L.A. immigrants get Internet schedules

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) expanded its Internet-based appointment system to Los Angeles March 17 so residents there can schedule dates and times to meet with immigration officers rather than wait on line outside the offices.

The system, called InfoPass, debuted in a pilot project last year in Miami. "In a matter of weeks, we saw a dramatic decrease in the lines and wait times for our clients and we're optimistic we'll have similar results here," said USCIS Director Eduardo Aguirre in a prepared statement.

Users log on to the InfoPass Web site, type in their ZIP codes and are directed to the appropriate federal office. The site displays a range of dates and times for appointments, the user selects one and then an electronic appointment notice is generated. Customers print it out and bring it with them to their appointment.

USCIS has offices in California's downtown Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Bernadino, which serve more than half a million people a year. Initially, the agency will offer 1,140 daily InfoPass appointments among the three offices. Users can also use touch screen kiosks at the participating USCIS offices.

"It's part of our ongoing initiative to improve the quality of our customer service delivery for immigrants we are doing everything possible to make efficiency an integral part of our way of doing business," said USCIS spokesman Dan Kane. Down the line, the agency eventually wants to expand the service beyond English and Spanish to other languages, he added.

More than 70 percent of Los Angeles-area immigrants are from Latin American countries, Kane said in an interview several weeks ago.

He said the agency, which was formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service before it was folded into the Homeland Security Department last year, has been using technology to enhance customer service, reduce backlog and improve security.

For example, users can now e-file some applications, such as for employment authorization (Form I-765) and renewing or replacing a green card (Form I-90). They can pay online with a credit card as well as review the status of pending applications or cases. More than 80,000 applications have been filed online since last May.

USCIS is funded almost entirely by fees rather than tax dollars and is required to review its fee structure every two years to ensure that it's recouping all of its costs. It recently proposed increases in several fees, such as a $20 increase in the biometrics fee to $70 from $50.

"If we continue to move forward with these progressive initiatives with respect to InfoPass, with respect to online development of more and more applications being filed through the Internet, and using the capabilities we have through technology, then we need to charge a little bit more for our fees so we can recoup our costs at the same time [as we] reduce our backlog and improve the quality of our customer service delivery," Kane said.

He added that the agency will hire 142 full-time employees this year as well, many dedicated for information technology in improving customer service.

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