Citizenship and Immigration Applicant Services This customer experience profile is from 2020. To view this year’s profile, click here. User Interactions Customer Feedback Social Media Presence Customer Experience Indicators Executive Summary In 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advanced its efforts to improve the experience of millions of people applying for citizenship, permanent residence and other immigration benefits and services. These activities can be life-changing, and time-consuming, even under normal circumstances. New challenges arose in early 2020 as the coronavirus shuttered agency field offices and contributed to delays in processing some benefits. Facing a drop in revenue from immigration application fees due to the virus, as well as immigration policy changes, the agency in August came close to furloughing more than 70% of its workforce—a move that would have severely hindered services to applicants had it been necessary. In 2019, before the pandemic and related challenges, many customers reported they were treated fairly by USCIS and expressed confidence in agency staff members. That year, the agency improved the customer experience by making it easier to secure field office appointments and launching an automated call-back feature for some callers, so they do not have to wait on hold. To further improve the experience, applicants would like to complete their business with the agency more quickly, efficiently and transparently. Processing times for key immigration benefits continued to rise in 2019. Because these processes can be lengthy and complex, customers would like more detailed and easily understandable information about the status of their case. Note: This profile addresses customer support services provided to applicants for U.S. immigration benefits and services. It does not evaluate the effectiveness of immigration or national security policies. However, changes to immigration policies may affect an applicant’s customer experience. More Profiles Airport Security Screening and Passenger Support Services Citizenship and Immigration Applicant Services Customs Airport Security and Screening Services Farm Loan and Conservation Service Federal Student Aid Individual Taxpayer Services Medicare Customer Support Services Outdoor Recreation Reservations for Federal Lands Passport Services Veterans Education and Training Benefits Veterans Outpatient Health Care Services Service Overview The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services manages the world’s largest legal immigration system, with people submitting more than 7.6 million applications and petitions for citizenship, permanent residence and other immigration benefits in fiscal year 2019. Primary Customers People from all around the world who seek a wide range of immigration benefits and services as well as individuals who represent them (e.g., their attorneys or accredited representatives) or people who people who petition for them (e.g., family members or employers). Key services provided to applicants (services provided in English, Spanish and other languages) Information and assistance on immigration processes, including help with applications for naturalization, permanent residency, permanent resident cards and employment authorization documents. Updates on case status and processing times, and answers to applicants’ questions. Online self-service tools, including account services and access to forms. Instruction and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities. Administration of grant programs to prepare immigrants for citizenship. Processing of refugee and asylum applications. Processing of applications submitted at field offices or service centers. Verification of eligibility for benefits through E-Verify and Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, and adjudications through the Immigrant Investor Program. Data at a Glance of customers who said they are treated fairly when calling the USCIS contact center of customers who said it took a reasonable amount of time to do what they needed to do when calling average processing time for key immigration beneifts have nearly doubled since 2014 People Interact With USCIS By (All data for fiscal year 2019) VISITING ONLINE 200 million visits to USCIS.gov and My.USCIS.gov (193 million in fiscal 2018) CALLING THE CONTACT CENTER 13.1 million calls (13.9 million in fiscal 2018) AVERAGE WAIT TIME FOR CALLS 19.7 minutes (less than 2 minutes in fiscal 2018) (See customer experience insights section for more information about this increase.) VISITING A FIELD OFFICE >250,000 in person visits (approximately 1 million in fiscal 2018) (See customer experience insights section for more information.) Customer Experience Insights Click tabs to expand It became easier for people to secure appointments at USCIS field offices in 2019—until offices were closed in 2020 due to the coronavirus. Easily scheduling appointments is a critical customer need since appointments are required for some immigration applications. Previously, appointments were released in large blocks online and would be snapped up quickly. USCIS moved appointment scheduling to its contact center and trained agents to first try to resolve callers’ issues over the phone. This saved more appointment times for people who needed them and helped callers complete their tasks more quickly. Only 2% to 3% of calls to the contact center resulted in an in-person appointment; most applicant issues are resolved over the phone. Customers said they were treated fairly during their interactions with the USCIS contact center. This helps build trust and confidence in USCIS and the decisions they make about immigration benefits. USCIS contact center survey (Fiscal 2019)1 I am satisfied with the service I received from the USCIS Contact Center. 70.1% I was treated fairly. 77.6% Employees I interacted with were helpful. 