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Review of the INS's National Customer Service Center
Telephone Information Service

Report No. I-2002-001
December 2001


The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Evaluation and Inspections Division, surveyed the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) National Customer Service Center (NCSC) Telephone Information Service (TIS). Our purpose was to determine the accuracy of answers provided by the customer service representatives. We also evaluated the timeliness of information provided and the professionalism of the customer service representatives.


The INS, part of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), administers the nation's immigration laws. The INS's mission involves a variety of inter-related functions. Specifically, the INS:

  • Conducts immigration inspections of travelers entering (or seeking entry) to the United States as they arrive at officially designated ports of entry,

  • Regulates permanent and temporary immigration to the United States through the Immigration Services and Benefits Program,

  • Maintains control of U.S. borders, and

  • Identifies and removes people who have no lawful immigration status in the United States.

Over the last several years, the number of benefits applications received by the INS has increased dramatically. The INS reported that it has taken action on many fronts to accommodate this influx, including hiring additional staff, analyzing and reengineering processes, and implementing a variety of new programs designed to increase production and improve customer service while increasing quality.

A part of the mission of the Immigration Services and Benefits Program is to provide accurate and timely information and adjudicate immigration benefit applications for its customers in a professional and courteous manner. Since December 1999, the INS has provided nationwide live telephone assistance through a single toll-free number where customers can get information on immigration benefits and services. The TIS provides this service through four telephone service centers - two are contractor operated and two are INS operated. The centers have approximately 550 employees. The goal of TIS is to provide INS customers with consistent and accurate information and assistance on immigration services and benefits without having to visit an INS office. The TIS receives 30,000 to 50,000 calls per day. The day with the most calls is Monday and the busiest time of the day is mid-morning (9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon).

The TIS is available in English and Spanish throughout United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It features automated, self-service options 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. local time, to customers calling from the Continental United States.

The TIS presents the caller with a menu of automated, self-service options. These include information on:

  • The status of an application that has already been filed with INS;

  • The address of the local INS office, how and where to get fingerprinted, and a list of doctors authorized to give a medical exam, for example;

  • How to get forms or applications;

  • Eligibility criteria for immigration benefits and services;

  • Recent or upcoming changes in immigration programs and procedures; and

  • Assistance regarding other Federal government agencies.

All menu options provide the caller with the choice of speaking to a customer service representative at anytime during the call.

Scope and Methodology

During our survey, we made 250 telephone calls in English to INS's customer service representatives and spoke to over 126 customer service representatives. 1 We asked 50 basic questions, one question for each call, which were taken from the INS web site's " frequently asked questions." If the customer service representative was unable to provide the requested information, they usually referred us to INS Information Officers, INS employees who have thorough understanding of INS operations. We did not request any information from the INS Information Officers.

We recorded the wait time to speak with a customer service representative from the time we requested to speak to a representative until the time they answered our call. We also recorded the total duration of our call. We did not analyze how the time of day or day of week our calls were initiated affected wait times.

When we asked the customer service representatives for information, we recorded whether they provided a correct answer, an incorrect answer, or were unable to provide an answer (usually resulting in a referral to an Information Officer).

The customer service representatives were rated on their courtesy and professionalism using a subjective scale: excellent-good-fair-poor. Generally, if the customer service representative provided an answer quickly and easily, but did not offer any additional assistance or support, they were rated good. To receive a rating of excellent, a customer service representative had to make additional queries clarifying our needs, and offer additional information and assistance above and beyond the question asked. The courtesy and professionalism of the customer service representatives were rated independent of the correctness of the answer provided.

See Appendix I for a sample call sheet and Appendix II for a list of questions asked.


  1. For 49 additional calls, the customer service representative did not identify themselves by operator number. We spoke to a number of representatives more than once.

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