Citizenship and Immigration Applicant Services Back to Customer Experience Profiles U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security 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. Executive Summary Data Highlights Customer Experience Insights Delivering Services Equitably Leading Customer Experience Practices U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services receives more than 7 million applications and petitions for citizenship, permanent residence and other immigration benefits each year. Traditionally a paper-based organization, in recent years USCIS has focused on making more services available online and easier for customers to navigate. In 2020, the agency digitized additional forms and implemented a new system to provide more personalized and specific updates for customers who file certain immigration forms online within their myUSCIS accounts. However, processing times for key immigration applications have more than doubled since 2014 and remained high during the pandemic, with processing for some forms taking up to a year. USCIS is now working to improve the experience for attorneys and legal representatives who helps applicants navigate the process and making it easier and quicker for customers to complete tasks when interacting with the agency across multiple channels. Service Overview U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services manages the world’s largest legal immigration system, with people submitting more than 7.4 million applications and petitions for citizenship, permanent residence and other immigration benefits and services in fiscal year 2020.1 (7.6 million in fiscal year 2019.) Primary customers People from around the world who seek a wide range of immigration benefits and services, such as permanent residency or citizenship, as well as individuals who represent them (e.g., their attorneys or accredited representatives) or 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. Adjudications through the Immigrant Investor Program. Service Snapshot (all data for fiscal year 2020) 9.74 million phone calls received. Average wait time for calls to USCIS Contact Center: 8.5 minutes. 141,500 in-person visits to field offices.2 ~170 million visits to USCIS.gov and ~40 million visits to My.USCIS.gov. Data Highlights of customers said they are treated fairly when calling the USCIS contact center. of customers said it took a reasonable amount of time to accomplish tasks when calling. Average processing times for key immigration benefits have more than doubled since 2014. Customer Experience Insights Improvement from last year Room for improvement Customer satisfaction with 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: 72 out of 100 Note: Verint E-Gov Index Average is 75.8 (second half of 2020) Customer satisfaction score for USCIS.gov in Spanish: 83 out of 100 Note: Verint E-Gov Index Average is 75.8 (second half of 2020) Customers also appreciate the ease and convenience of USCIS online services. For example, online filing of immigration forms flags potential errors in real time—such as leaving a required field blank or providing an incorrect fee payment—that would be cumbersome to identify and correct when filing by paper. This saves time and effort for customers and helps USCIS operate more efficiently. Customers feel they are treated fairly by USCIS contact center staff, but state that tasks could be easier and quicker to complete. In response to feedback that customers would like to complete tasks more quickly, in late 2020 the contact center team improved the process used to escalate more complicated calls to experienced representatives. Rather than immediately transferring the call, the new system opens a service ticket, and the customer receives a call back from an experienced representative who has reviewed their file and is prepared to address their issue. This new system also saves customers from having to call multiple times—previously customers with complex issues who called in the afternoon were asked to call back the next day, due to staffing capacity. The USCIS Contact Center is also implementing new technologies help make tasks completed by phone easier. For example, in July 2020, the contact center launched a new speech-enabled Interactive Voice Response system that allows customers to explain their need conversationally and automatically directs them to the correct queue, rather than requiring them to navigate through a lengthy menu of options. Some customers with online MyUSCIS accounts can now receive more detailed, personalized information on when their cases will be resolved. While processing times for most applications are presented to customers online as broad ranges of time, USCIS has recently made personalized processing times for some forms available for applicants with online accounts.3 These personalized and more accurate estimates are calculated based on information like the specific office where the form was filed, the date of filing, and the specific form subtype. With this personalization, customers now have more a specific timeframe of when their case will be resolved, which can reduce confusion, allow them to plan ahead, and provide assurance that their application is moving forward. This also eliminates the need for applicants to call USCIS to get more information on the status of their application. USCIS tested several different models to calculate these personalized processing times, experimenting with different combinations of factors that might affect the processing time of an application to ensure the estimates for each type of form were accurate. These personalized processing times are currently available only for two types of applications, and USCIS plans on expanding this feature over time to all applications that can be filed online. The experience with USCIS online services can be overly complicated for attorneys and legal representatives. Many customers applying for immigration benefits and services hire attorneys or legal representatives to help them navigate the complex legal processes. These legal representatives can use their own USCIS accounts to manage dozens of client cases. However, the processes they must use to access information and coordinate with clients aren’t always seamless and can hamper their ability to represent their clients. For example, clients must file a form that authorizes USCIS to provide