69.1% “These metrics reflect the quality of our staff, and the fact that they have the tools and information they need to serve applicants and immigrants. Even if the answer callers get is not what they wanted to hear, they are confident our staff is providing a good service.” —Vashon Citizen, deputy chief, Digital Services Division, Office of Citizenship and Applicant Information Services. With a large uptick in wait times at the contact center, customers stated tasks done by phone need to be quicker and easier to complete. Wait times at the contact center increased substantially in 2019 due to transitions to new systems, which eventually will lead to long-term improvements for callers. The agency introduced a new customer relationship management tool that helps agents provide callers with more thorough information. Agency staff believe it took agents longer to handle each call, on average, as they learned the new system. The agency also implemented new technology in 2019, launching an automated call-back feature for callers who need to speak with an immigration officer about complex requests (see sidebar). Wait times had dropped substantially by the end of the year as representatives became more proficient with the new systems and staffing levels rose, according to USCIS staff members. USCIS contact center survey (Fiscal 2019)2 It was easy to complete what I needed to do. 56.6% It took a reasonable amount of time to do what I needed to do. 48.8% Processing times for key immigration applications have increased since fiscal 2014, according to our analysis of USCIS data. Increased processing times in 2019 was due to more complex forms that asked applicants for additional information to verify identity and determine eligibility, as well as increases in the number of applications received, according to agency officials. Some reports noted that recent changes to immigration policies also contributed to increased processing times.3 Amid the pandemic, temporary field and asylum office closures delayed scheduling times for appointments and interviews, further delaying overall processing times. In June 2020, the agency was able to resume services in these offices after implementing stringent health and safety measures. Average processing time for key applications, in months Fiscal 2014 Fiscal 2015 Fiscal 2016 Fiscal 2017 Fiscal 2018 Fiscal 2019 Green card applications (I-485 forms)* 5.2 6.4 6.9 7.8 9.9 11.0 Citizenship applications (N-400 form) 5.2 5.8 5.6 8.2 10.3 9.9 *Average for all form types Customers wanted more specific information on the status of their cases and when they will be resolved, according to the agency’s customer feedback. Estimated processing times for applications are sometimes presented to customers online as broad ranges. For example, green card processing times for the California service center, as of March 2020, were listed as between 12 and 52 months. The agency also provides an exact date after which people can call to inquire about their cases. For some immigration applications, such as for citizenship, customers can access more detailed case status updates by logging into personal accounts. The agency is working to make this feature available for additional types of applications and is exploring artificial intelligence tools that could answer case status inquiries. Customer satisfaction with visits to USCIS.gov was on par with typical government websites and above average for the Spanish version of the site. Customer satisfaction score for USCIS.gov in English 73.2 out of 1004 Note: Verint E-Gov Index Average is 75.3 Customer satisfaction score for USCIS.gov in Spanish 83.4 out of 100 Note: Verint E-Gov Index Average is 75.3 Online content that explains what documentation to submit with applications was easy to understand and navigate, but some content about case processing times was technical, wordy and confusing. Selected USCIS webpages received a C in our analysis. Click to see full results of our website experience analysis Website Experience: How easy is it to navigate and understand online information? Reviewers looked at selected webpages from the perspective of people trying to answer two questions: How long will it take to process my immigration case? https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/ https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/expect-green-card What documentation do I need to submit my immigration case? https://www.uscis.gov/n-400 (for citizenship applications) https://www.uscis.gov/i-485Checklist (for green card application) USCIS Grade C Strengths A simple and direct if/then table answers questions about how long it takes to receive a green card based on three situations (see figure below). Pages that explain what documentation to submit with a citizenship application are well-organized, provide helpful links to chat-style tools and a virtual assistant called “Emma,” and make good use of checklists and drop-down content. Opportunities to improve The site’s tool for checking processing times may confuse users. The information that helps users identify their immigration form ID number and field office, which is needed to check processing times, could be easier to find. Text used to explain the tool is wordy and uses passive voice. The calculations for processing times are somewhat confusing. We attempted to find general processing times for form I-485 filed in the Detroit field office. The estimated time range, 6.5 to 14.5 months, was prominent and easy to find. But that clear timeline was followed by an explanation and a table suggesting that we should not even begin to check on the status of our application unless we had submitted it more than 30 months ago—more than twice as long as the estimated maximum. If/then table makes different situations easy to understand (https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/expect-green-card) Processing times are confusing and sometimes inconsistent (https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/more-info) Tips for launching automated call backs After launching a new