On October 30, USCIS announced that it will expand its Information Services Modernization Program to more field offices because it believes that most inquiries at local district offices can be accomplished through online email submissions or calls to its 800 number rather than at in-person appointments.
The goal of the program is to require that a person speak to the USCIS National Customer Center by phone before being able to schedule an in-person appointment, known as an InfoPass appointment, at a field office.
The plan to phase out most InfoPass in-person appointments is also consistent with the agency's new mission statement, which has removed customer service and instead focuses its energy and staff on fraud detection, site visits and the protection of the homeland in accordance with executive orders.
The program is currently active in Sacramento, California; San Francisco, California; Los Angeles, California; Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Detroit, Michigan and El Paso, Texas. USCIS intends to add Newark and Great Lakes field offices in the near future. The new InfoPass procedure will be instituted in New York City and Holtsville, Long Island on January 7, 2019. Full implementation at all field offices is anticipated by September 30, 2019, which is the last day of fiscal year 2019.
How to Schedule an InfoPass Appointment
First, one is required to contact USCIS at 1-800-375-5283 and speak with a tier 1 customer service representative. If the representative cannot resolve the issue presented, the individual will be transferred to a tier 2 USCIS office and, if the matter still cannot be resolved, the individual will be permitted to schedule an in-person InfoPass appointment at the district office closest to their place of residence.
Rationale for Changes in InfoPass Scheduling
In its October 2018 announcement, USCIS stated that "most people who made in-person information service appointments through InfoPass could have received the same information by calling the USCIS Contact Center or checking the USCIS website." It is unclear how USCIS determined what percentage of InfoPass users received information only available in-person and how it assessed which method of inquiry was optimal - in-person, online or through phone contact.
The agency indicated that moving information online will assure more efficient data delivery and furnish agency staff with more time to adjudicate immigration benefit requests.
USCIS claims that, most of the time, information available online is a suitable substitute for information given at in-person appointments. What is not accounted for is the fact that many individuals who contact the USCIS inquiry phone lines may not fluently speak English, and while in-person appointments certainly assist with language and communication barriers, the agency has never been known for its technological advances. It is hoped that online inquiries and response times improve with its Information Services Modernization Program.