CIS Ombudsman Provides USCIS Contact Center Tip Sheet

The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) has released a tip sheet to guide customers in communicating with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS has implemented a number of changes to reduce reliance on live assistance by telephone and the tip sheet offers suggestions on the types of situations for which a person should contact the USCIS.

Tools for Communicating with USCIS

The USCIS has various tools for offering help to customers, including by phone, via various online tools, and through in-person services. As explained in the tip sheet, the USCIS is attempting to reduce costs by relying less on live assistance, and more on self-help tools that are offered both digitally and via telephone. The USCIS is striving to limit the use of live assistance tools solely in situations where the request cannot yet be accommodated through a self-help tool.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 Officers

If a customer uses a live-assistance tool, such a speaking to a person by phone, the initial contact generally is with a Tier 1 representative – that is, a trained contractor. If the matter is escalated, it is sent to a USCIS Immigration Services Officer, also known as a Tier 2 representative.

Process for Emergency and Expedite Requests

If a customer requests emergency services for an urgent matter, the Tier 1 representative determines whether the request constitutes an emergency. If the request is to obtain an urgent appointment, a Tier 2 representative reviews the request. However, the field office where the appointment is needed ultimately determines whether the urgent request can be accommodated.

For an expedite request, the USCIS Contact Center is only responsible for taking the request and relaying the request to the field office or service center handling the case. The field office or service center then determines whether to grant the expedite request.

Usage of USCIS Interactive Voice Response System

If self-service is available by phone, the interactive voice response (IVR) phone system does not present an option for a caller to reach a live representative. As an alternative, the foreign national may use the USCIS online tools for assistance. For instance, Emma, the online virtual assistant on the USCIS website, is available for live chat Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Eastern Time. Also, the e-Request tool on the USCIS website may be used to submit a case inquiry or service request. Applicants and petitioners can also check case status via myUSCIS and can send secure messages to the USCIS via this online account.

Returned Calls from USCIS

If a customer is scheduled to receive a call back from a USCIS representative, the representative will make two attempts to contact the customer. If the first attempt is not answered, the USCIS representative will leave a message and make a second attempt within 60 to 90 minutes. If the individual is still not reached after the second attempt, the USCIS Contact Center will send an eMail to instruct the customer to call back or use other tools.

Customers awaiting a call back from the USCIS should monitor their phones closely, as such calls may be made outside normal business hours, including weekends. The CIS Ombudsman recommends providing both a cell phone number and office number, as the USCIS representative will try to reach the customer at both numbers provided.

Rescheduling an Appointment or Interview

To reschedule an appointment or interview, applicants may use Emma, e-Request, or call the USCIS Contact Center. A request to reschedule an interview or oath is sent to the field office, which decides whether to grant the request. If the individual does not receive a response prior to the interview or oath date, the CIS Ombudsman recommends attending the appointment, as there is no guarantee it will be rescheduled. One exception to this is, if the person has COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the individual should not attend the appointment under any circumstances.


The USCIS has struggled with customer service issues for many years. Reducing the availability of in-person assistance could further exasperate matters. It remains to be seen whether the USCIS can take the steps necessary to become an agency that is truly accountable to the customers it is servicing.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.