GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Citizenship and Immigration Applicant Services

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security


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.

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

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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.

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.

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%

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

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 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

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:

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.

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 

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Commitment to Customer Experience

USCIS:

Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.


Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.


Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve customer experience across the organization.


Shares meaningful customer feedback data with the public.

Customer Service Basics 

For the most common services provided, customers can: 

Complete frequently used transactions online.


Easily find information to call an appropriate USCIS representative.


Schedule in-person appointments.


Obtain status updates.


Find standardized and consistent information and guidance across channels.

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. 


Of a customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal.

Improvement from 2019.


Of the overall service the organization provides.


Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analysis of social media comments or direct observation.


Through a structured analysis of comments about the service left on social media channels.

More details about our methodology

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.