Immigration Service’s Gradual Assignment of Duties to Outside Contractor Draws Criticism
September 12, 2003
Over the past couple years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, or CIS, began to assign a number of important functions to outside contractors, such as clerical staff to handle intake and receipt processing at the 4 Regional Service Centers. (For many types of immigration filings for Chicago area residents, the Nebraska Service Center has jurisdiction) Most recently, non CIS employees have been hired to staff “customer service” telephone lines to address applicant inquiries for certain types of filings, and plans are now in the works to outsource even more such functions, functions previously performed by Immigration Information Officers. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association and more than 30 not-for-profit community organizations across the country, such practices are leading to greater inefficiency and a significantly lower standard of customer service.
A couple years back, the government’s outsourcing to contractors was limited to the staffing of Service Center mailrooms to process the intake of immigration filings and issuance of receipts. The complaint about the performance of these contractors was with regard to their lack of training on substantive immigration law, and their lack of accountability to the immigration service, resulting in frequent mistakes in data entry and wrongful rejections of immigration filings due to a mistaken understanding of the system and procedures.
With the handling of telephone inquiries, the stakes are much higher, since direct guidance is being provided to the public on what are often issues of monumental importance, such as providing information on the status of family based immigration filings and the processing of documentation that will someday facilitate family re-unification. A proposal now under review would extend the hiring of outside personnel to possibly fill Immigration Information Officer positions at local District Offices, where the official will have in person contact with the public.
Unlike the limited consequences the outsourcing of staffing for file intake can lead to, we have seen a dramatic and more severe impact in the type of service outside personnel provide in the intake of telephone calls. Unlike the services previously provided, all telephone inquiries regarding the status of a filing at a regional service center are now directed to a central customer service bank, and the individuals fielding the calls provide little more than scripted answers regarding processing. Little, if any, information is provided and substantive questions on immigration law issues will generally go unanswered, mainly because the individuals on the phones have practically no training on immigration rules and procedures. The staffers also have very limited access to CIS computer data, and where the attendant answering the call is unable to address the problem, callers are often left to having to wait many weeks before the necessary information can be retrieved from the service center in question.
Remember the days when it was next to impossible to get through to a Regional Service Center, such as Nebraska’s? The public and the attorneys used to love to complain endlessly about the set up. Now we are longing to have that system back in place, since one knew that after finally getting through to an Immigration Information Officer (who has received at least some minimal training on immigration rules and procedures), they would get more than a scripted, and practically useless, response. We would actually be talking to a person with direct access to the critical information, rather than a talking head and a system that is more form rather than substance. Times have changed.
Whether the powers that be will listen to the complaints and scale back the outsourcing program, remains to be seen.
PUBLISHED September 12, 2003 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM”
Copyright © 2003-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois