It used to be that if you had a problem with a case with USCIS, you had no real options other than wait and wait years and years. Talking to an information officer was nearly impossible, as lines wrapped around city blocks to talk to one. Then, USCIS instituted a system where customers made appointments to speak with an officer, Infopass. Lines dropped precipitously, either because people caught on that changes in the law in the 1990’s made getting a visa nearly impossible for people in the U.S. illegally, or because with all the enforcement enhancements since 9-11 and the fact that you need to provide a name and address to make an appointment, people stopped going to the local immigration office fearing a visit to the immigration office could mean arrest and deportation, or both. Not really that irrational, as, though the analogy is far from perfect, suppose you robbed a bank, would you go to a police station to ask how to be forgiven for it?
USCIS also instituted an 800 number, (800) 375-5283, which connects to its National Customer Service Center.
Then, most recently, USCIS instituted an online inquiry system, catchingly called e-Request.
These new modes of communication are a vast improvement over the past when practitioners would horde phone numbers and seek special Rockford-Rocky modes of communication to try to move along cases. When there was no inside track, all attorneys could do was write letters that no one ever answered.
While it is great that there is more communication, regrettably, the answers we get to questions are too often of the nature – “Additional work must be done in your case. Please inquire again in six months.” though there is much to be frustrated about, these new communication channels do help along some cases. Yet, in one recent case, the entire system was a disaster.
A client got a receipt for a form I-751, which, if filed timely, extends a person’s residence status for a year. The receipt misspelled her name. As the receipt functions as an adjunct to an entry document, she was concerned that the misspell could cause her problems if she traveled abroad and then tried to come into the United States. A sensible concern, thought I. I considered making an Infopass appointment, but realized the local appointments are most unsatisfactory when dealing with problems outside of the local office. I decided to avoid completely the NCSC because whenever you call you have to wait for a half hour to speak to someone. Instead, I used E-request. I filled out a bunch of forms online with case identifying information. It had a screen to pick the problem and I chose the one for an error on a receipt or notice. I got a letter in the mail confirming receipt of the inquiry (at $590 to file the form, I guess splurging on postage to send a letter confirming receipt of an email is not that big a deal). Then, about two or three weeks later, I got the new receipt in the mail. The misspell had not been corrected.
I went back to E-request to re-request a correction of an error on a receipt or notice. I filled out the online forms – it seemed a little longer to fill them out the second time – and when sending the request got a return message immediately (a saving of postage) that I had already made this request recently and cannot make it again and I had to call the NCSC.
I got time to call – and invest a half our or more tied to my office phone while on hold – on Friday afternoon. When you call the NSCS, one of the hold messages tells you it is best to call Wednesday to Friday. Well, on Friday afternoon it was taking more than a half hour to get through. Then, someone picked up and said that they were closing so he quickly took my name and information and said someone would call before Tuesday. Since they were closing on a Friday, I assumed he meant that I would get a call-back Monday or Tuesday.
Checking phone messages over the weekend, a woman from USCIS called me back on Friday and 7:10 p.m. Now, I work a lot, but confess I do not work at 7:10 p.m. on Fridays. She left a message identifying who she was and the case number. The end of the message was the kicker – because you are not here, you have to call back. The officer left no number, but there was a number on my caller ID. I called it and it did not work. This meant that despite waiting on hold for a half hour and then providing the case number and the problem to an actual officer, because I failed to work at 7:10 p.m. on a Friday, I have to start all over – calling the NSCS and sitting on hold for a half hour. That is what I did the next week. It remains to be seen if the problem will ever be solved. Posted March 19, 2013.