The dreaded red tape of United States bureaucracy plagues many people as they attempt to change their names or receive government benefits like Social Security. These processes can be long and confusing; perhaps none more so than those regarding citizenship and immigration. Resources like Infopass and other programs were designed to help navigate these complicated waters. However, Infopass has recently undergone some significant changes.
What is Infopass?
Infopass was designed to be a web-based service that allowed people to schedule an in-person appointment with a U.S. Immigration officer at their local immigration office.
However, as Hannah Little of Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm states, “In October 2018, United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the end of self-scheduling of Infopass appointments in connection with the ‘Information Services Modernization Program.’ Now, rather than receiving personalized assistance from a trained immigration information officer, applicants are directed to the USCIS website to view general information and to check case status through its online system.”
The USCIS website still gives the impression that appointments can be scheduled. It isn’t until after a zip code is entered and your nearest office is located that a webpage may appear announcing that your local offices are not taking walk-ins or scheduling appointments. This page does have various links to help people find the information they are seeking.
Can I get an in-person appointment?
Yes, in-person appointments do still happen. However, as Little explains, these days, “If an applicant cannot find an answer or requires an in-person appointment, s/he must now call the national USCIS Contact Center to request an in-person appointment.” These calls can have more than a 30 plus minute wait and at times the call volume can be so large the USCIS may have to call individuals back. As Karen Weinstock of Weinstock Immigration Lawyers says, “The new system…requires answering questions with multiple tiers to determine if the individual qualifies for an Infopass appointment.”
Should I use Infopass?
According to Little, “Infopass can be useful for cases that are languishing long beyond the published processing times or for correcting technical governmental errors (e.g. case sent to the wrong office).” But, she warns that, “Individuals should never use Infopass for legal advice or for substantive inquiries on a case.”
This notion about Infopass appears to be widespread. Weinstock also lamented that, “Currently, Infopass appointments have been scheduled for cases which proof of status or emergency services such as the urgent need to travel…” are required.
What should I expect at an Infopass appointment?
It will most likely be brief, so it’s advised that people come prepared. These appointments are also done at a window, not in an office. People should also be aware that, “Even with an Infopass appointment, it is at the discretion of the immigration officer to provide or approve the requested service,” cautions Weinstock. This would include urgent circumstances.
What/Who Should I bring to an Infopass appointment?
Be sure to bring your Infopass appointment notice, your government-issued ID such as passport, driver’s license, Green Card, etc. Also, bring any USCIS correspondence that has been issued, and a translator if necessary. USCIS does not provide translation services for these appointments, so this will be the individual’s responsibility. If you can afford a paid translator, that’s great, but a family member or friend who is fluent in both languages will suffice as well.
Can I speak to an immigration officer without an Infopass appointment?
The short answer is no. Weinstock states, “You must have an appointment to speak with an immigration officer, so you have to use the Infopass system to schedule an appointment otherwise an immigration officer will not speak to you.” Oftentimes, people will only be able to speak with Contact Center personnel. Due to this, “there is significant concern as to whether Contact Center personnel have sufficient training to determine whether an Infopass appointment is necessary and whether the Contact Center has appropriate access to information from files that are located at USCIS field offices,” says Little.
What other assistance/resources are available outside of the Infopass and USCIS Contact Center?
Assistance from your local representatives can be helpful if you can get it, but obtaining legal representation is the best resource currently available. An experienced immigration attorney can help explain immigration options, file a case, and offer legal advice that immigration officers cannot provide; as Little cautions, “they [immigration officers] represent the interests of the agency, not of the individual applicant.”
The Infopass appointment system may be a bit cumbersome these days, but it’s important to understand that it is not the only resource for your immigration and citizenship concerns. An experienced attorney may be your best bet to ensure you have an advocate in your corner given the limitations of the Infopass system.