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USCIS “Contact Center” is a Time Tax on Immigrants and Their Lawyers

December 20, 2021 (5 min read)

Margaret D. Stock, Dec. 20, 2021

"These days, US immigration lawyers and clients spend a lot of unproductive (=wasted) time talking on the phone to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agents who work for an entity called the “USCIS Contact Center.” Immigration attorneys openly mock the telephone number as “1-800-USELESS.”   Lawyers and their clients are required to call the USCIS Contact Center if an immigrant wants an appointment to get a passport stamp, emergency travel permission, a green card after an immigration judge restored his or her status, or for a multitude of other reasons.  What are lawyers and clients doing on these calls?

If you are a lawyer, you state your name, address, law firm name, telephone number, email address. You state your client’s name, date of birth, address. You explain why you are calling, and usually the person on the other end of the line is unfamiliar with immigration law, so this part of the conversation can be lengthy.  You give the representative a case number or two.  You recite the history of your prior calls to the same number.  You listen while the USCIS representative types all this information into the USCIS Contact Center system, despite the fact that the Government has all this information already in its computer system (and often the person mistypes the information, but you have no way to correct the typing errors).  You listen to the USCIS representative recite irrelevant scripts (example: you call to make an appointment, and the person doesn’t give you an appointment—that must be done on a later call after some other USCIS representative calls you back in response to your first call—but the person reads you a long script about how if you enter a Federal building, you need to leave your firearms and knives at home). You listen to the representative tell you that someone will call you back sometime in the next month, but the representative can’t tell you when, and you’ll need to have a lengthy “Service number” handy to give the person who calls you back (which will likely be at a time when you are not in the office).  Often when you complain that you’ve called the USCIS Contact Center several times about the same case and you haven’t gotten any call back, the representative will say that USCIS did call you back previously, but it was after hours a week ago, and you have no record of any such call, and no way to return the call if you did miss it.

All the while, the clock is ticking . . . and at an attorney’s typical hourly rate, one call to the USCIS Contact Center can cost a client hundreds of dollars . .  just to make an appointment.

This endless time sucking routine goes on every day.  And of course, the USCIS Contact Center employees (or contractors) refuse to talk to anyone who is not a lawyer or a client, so lawyers are forced to spend hours on these calls.

Once, in the “good old days,” it was not this way.  A few years ago, USCIS had a highly efficient online “Infopass” system whereby lawyers (and everyone else) could go online at a convenient time and fill out an online form.  We could select an appointment from an array of existing appointments.  No phone calls were required and it only took a few minutes to make an appointment.  No USCIS employees (or bored contractors) were involved in making these appointments.  They were freed up to do more valuable work.

This system worked well, but USCIS eliminated it, without asking USCIS’s customers, in favor of “1-800-USELESS.”  Why eliminate a system that worked well in favor of one that barely works at all, and causes anger and frustration among USCIS’s customers? In retrospect, it seems that USCIS did it on purpose to make immigration lawyers’ lives miserable and to make it much harder for immigrants and US citizens to get the immigration and citizenship benefits to which the law entitles them.  After all, if it takes a person five hours and five months to make an appointment, the person might just give up the attempt to make the appointment.

On December 13, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order wherein he said that “Government must be held accountable for designing and delivering services with a focus on the actual experience of the people whom it is meant to serve.”  Biden further said that “[w]hen a[n] . . . immigrant small business owner, or veteran waits months for the Government to process benefits to which they are entitled, that lost time is a significant cost not only for that individual, but in the aggregate, for our Nation as a whole. This lost time operates as a kind of tax—a time ‘tax’—and it imposes a serious burden on our people . . .”  President Biden was describing to a “T” the experience that immigration lawyers and their clients currently have with the USCIS “Contact Center.”

In the spirit of his new Executive Order, President Biden should immediately direct Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and USCIS Director Ur Jaddou to eliminate the existing USCIS Contact Center and bring back the online, customer-friendly Infopass appointment system." - Copyright 2021 Margaret D. Stock, reprinted with permission.

Margaret Stock focuses her practice on immigration and citizenship law. She is a nationally known expert on immigration and national security laws, and has testified regularly before Congressional committees on immigration, homeland security, and military matters. As a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Military Police, U.S. Army Reserve, Margaret has extensive experience with U.S. military issues. She has also worked as a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and as an adjunct instructor at the University of Alaska. Margaret has served on the board of the Federal Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section and is a former member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration. In 2013, she was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (“genius grant” recipient) by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.