How Helpful is the USCIS Help Line?

We wanted to talk a little bit about the USCIS helpline because it’s a topic that comes up once in a while, just to set your expectations. The folks down at the USCIS helpline and they have an 800 number you can call to ask questions. Those guys got a really tough job and I’m sure they’re all good people trying to do their best and they probably get it right most of the time. But as with any situation where you have a very complex process, which immigration is, it’s tough to on a simple phone call always give the must accurate or fully complete or fully fleshed out answer to a question.

So the reason we’re bringing this up is we occasionally get people who will call us, like we just had one recently, that relates back to a previous one when I was talking about timelines, he said, “Why are you guys saying six months for a fiancee visa, I just called the helpline and they told me a year?” Well, both of those answers are correct. Timelines are estimate, if I get an estimate to repair my car, if I get two different estimates, it doesn’t mean either one of them’s wrong, it just means an estimate … an estimate is a fancy word for guess, it’s a guess. So you ask timeline, they’re guessing. Hopefully they’re guessing based on some data but it’s still a guess. So when they said a year for a fiancee visa, they’re not wrong and when we say six months for a fiancee visa, we’re not wrong. So there’s an example of the case that you’re talking to a person who’s making their best estimate based on what they’re hearing or what they’ve been told to say or whatever.

An important thing to remember is that the helpline is a call center, it’s contracted out currently to IBM unless that changed recently. IBM is actually running the immigration helpline for the government. You’re not talking to a government employee, you’re not talking to anybody in the government office, you’re not talking to anybody probably ever been to an embassy. And again, I’m not running these people down, I’m sure they get training and they’re doing the best job they can, what I’m saying is it’s a help desk like help desks at a lot of companies, the person you’re talking to, as well meaning as they may be, they can’t possibly have full information about everything. And remember there’s only one help desk at the CIS, there’s not a separate help desk for fiancee visas, spousal visas, J1 exchange visas, EB5 investor visas, so it’s not possible for that one poor fellow or lady that answered the phone to know detailed, in-depth, 100% correct information about every visa type that’s out there and there are dozens and dozens of them.

You have to take it with a grain of salt. Whatever they tell you, back it up, check other sources, check online, call us, talk to an attorney, whatever. They’re there to try and help and if you’ve got a very basic question like, “What form do I use to file for my fiancee visa?”, almost certainly they’re going to have that question right. But if you call them and you ask, “How much is it going to cost to get a medical exam in Japan?” They’re almost certainly going to get that wrong and not because they don’t know what they’re doing but because you’re getting down into the weeds in some of these questions.

We bring this up because we do get that. People will maybe not quite believe or maybe just want to get a second opinion on something we say, then they call the helpline then they call us back and say well they said something different. Again, as with the example of the timing, it doesn’t even mean they’re wrong, it’s just a lot of times these questions are opinions or estimates based on some experience and there can be correct answers that are different but both correct, but it could be that they’re wrong. I would be wrong if I answered a question about a student visa because we don’t do them and it’s not possible for us to be experts in every visa type.

Oftentimes, I hate to say often, that’s probably too strong a word, but occasionally they are wrong. And what I suggest you do if you get conflicting information or perhaps unbelievable information, double check it, look around and find the answers. Don’t assume that because it’s the USCIS helpline that everything they say is 100% accurate. I’m sure they’re trying to do as best job as they can but again it’s not possible for a guy sitting at a cubicle who’s probably never even been to a government immigration office to give perfect answers, and that’s not a slight on him, I couldn’t do it either, nobody could do that, nobody could possibly sit there for eight hours a day and answer every immigration question over dozens and dozens of immigration types and get it exactly right every time, it’s just not possible.

 



Disclaimer: The information herein is not intended as legal advice and is provided for general information only.Questions involving interpretation of specific U.S. laws should be addressed to an attorney and/or government officials.

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