information about their case to a legal representative, but the current process for filing this form requires several back-and-forth exchanges between attorneys and clients. This is frustrating both for clients who are paying for their case to be handled by an attorney and for attorneys who may be working with dozens of applicants. Based on customer research and listening sessions, USCIS is exploring ways to streamline this process and make legal representative accounts easier to manage and use. Although processing times for key immigration applications improved slightly in fiscal year 2020, they remain significantly longer than in past years. Despite the improvement in fiscal year 2020, processing times for green card and citizenship applications remain well above the averages before fiscal year 2017. These increases are due to staffing constraints, and to more complex forms adopted in recent years that ask applicants for additional information, according to agency officials. The closure of USCIS offices during the pandemic also delayed many of the in-person biometrics appointments, in which applicants provide their fingerprints or signatures, necessary for some applications, increasing processing times. To address this issue, USCIS is taking several steps, including reusing biometric data when possible to allow applications to move forward and extending hours at some offices to allow for more appointments. In September 2021, the agency also appointed a senior official to coordinate further efforts to address lengthy processing times. Delivering Immigration Benefits Equitably U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a diverse customer base representing a wide range of cultures and languages. The agency also often works with vulnerable populations, including refugees and people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, making it essential for USCIS to design and deliver services that reflect this diversity and promote dignity and fair treatment for everyone. Providing services in many different languages, for example, is core to the agency’s equity efforts. USCIS has a Language Access Working Group to assist individuals with limited English proficiency in accessing the agency’s services. The USCIS website also features a Multilingual Resource Center with an ever-evolving database of educational materials in 22 languages. Braille and American Sign Language resources are some of the most recent additions to it. One of the key challenges USCIS customers are facing is rooted in the complexity of US immigration law. Immigration cases can be filed without legal representation, but in many situations, individuals may need to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney. USCIS’s customer experience efforts can help create a more equitable system by reducing the complexity for applicants, so those who cannot afford an attorney would be still able to navigate the system. Leading Customer Experience Practices The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices 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. Organizational Commitment Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: 1. 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. 2. 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. 3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization. Partially USCIS’ Associate Director for External Affairs oversees several agency customer experience initiatives, including efforts related to digital services, the agency’s contact center and public engagement activities. Ease of Customer Interactions Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: 1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Partially Many USCIS forms cannot be filed online. However, the agency is making progress in increasing the number of forms available for online filing. 10 of the most used forms are now available online, and the agency has a five-year strategic plan to establish online filing for all applications. 2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Yes 3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. No USCIS does not respond to comments on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. 4. Access online information and support in languages other than English. Yes The website has a full Spanish version, and resources in multiple languages are available in the Multilingual Resource Center. A Spanish language webchat is available. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: 1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Yes USCIS publishes customer satisfaction scores with its contact center and website. 2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Yes USCIS routinely conducts focus groups, interviews, useability testing and other forms of user research to solicit feedback from customers. 3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Yes The agency surveys and analyzes customer interactions across multiple channels, including the contact center, live chat, email and digital services. The agency is working on integrating this data into a dashboard that will be available to relevant agency staff. Back to Customer Experience Profiles Footnotes and Methodology Footnotes https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/reports/Quarterly_All_Forms_FY2020Q4.pdf USCIS offices were closed to the public from March 18, 2020 to June 4, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Personalized processing times are currently available for the N-400 (Application for Naturalization) and I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) forms. Customer experience indicators methodology The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices 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 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. Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Criteria: a) 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 b) 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 the customer experience across the organization. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services). Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis. Access online information and support in languages other than English. Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction) Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback. This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.