There's no denying that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has come a long way when it comes to efficiency and the overall ease of applying for benefits.

The bad old days of the agency’s previous incarnations – including the awful INS – are for the most part gone, replaced by greatly shortened processing times and an informative website with many interactive features.

Remember when it took years to acquire U.S. citizenship? Now the average wait time from start to finish is only a few months. And when you needed application forms you’d have to call a toll free number to have them mailed out; now they’re downloadable on the website, and many forms can be instantly filed online as well.

But still, times will arise when USCIS customers need to speak to a human voice to discuss a particular problem. Such was the case with a friend who is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship.

He received a yellow letter from the USCIS last week via snail mail informing him that his application was missing copies of two items – a state issued driver’s license or photo ID, and a Selective Service confirmation letter. He was told not to mail the items, but rather to bring them to his interview appointment.

Any questions about said letter? Just call the USCIS toll free number to speak to an agent.

That’s what he did for a couple of reasons, chief among them that the letter implied his interview date had already been set, though he hadn’t received notification. Was this case?
”Whatever the letter says, sir,” was the response.

But the letter didn’t say anything about a date. “You’ll have to go by whatever the letter says sir.”

Said friend never applied for a driver’s license or state ID card because he doesn’t drive in New York City, and his Irish passport and green card provide sufficient ID. Would he need to get a license or state ID regardless?
”Bring whatever the letter says, sir.”

But the letter is unclear about that matter, my friend replied.

You guessed it . . . “whatever the letter says, sir.”

It was hardly worth mentioning that his application packet did contain a Selective Service letter, because the response would have been the same.

Hopefully this call was atypical of how the USCIS conducts its business over the phone with customers. The agency undoubtedly fields thousands of calls a day, and it’s important to have representatives on the line who are able to give real as opposed to canned answers.

Last week the USCIS announced its own blog called The Beacon ( “(The blog) provides an important resource for information about USCIS as well as a forum through which readers can engage USCIS staff and others who are interested in immigration and naturalization issues. Readers are encouraged to submit comments, ideas, concerns and constructive criticism,” an agency press release said.

Well, consider the aforementioned phone call some constructive criticism. Blogs and interactivity are critically important, but if USCIS customers are showing up at interviews confused and unprepared because they’re encountering robotic customer service officers, that can hardly be considered progress.