Monday, February 18, 2019

USCIS Digitizes the Immigration Experience

USCIS virtual assistant
Virtual Assistant Emma is available to answer all US immigration-related questions all day, every day.
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You know the immigration application drill if you’ve done it before. First, you download the appropriate application forms, complete the forms along with required attachments, print the documents, write a check, and then mail it to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) Lockbox Facility assigned to your geographic location.  

Every time we have mailed our immigration application, Ray has practiced his version of “universal safety” by enclosing the documents in moisture resistant document mailers. We still have two pieces left from our transactions with USCIS.
As we look into applying for Kira’s citizenship (we are not in a hurry since her green card is valid until 2028), we are relieved to see that the impending experience seems to be more accessible and efficient because of these recent USCIS upgrades:
1.     Online Applications

Online applications started with the Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card (Form I-90) in March 2015 followed by the Application for Naturalization (N-400) in August 2016. To date, other applications available online include Alien’s Change of Address Card (AR-11), Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (N-336), Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document  (N-565), Application for Certificate of Citizenship (N-600), and Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322 (N-600K).

Thankfully, we can go paperless when we file for Kira’s naturalization since the N-400 application can now be done online. We just recently reset her USCIS account so that we are ready to start the process online.  If you don’t have a USCIS account yet, the first step is to create one by signing up.

2. Credit Card Payments     

When we filed for our Petition for Alien Relative (I-130) and Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (I-751) in 2014 and 2016, respectively, we needed cash in hand so that we could either write a check or money order to send with our application. We thought then that it was ironic that the land of credit and highly-leveraged consumers didn’t have an option to pay immigration fees with a credit card.

Now, direct credit card payments can be made with the application forms mentioned above, including the Application for Travel Document (I-131A). While there are no other links to make online payments for the rest of the USCIS forms, Lockbox Facilities now accept credit card payments for a total of 41 application forms. You will just need to submit a completed Authorization for Credit Card Transactions (G-1450) and place it “on top of your application.”

As of December 2018, USCIS accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards. The agency cautions to check and make certain that there is enough room for your fees because “your application, petition, or request” will be rejected “if the card is declined” and there will be no further attempts to process payments, which can delay processing of your application even longer.

3. Fee Calculator

To make sure that your credit card does not get declined, you can use the online fee calculator to find out how much you need to pay for processing.

immigration fees
You can better prepare and save up for your immigration fees by using the online fee calculator tool.

You will need to know the form that you will be using for your particular immigration purpose to get the correct calculation. Other information such as age, number of dependent children who became a US resident with you, and whether you are in the military, may be required depending on your type of application.

4. Case Status

With a USCIS account, you will receive notifications about the status of your case through text and email. But you can still check the status of your case online even without an account through the Case Status Online checker. You will need your receipt number to look up your case status.

This update will not be as thorough as talking to a USCIS representative but it at least gives you an idea that your application has been received. Before you even decide to call a USCIS representative, we advise you to check the processing times so that you have realistic expectations. Processing times are longer now but the USCIS is completely transparent about the wait time.

If your processing time is outside the normal wait time, or have other issues such as not receiving your card or document by mail, and you don’t have time to call (800-375-5283) and wait between 15 and 30 minutes on the phone, you can also submit an online inquiry.

5. Ask EMMA

For us who have Memories of the Alhambra hangover, we are familiar with Emma as a virtual character. Segue to USCIS, it also has a virtual assistant named Emma who can answer your questions in English and Spanish 24/7.  

Emma is located on the upper right corner of the
Upgrades in USCIS
The USCIS has made several upgrades in the last couple of years
that allows applicants to file for selected applications online. 
USCIS website. When you click Emma, a chat window appears that allows you to type in a 100-word question. Emma then sends you links related to your question and she may lead you to more than one link in answer to a simple question so be prepared to read.

USCIS tools are almost always available except during scheduled system maintenance. In case you’re trying to access a page and it doesn’t seem to be working, you can check their social media pages (Twitter and Facebook) for their public notices. #

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