INS lets people's fingers do the walking

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has expanded its toll-free telephone

service that allows immigrants to use phone keypads to ask a computer questions

about becoming a citizen.

The system, which relies on interactive voice response technology by Sprint,

previously had been available only in a few states — mainly along the East

Coast, said Nancy Radosta, program manager for INS' national Customer Service

Center. With nationwide service, INS hopes to increase immigrants' access

to information.

By using an automated call center system, INS wants to reduce the number

of queries involving live operators.

INS expanded the system late last year. Sprint officials, who announced

details on the system this month, said 30 percent of callers had their questions

answered without assistance from an operator with the updated system. Radosta

said only about 18 percent of callers under the old system had their questions

answered without an operator.

The percentage increased because the system is more widely available and

because it includes new information, she said.

The system works like this: After dialing a toll-free number — (800)

375-5283 — callers choose from an English or Spanish menu of six options.

The menu covers INS applications already filed; fingerprinting procedures,

INS locations and doctors authorized to give medical exams; forms and applications;

immigration benefits and services; changes in immigration programs and procedures;

and services offered by other agencies.

System managers expect it will handle about 15 million calls a year from

immigrants and callers seeking advice on bringing family members to the

United States or on getting green cards and work visas.

To support the service, Sprint has installed 10 T-1 interfaces at customer

service centers in Barbourville, Ky., and Woodlawn, Md. Radosta said the

budget for her program is roughly $31 million. A few years ago, the budget

was only $3 million, she said.

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