Happy New Year! We’ve talked before about USCIS and how their customer service has declined over the past year or so…and the trend continues for 2019, sadly.
Starting on February 4, 2019 you will not be able to self-schedule an InfoPass appointment in Atlanta. Instead, you will need to call the National Customer Service Center (1-800-375-5283), explain your problem, and then see if they will grant you an appointment.
Part of me understands – it make sense to move officers off of customer service where they were answering questions and into doing actual adjudications. That’s what we want, right? More decisions, fewer delays. This might help with that. I also have heard that many InfoPass appointments are “no shows” making it extremely hard for the local office to plan their appointment availability.
This new policy tells the public and their customers to research their case online. If that doesn’t work, they should call customer service (staffed primarily by contractors, not immigration officers). They only get the privilege of gaining entrance to the building if they have a customer service officer schedule an appointment for them to receive an in person service (like emergency advance parole, turning in documents, or getting a stamp in their passport to prove residency).
The optics of this are horrible, though. USCIS is shutting the door in the face of the very people who are paying their salaries. The office isn’t shut down right now because they are funded by filing fees. Officers are getting paid because of the fees paid by very people they are now turning away.
People need services – such as proof that they are lawful permanent residents who can drive, work, travel internationally, etc. Can you imagine not being able to renew your license because USCIS doesn’t have time to see you and put a stamp in your passport to validate your residency? How would you get the kids to school or get yourself to work (oops – maybe you don’t have a job any more because you couldn’t provide your employer with proof of your residency).
The online system that USCIS wants people to use is limited. The inquiry goes through a national system and an officer reports back based on what they see on a computer screen. If I have a I-751 case that I put an online inquiry response in for, the response comes back from the Vermont Service Center, even though the interview was held last month in Atlanta. Wouldn’t it make sense for an update to come from the actual officer where the file is, where the last action was taken? How does Vermont know what an officer in Atlanta did or didn’t do at the interview?
Right now InfoPass appointments are only available two weeks out. What is the demand going to be like? Will two weeks be sufficient for permanent residents to get an appointment? What if there’s a true life or death emergency and someone’s parent is dying in another country and they want to say good-bye (yet their advance parole request has been pending for six months)? I’m curious to see how attorneys are treated with this new policy – we have to go to USCIS to file documents. Will we need an appointment, scheduled weeks ahead of time, to file a court application? That’s a frightening thought.
I know USCIS is behind, overburdened and they are generally good people. But this change, without allowing room for discretion and emergencies will hurt people. It will hurt lawful permanent residents and their families. It will hurt people seeking protection from abusers and traffickers. There has to be a better way.