On February 17, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) published “A Day in the Life of USCIS”. The post touted all the average daily achievements of the agency including adjudications, services, and investigations. What stuck out to me was that on average per day, USCIS receives 50,000 calls to the USCIS Contact Center and more than 150,000 inquiries and service requests via the agency’s electronic self-help tools. That is a massive amount of resources being utilized to review and respond to calls and electronic requests by an agency with nearly 19,000 employees and an annual budget over $3 billion.
While considerable resources are being allocated to case inquiries, the processing times for immigration benefits such as green card applications, employment authorization, and advance parole continue to increase. Unfortunately, responses by USCIS officers to stakeholder calls and inquiries are often delayed, and in many cases, no call-back or response is ever provided. This brings me to the following conclusion: It is well past time for USCIS to reverse this trend and make economically beneficial changes that will benefit the people they are serving, not undermine them.
As an immigration attorney, I witness first-hand how Kafkaesque the system is, and over the past 5 years, it has become much more unmanageable. I get it: A system and agency of this magnitude will never achieve perfection or make everyone happy. However, an agency needs to utilize its finite resources in a manner that will benefit its stakeholders and society-at-large. As an example of how resources are wasted, last week, a client of mine received her biometrics appointment notice. It was scheduled for November 1, 2021. However, she left the country to be with her dying mother and would not return until after the date of the appointment.
To reschedule the appointment, USCIS required that we call the USCIS Contact Center and speak to a Tier 1 officer. I called and waited on hold for 45 minutes. The officer then asked numerous questions about my client, including her name, date of birth, and address. I explained to the officer why my client could not attend her appointment. The officer then told me that I would need to get a call-back by a Tier 2 officer to reschedule the appointment. I was astounded by this. You mean a Tier 1 officer can’t just go into their system and reschedule an appointment? What a complete and utter waste of resources.
What happened next made the process even more frustrating: I got a call-back from USCIS on my cell phone later that day. However, I was in a hearing and could not answer the call. Two hours later, I got another call from the same number. The call dropped (can you hear my screams??). No call-back number provided. No message. No way to reach the officer again. Within minutes, I received an e-mail from USCIS that stated: “We tried to contact you by telephone about your inquiry. We are sorry we were unable to contact you by telephone. If you still wish to request an appointment, please call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.” REALLY? Now I have to call back the USCIS Contact Center and start the rescheduling process all over again? We’re going in circles here. To rub salt in my wounds, I then received a separate e-mail from USCIS asking me to complete an online survey about the “service” I received. When I went to fill it out and express my displeasure with what happened, the survey link didn’t even work!
How can USCIS resolve this problem? It is long past due to bring back a system where people can manage their own cases by directly self-scheduling or rescheduling appointments with USCIS. The Contact Center is an antiquated system, and should only serve to supplement meaningful electronic self-service tools and resources that would permit stakeholders to achieve timely and accurate resolution on case issues, like expedite requests, scheduling and rescheduling of appointments, etc. We need to bring back a program such as InfoPass which would allow for the scheduling and rescheduling of appointments, without the middleman. When it was originally introduced and utilized, InfoPass allowed for online self-scheduling of appointments at local USCIS offices and avoided the arduous process of calling the USCIS Contact Center and waiting, often for hours, in the queue. Unfortunately, self-scheduling InfoPass was discontinued by USCIS in 2019.
By adopting meaningful and effective technology solutions that allow stakeholders to directly schedule/reschedule appointments, place expedite requests, and resolve complex case issues, USCIS could shift more of their focus to speeding up the processing times for benefits, such as employment authorization. There needs to be more accountability on the part of USCIS. They provide a service for millions of people…jobs, businesses and our economy depend on the agency for timely and efficient process of immigration benefits. Taking a little catchphrase from President Biden: This is one way that USCIS can “build back better”.