serve by his motto: "Mission first, soldiers always."

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