automated call-back feature, staff members noticed that many customers did not pick up when their call was returned. Rather than making assumptions about why this was happening, the staff conducted customer focus groups and learned that customers did not recognize the number or were busy when they received the call. So, staff established a single outbound call number that clearly identified USCIS as the caller. Customers also began to receive emails to confirm their request for an appointment and an estimate of when they would be contacted by phone. Key Improvement from 2019 Ongoing challenge Connecting on Social Media USCIS uses its social media accounts to inform the public of important changes such as updates to immigration forms; highlight self-service options; offer tips for avoiding scams and fraud; and stream events, such as naturalization ceremonies. As of September 2020, the USCIS social media presence related to citizenship and immigration applicant services included: Twitter (@USCIS) Note: The agency has other accounts, for example, a Spanish account and an account for the E-Verify program. Joined: May 2008 Followers: 221,800 Total tweets: 16,500 Facebook (@USCIS) Joined: June 2011 Followers: 640,700 Total likes: 631,000 Instagram (@USCIS) Joined: Not available Followers: 64,500 Total posts: 773 YouTube (USCIS) Joined: July 2006 Subscribers: 46,100 Total views: 5.5 million Social media practices Posts almost daily?No Includes multimedia content?Yes Responds to customers?No For background information on these metrics and our full methodology click here. How USCIS adapted services during the coronavirus The agency continued to hold naturalization ceremonies for new citizens with precautions including social distancing and holding some ceremonies outdoors, such as this ceremony in St. Louis. When USCIS closed its field offices in March 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, it had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments for background investigations and collection of biometrics, both of which customers must provide in person. To prevent an overwhelming wave of calls to the agency’s contact center, the agency quickly sent texts and emails notifying applicants of cancellations and informing them that appointments would be rescheduled automatically once offices reopened (some offices began opening on June 4th). Fortunately, USCIS contact center staff shifted seamlessly to a remote work environment, minimizing impacts on customers. The agency had been investing for several years in the technology and capabilities to enable these staff members to work from home, a move that paid off when the virus hit. However, rescheduling field office appointments and putting applications on hold caused backlogs and further delays to already lengthy case processing times. To minimize the impact on customers, USCIS allowed for emergency appointments in some situations, such as if a customer risked losing employment if he or she was unable to provide proof of work authorization or immigration status. In other cases, the agency allowed applicants to use previously submitted biometrics for new applications. USCIS took additional measures to minimize health risks at field offices, such as requiring face coverings, limiting the number of guests permitted in the waiting room and prohibiting guests at naturalization ceremonies. Indicators that the Customer Experience is a High Priority Click buttons to expand. Commitment to Customer Experience USCIS: Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Partially The agency’s strategic plan includes an objective to improve satisfaction with the delivery of information to the public. However, that objective focuses narrowly on the delivery of information rather than the full customer experience. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. Yes The percent of respondents satisfied with the support received from the USCIS contact center is a key performance measure. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization. No However, USCIS does have an Executive Coordination Council that coordinates import decisions across the agency, including those related to customer experience. Shares meaningful customer feedback data with the public. Yes USCIS publishes customer satisfaction scores with its contact center and website. Customer Service Basics For the most common services provided, customers can: Complete frequently used transactions online. Partially While many transactions and applications, such as replacement permanent resident cards, are available online, other major transactions such as applying for permanent residency cannot be done online. Agency officials are working to make it possible for customers to file more forms and applications online. Easily find information to call an appropriate USCIS representative. Yes Schedule in-person appointments. Yes USCIS requires that all field office appointments be made by phone so representatives can try to resolve the issue before scheduling an appointment. Obtain status updates. Partially Customers can check the status of their cases online; however, the information available about how long processing will take is sometimes limited and difficult for customers to interpret. Find standardized and consistent information and guidance across channels. Yes Agents supporting customers on the phone use the same customer relationship management system as those interacting over email and live chat. Improvement from 2019. Customer Feedback The agency collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions: Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments. Yes Of a customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal. Yes For example, the journey of signing up for and using a MyUSCIS account. Improvement from 2019. Of the overall service the organization provides. Yes Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analysis of social media comments or direct observation. Yes Through a structured analysis of comments about the service left on social media channels. No Agency staff review and analyze social media comments on an ad hoc basis. More details about our methodology Footnotes and Methodology Footnotes 1 Fiscal 2019 response rate: 21.6%; Survey scale: 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The percentages for each question represent the percentage of customers who responded “agree” and “strongly agree” for each quarter of the year, with averages weighted by call volume in that quarter. 