Many people are reporting that they have been unable to book INFOPASS appointments to visit their local USCIS offices. For the last several weeks, no appointments appear to be available. For individuals who have prepared their cases pro se, this can be incredibly frustrating given that an INFOPASS appointment is often the only way for a person to visit USCIS, whether to learn more information about why a case is pending; apply for emergency advance parole; or to secure an I-551 stamp-just to name a few situations. Now to make matters worse, there is word that USCIS will begin rolling out a new pilot program in January, starting with the Hartford District Office. Under the new program, individuals will no longer be able to self-schedule INFOPASS appointments over the internet. Instead, people will be required to call the national customer service phone number (800-375-5283) and explain the nature of their call to a representative. If appropriate, the call will be escalated to a "tier 2" rep who will determine whether an appointment should be given and who will then call the requester back to inform him/her whether an appointment is being granted. The rationale, allegedly, is to streamline the process and eliminate situations where people are coming in for matters that can be handled through the customer service telephone system. According to sources, the pilot program will increase one city per week.
Whether this new program will increase efficiency certainly remains to be seen. In realistic terms, the outlook is dubious. First, the current INFOPASS system already has a native screening protocol that properly channels requests. Secondly, individuals who are not fluent or comfortable speaking may have difficulty properly articulating the reason for their INFOPASS request. Without standardized criteria that is applied uniformly, there is a danger that a person's request will be subject to the whim of the tier 2 rep who may not be sensitive or sympathetic to the person's concerns. In short, perfectly legitimate and valid reasons to visit the local office may be improperly or capriciously denied. There are also practical considerations, such as how or when the representative will get back to the individual. If anything, the procedure will slow what is an already sclerotic process because an individual will now have wait for an answer as to whether an appointment is being given rather than going directly to the appointment to address his/her issue. It is not even clear, at this point, whether there will be an appeal process to redress situations where appointments are being improperly denied.
Hopefully, the government will come to its senses and dismantle what will likely be an impractical apparatus. The current INFOPASS system is by no means perfect. Nevertheless, it does have its place and it does enable users to deal with USCIS directly in an orderly manner. Granting too much discretion to representatives who may not be appropriately trained will, in the long run, hamper productivity and efficiency. And if left unchecked, individuals will invariably be denied due process.