Watch the youtube video here explaining the policy that went into effect on February 4, 2019.
Changes to USCIS Services Starting February 4, 2019
Raluca talks about a handout she received at USCIS last week. She explains what is changing in their service offerings and how it might impact you and the processing of any filings.
This is the transcript. The video was recorded
Last week I went to USCIS with some clients for a 2nd interview and while I was there I received a handout about some services that are changing for USCIS. I wanted to go over that today.
I’m Raluca Hanea. I provide immigration, estate planning, and family law services for my clients.
My marketing and office manager, Nina Cleere, is here with me.
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Nina: Before we get to the change in services, can you tell us if you saw the government shutdown impacting the time you were at USCIS.
Raluca: Sure. While USCIS has said that their services are not impacted because they are fee-based I did spend a longer amount of time there then I usually do.
Nina: Do you think this was because of the individual situation or lack of workers?
Raluca: Well, this case was more complicated than most so that impacted the time there but we were not called back for our appointment immediately either now or a few weeks ago when I went. In the past, they were pretty good about calling you when your time was scheduled. I don’t think the worker ratio has changed but I can’t be certain.
Nina: Ok, so moving on to this handout can you tell us what the changes are?
Raluca: Sure. As of February 4, 2019, USCIS will no longer accept walk-in requests or in-person information services (which they used to do with an InfoPass appointment).
Nina: Let’s break that down. What would a walk-in request be?
Raluca: There could be a number of things people would go in for – requesting information when their case was taking a long time, maybe a client needed something such as a stamp on their passport so they could travel, work, or renew their driver’s license while waiting for USCIS to make a decision on their case. I would have them go to the USCIS and request that. Now, it seems from this notice, that USCIS will no longer offer those services.
Nina: What do you recommend somebody do then?
Raluca: Until this goes into effect, I can’t say 100%. If you know something – such as your driver’s license is going to expire soon – I would recommend that you go immediately and ask for a stamp.
USCIS still has some instructions where they recommend people come in. I’m presuming all of that is going to change but as of right now we don’t know what they are going to offer in the alternative, if anything. We’ll post some links to their website where they offer online self-help assistance but neither we nor our clients have had much success with using them.
Nina: So that doesn’t sound good.
Raluca: No, immigration can be a very frustrating process. A lot of what we do is hurry-up and wait. We haven’t found a workaround to being subject to their processing times. I had liaisons with AILA (American Immigration Lawyer’s Association) but they recently told me they USCIS said they will no longer work with them.
Nina: It’s especially frustrating because people pay quite a bit in fees to USCIS which is one the reasons USCIS hasn’t shut down completely at this time, right?
Raluca: Yes, and they may be raising the fees soon (they usually do around February) but the service isn’t improving which makes everyone, including us, very frustrated.
And, as we mentioned before, there are limited circumstances where you can pay a fee to *perhaps* speed up the processing of your applications but USCIS has stopped accepting some of those and don’t know when they will reinstate them.
Nina: So they are essentially saying “we don’t want your extra money, we’re not going to move faster?”
Nina: Tell us about infopass.
Raluca: Ah, yes, the infamous infopass.
Nina: Why do you say it like that?
Raluca: Well, because it’s well known that it is almost impossible to get an infopass appointment. USCIS says that you can go online and make a free appointment to discuss things about your case. As of today that part of their website isn’t even working but previously people who tried to do so found out that there were rarely open appointments. You would have to go online at midnight for a couple weeks and the closest appointment you could get might be months away.
Nina: So it sounds like phasing it out might not be a bad thing?
Raluca: Well, most people prefer to talk to a human – in person – and even if it took months to do so they felt some relief in being able to schedule an appointment, now you can’t do that.
Nina: And, unfortunately, even as an attorney you don’t have a back door that gives you access to USCIS, right?
Raluca: I don’t. What I do is use my expertise to send everything necessary as soon as possible with a strong legal argument supporting my client’s application.
Nina: We should point out that it isn’t that they are slow or fast, absolutely, but the number of workers is pretty small compared to the number of applications they are processing, right?
Raluca: That’s right. Plus this administration is focusing on reducing immigration so they aren’t motivated to put workers in place to improve the processing time for applications. Even with this shut down a recent story online said they are pulling in E-verify employees to work at USCIS but they are assigning them to process NTAs.
Nina: What does that mean?
Raluca: NTAs are Notices to Appear – that means that deportation proceedings are starting against the individual who receives one.
Nina: That doesn’t sound good.
Raluca: No, it’s not.
Nina: So, is there any good news with these changes?
Raluca: Not yet. They did provide a list of areas on their website that might help you obtain case information. We will post a picture of the notice in the comments so that you can see if you can find help online.
Nina: From my personal experience their “virtual assistant” Emma is no help at all. It literally never lets you send your question. You type it and it never goes through. It’s extremely frustrating.
Raluca: Yes, this whole process can be. That’s why we recommend you hire an attorney. Not that it automatically makes it less frustrating but hopefully their expertise will allow your case to be processed as quickly as possible and you can see the results you want without delay.
Nina: And I’d also add, it helps if you hire an attorney sooner rather than later.
Raluca: Absolutely. So many times people come to me when they have 5 days left to respond when they were given 30. Hiring an attorney sooner rather than later will not only make it so you aren’t paying more with a rush fee but it will give your attorney time to make the best legal argument for your case and ensure that you’re whole application is complete when submitted the first time. Remember, USCIS has a new policy and they can, and we have seen they do, reject incomplete applications and even start deportation procedures against denied applicants.
Thanks for watching. Remember, we are always here to help and welcome your questions.