2 Pop-up survey on USCIS.gov conducted by Verint that rates customer satisfaction using a 100-point index score. 3 American Immigration Lawyers Association, “AILA Policy Brief: USCIS Processing Delays Have Reached Crisis Levels Under the Trump Administration.” January 30, 2019, AILA Doc. No. 19012834. Retrieved from: https://bit.ly/3m7FL2B 4 Pop-up survey on USCIS.gov conducted by Verint that rates customer satisfaction using a 100-point index score. Social media review methodology To assess how agencies use social media to interact with customers, we examined three social media best practices identified through conversations with experts: posting frequently, delivering engaging content and responding to questions. We analyzed the most active Facebook or Twitter account by selecting specific months to examine trends throughout the year, including changes to social media activity during the coronavirus. The team defined posting almost daily as meaning the agency posted for at least 25 out of 30 days on average in September 2019, December 2019, March 2020 and May 2020. Includes multimedia content is defined as whether the agency posted a range of multimedia content with interactive elements beyond just static images. Responds to customers is defined as whether or not agencies respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook or in the comment section of posts. To assess this, we examined September 2019, December 2019 and April 2020 (or another month when data was not available). “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “Yes – occasionally” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but there does not appear to be a consistent pattern over time; and “Yes – regularly” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis over time. The number of tweets, likes, posts and views reflect the total activity since the social media account was established. Website experience methodology For each agency, we selected for review a set of webpages that customers would theoretically visit to seek answers to frequently asked questions, vetted with each agency. We partnered with the Center for Plain Language to conduct this review. The center followed the same methodology it uses to assess plain language for its annual ClearMark awards for a range of organizations and its annual Federal Plain Language Report Card for the government. Two plain-language experts individually and independently reviewed and scored each set of pages, using five plain-language criteria to assess each site. They rated each criterion on a five-point scale: Information design and navigation. Pictures, graphics and charts. Style or voice. Structure and content. Understanding of audience. The reviewers then met to reach consensus on strengths and weaknesses of each site and to assign a letter grade based on their ratings. Customer experience indicators methodology The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of indicators to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Leaders who participated in the Partnership’s federal customer experience roundtable provided input. Commitment to customer experience The agency: Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Criteria: 1) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities or a supporting goal of one of the priorities 2) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: 1) customer experience is his or her primary responsibility 2) he or she reports to the head of the organization or a deputy 3) his or her work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services). Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency publishes customer feedback that: 1) represents multiple service delivery channels 2) provides details into different aspects of the experience (e.g., beyond overall customer satisfaction) Customer Service Basics For the most common services provided, customers can: Complete most frequently used transactions online. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers can complete major services or transactions online. Easily find information to call an appropriate agency representative. Criteria: Does the agency’s website provide a clear explanation of which number to call for specific issues or provide one number that customers can call to get routed to the appropriate person. Schedule in-person appointments. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers can schedule appointments for in-person services. Obtain status updates.Criteria: Customers can get current updates through an online or self-service channel that includes estimated timelines on items such as submitted applications or benefit disbursements. Find standardized and consistent information and guidance across channels. Criteria: At least two service delivery channels have integrated knowledge management systems so that when content for customers on one channel is updated, it is updated on the other channel. Customer Feedback The agency collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions: Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments. Of the customer’s journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal. Of the service provided by the organization overall. Through qualitative research such as customer interviews, focus groups or direct observation. Through a structured analysis of comments on social media channels about the service. This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.