AILA Press Release: BCIS 800 Number Offers Immigrants Little Service

American Immigration Lawyers Association

For Immediate Release
Contact:  Crystal Williams
(202) 216-2405

August 28, 2003  

BCIS 800 Number Offers Immigrants Little Service Survey Finds Users Extremely Dissatisfied

Contacting the Department of Homeland Security’s new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) is necessary for many individuals and businesses that must deal with the immigration process. However, recent system changes are leaving many immigrants out of luck, with consequences that range from the frustrating to the tragic. 

In June 2003, the Department of Homeland Security’s BCIS cut off telephone access to the offices where most applications are decided, instead directing the public to use its “800” National Customer Service Center (NCSC) phone system to resolve problems with their immigration-related applications and petitions.  The “800” number is answered by contractors with no training in immigration.

More than 5 million applications and petitions that were filed by American citizens, U.S. businesses, lawful permanent residents and persons seeking immigration status or citizenship currently await action by the severely backlogged BCIS.  The 1-800 phone system is making a bad situation worse.

In order to assess the impact of the 800 number, the American Immigration Lawyers Association conducted a survey.  An overwhelming majority of respondents – 79 percent – rated their experience as unsatisfactory, with 63 percent giving the service the lowest possible rating.  The respondents were especially critical of the systemic inability to provide any meaningful assistance.  Contractors are not trained in immigration issues, but read from prepared scripts.

“In many instances, operators merely tell callers to write a letter to BCIS: an effort long recognized as futile.  Such correspondence is rarely answered, much less answered on a timely basis,” stated Palma Yanni, President of AILA.

Many reported that operators gave wrong information.  Such incorrect information can have devastating consequences such as loss of legal immigration status, arrest, and deportation.

“It is ludicrous that the only way to contact the government about an immigration case is to call contractors who know nothing about immigration.  Operators must be trained Immigration Information Officers rather than contractors who have no immigration training,” stated Ms. Yanni. “In addition, calls that cannot be properly resolved by trained operators should be immediately connected to the appropriate BCIS office.”

 “The 800 number system is a failure.  We urge BCIS to have trained Immigration Information Officers answer these calls, and, if they can’t help, to transfer the calls to BCIS offices so that individuals can resolve case processing problems,” concluded Yanni. 

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

American Immigration Lawyers Association
918 F Street NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1400
Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853

43pr3007 BCIS 800 Number

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03082941.