The Citizenship and Immigration Services is introducing an Internet-based appointment-making system for New York City area residents.
The new feature, called "InfoPass," allows the public to go online and make appointments with immigration officials instead having to line up outside federal buildings. Eduardo Aguirre, who is director of the agency, says the online system is aimed at eliminating the long lines outside immigration offices.
"We have to make sure that when it is raining or it is cold or it is hot outside, people do not have to stand for hours on end waiting to come and see us," he said. "This is going to prevent that from happening."
Last year, more than 350,000 people waited in line outside immigration offices in New York. That number averaged 1400 people on a daily basis, with many of them often lining up before dawn. Mr. Aguirre says that he expects lines outside New York's immigration offices to disappear by the end of August.
With InfoPass, the public can log onto the Citizenship and Immigration Services website and schedule a specific date and time to meet with an immigration officer to discuss their case. They can also change their appointments online as well. The system operates in 12 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian. Officials say they may expand the number of languages offered.
This latest initiative is part of the agency's efforts to increase its efficiency and customer service after its reorganization last year. Formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services already offers other online services, such as e-filing and printing out forms.
Mr. Aguirre says this latest initiative is part of the agency's efforts to make the immigration process more convenient and accessible.
"The three things we are very much focusing on are reducing the backlog," he added. "We are bringing better customer service to our immigration services and this is one example of that. And we are doing all of that in an environment of increased and enhanced national security."
New York is the fourth city to launch the initiative, after it was introduced in Miami last year. The agency plans to implement the online appointment-making system in an additional 35 cities by the end of September.