Immigration status a click away

INS Case Status Online

Now, with just a few mouse clicks, applicants seeking immigration services can check the status of their cases.

A new online service of the Immigration and Naturalization Service makes it much more convenient to follow the progress of applications for citizenship, resident status, work visas and the like, immigration lawyers say.

But unfortunately, they add, the new system does nothing to speed the lethargic application process.

"It's a real straightforward system. It works well for what it is trying to deliver," said Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Using a new section of the INS Web site called the Case Status Online service, foreign visitors or their lawyers can quickly learn the status of immigration cases. The site, which has both English and Spanish versions, received more than 1.2 million hits from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, its first five days in operation, according to IBA, a Virginia-based, woman-owned technology company that developed the site.

But all too often, anxious INS applicants learn only that their cases are still undecided, Williams said.

INS is notorious for its massive backlog of pending immigration cases. House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), a frequent INS critic, said last month the backlog now hovers at about 5 million cases.

For example, it still takes up to six months to get an employment visa, although INS promises to process applications in a month or two, said Alison Walters, who handles immigration cases for a California law firm.

To check the status of a case, go to www.ins.gov, and click on the Case Status Online link on the right side of the page. Then, applicants must enter an application receipt number, and the case status system responds with the latest developments in the case.

Often the system reports little more than the date the application was filed, Walters said.

"One good thing is you don't have to spend two hours trying to get through to the INS on the phone," she said. INS offers the same information through an automated phone system, but that system is often overloaded with callers.

INS is already planning improvements to the 3-week-old online system, said INS spokeswoman Danielle Sheahan.

Users soon will be able to submit multiple case status requests, she said. Immigration lawyers, for example, could inquire about as many as 100 cases at a time and get results back immediately, she said.

Another improvement immigration lawyers await is electronic notification of developments in cases.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar said he hopes the Case Status Online system demonstrates INS' commitment to improving customer service.

"We shared the frustration of customers and employees who complained that there was no easy way to check the status of a pending case." The new system should reduce the need to call or visit INS centers, he said.

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