Just last week, USCIS announced that it will be expanding its Information Services Modernization Program to several major district offices. During the first quarter of next year (2019), it is expected that Newark will be among the first batch, with eventually all remaining field offices implementing the protocol by the end of the year.
What exactly is the Information Services Modernization Program? Last year, we discussed the government toying with pilot programs eliminating INFOPASS self-scheduling. This new program is the realization of that initiative, dispensing with the public's ability to schedule their own appointments to visit immigration offices. Under the new procedure, individuals are encouraged to check the status of their cases online rather than inquire directly with an immigration officer. If an in-person appointment is truly warranted, "personnel at the USCIS Contact Center will help schedule an appointment without the individual having to search for available timeslots." In other words, it appears that a government official will schedule the appointment at his/her own discretion without regard to an individual's availability or time preference.
While the program purports to increase efficiency, some have characterized this transition as another effort by the Administration to fortify its "invisible wall." And not without reason. There are a lot of practical considerations that seemed to have been overlooked or dismissed by this decision. One major problem is that government personnel appear to have a wide degree of discretion in determining whether an appointment is warranted. There may be situations where an officer fails to appreciate over the phone, either through miscommunication or misunderstanding, the nature of a case and wrongly decides not to grant an appointment. Unless the individual retains the services of an attorney, there may be little recourse to get the situation addressed. Furthermore, it seems that if an appointment is scheduled, it is without any regard to the individual's availability. What if an appointment is scheduled months away? Or what if an appointment is scheduled when an individual is not able to attend for valid reasons? From the looks of it, there doesn't seem to be any prospect of the government extending any accommodation to the public.
Given the imminent changes, it is imperative that applicants scrupulously track their cases and apprise the government of any address changes. It is likely that a vast majority of individuals will be denied in-person appointments and constrained to consult a notoriously inaccurate case status system.
The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon in lieu of consultation with an attorney.