It’s about to get easier for legal immigrants in Miami to get their papers. Faster, too. – Miami Herald

Legal immigrants in South Florida will soon be able to get real-time answers about their applications without having to wait for an appointment.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is expanding a new program that promises to speed up the adjudication of immigration benefits.

The agency will announce in coming days that its Information Services Modernization Program (ISMP) will be deployed to its Miami district office to allow immigrants to check on the status of their cases and receive other important information by telephone.

Until now, immigrants with questions have had to schedule meetings with USCIS staffers using the InfoPass system, then print the appointment’s notification and arrive at their local field office with several documents.

The most frequent questions involve change of address, case status requests, non-delivery of notices and secure documents from USCIS, and typographical errors on immigration documents, according to the agency.

But as the agency has been digitizing its archives and modernizing its business processes with a string of self-service online tools, immigrants with pending applications now have more options to obtain information without the need for face-to-face appointments.

Read more: Here are some of the worst mistakes immigrants make applying for legal papers

The ISMP pilot, launched late last year in the USCIS district offices in Los Angeles and Detroit, focuses on telephone-based Contact Centers with employees who can answer individualized questions because they too have access to a trove of information online.

Starting March 18, immigrants with applications pending in the Miami district, which includes the Hialeah, Kendall and Oakland Park field offices, can call 800-375-5283. The Contact Centers provide service in English and Spanish.

USCIS Director Francis Cissna has said that the ISMP program is part of the agency’s efforts to make more of its services and information available online.

“It also frees up agency staff to spend more time adjudicating benefit requests which should help reduce case processing times,” he added. “USCIS remains committed to pursuing the most effective and efficient ways to administer our nation’s lawful immigration system.”

Read more: Here’s what it takes for an immigrant to get a green card — and not lose it

USCIS, which is a Department of Homeland Security component agency, has been harshly criticized by immigration rights activists and immigration attorneys who complain about the slow pace the application process for visas, work permits, green cards, citizenship and other benefits.

A study by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, based on government data from 2014 to 2018 and published last month, concluded that the USCIS case backlog reached “crisis levels” during the Trump administration.

The study reported that the average time for processing cases spiked by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years, and by 91 percent since fiscal year 2014.

“Throughout the nation, these delays are harming families, vulnerable populations, and U.S. businesses that depend on timely adjudications,” said the report by the association, which has a membership of more than 15,000 lawyers and law professors.

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USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said recently that “while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing.”

The ISMP initiative will allow for an improved use of agency resources that will reduce processing times and lead to more efficient decisions on applications “by ensuring that officer resources are focusing primarily on conducting interviews and rendering decisions yet still being available to provide only critical in-person assistance,” Bars told el Nuevo Herald in a statement.

The agency’s own surveys concluded last year that the majority of people who scheduled interviews using the InfoPass system could have obtained the desired information through a Contact Center or its web page. USCIS receives an average of 50,000 calls daily.

The agency noted that applicants who call the Contact Centers and require in-person assistance will be helped to schedule an appointment.

Read more: It’s not so hard for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. Here’s what you have to do

Agency officials said that in the five districts where ISMP has been deployed, the average wait time for an appointment with USCIS staffers fell from 11 to five days.

USCIS recommendations

USCIS offers several other resources that allow immigrants to do the following:

Create secure personal accounts at my.uscis.gov/account and submit forms online.

Check the status of applications and petitions online

Find answers to the most common questions about immigration benefits in the “How Do I Guides.”

Consult “Emma”, the agency’s interactive virtual assistant.

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