“Any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion.”
On Monday, I received my appointment date for a biometrics appointment. Unfortunately, I’d booked a trip to Wyoming with C months ago. I couldn’t make the date.
From my immigration lawyer I learnt good news, and bad news.
- If you miss your date, you will forfeit your entire application
- You can reschedule, but you may be pushed back months
- You may be able to “walk in” before your scheduled date
3 sounded like worth a shot, with 2 an annoying, but not disastrous option to fall back on.
I attempt my first walk in yesterday afternoon. After an hour on the subway, and a sweaty walk through Sunset Park, I arrive, and I’m immediately denied. The manager laughed. “Look how full we are!”
She was right. I looked around. The service centre looked like a third world airport with storm delays.
“Come back tomorrow morning, early. You might have a chance then.”
I return to the USCIS center the following morning at 7.15am, 45 minutes before it opens. My uber driver recognizes the location. “Ah! This is where I became a citizen!”
Turns out he was from Sri Lanka, and the rest of his family currently lives in Toronto. He wished me luck, and soon enough, I was inside.
The queue was a ragged range of people. In front of me, a young Russian couple bicker, something about cigarettes, and the man storms off. He doesn’t like lines. There’s a nice warm summer morning glow from the windows, but everyone looks a bit twitchy already from waiting. One young guy scampers to the front to peek through the front doors.
I’m pleased to see I’m only 9 from the front, and there’s already about 40 people behind me.
Suddenly, a loud click from the door. The crowd perks up and starts chattering and shuffling around.
A big, tall black man in uniform steps out and strides down the line.
“Listen up!” he shouts.
Has very clear instructions, and bellows them out so everyone can hear.
“I need to see 2 documents.
- Your Appointment letter
- Your Government identification “
He turns around and marches back inside, and the line starts to move. There’s a lot of rustling papers and whispering.
As I get closer to the front of the line, I realize the inspectors job is to make sure people comply to his rules. Interestingly, it appears that no one knows the rules, and even if they knew them, probably couldn’t follow them.
Welcome to the USCIS Application Support Center.
His task was simple, but there was already increasing complexity entering the system. People.
Much to the inspectors disappointment, the woman in front of me had handed him a large pile of papers, instead of the required 2.
She was Latino, spoke no English, and didn’t seem to understand what he was saying.
I felt for both people. The inspector, couldn’t have made the tasks more simple, yet she basically did the opposite.
I’ve also been in her shoes. A foreign country with strange, scary and unfamiliar procedures.
Even I get it wrong. When I reach the front booth, the man checks my papers. I start to explain that I’m “a walk in” — thinking that it might be useful information for him. “I don’t care. I’m not looking at the date.“
As he hands me a basic info sheet and a pen for me to fill out, another woman, who’d already started filling in her questionnaire, is wildly gesturing at her paper.
“Just cross it out and start again!”
She keeps flailing her hands about wildly.
“Just cross it out!!! he yells again. She seems satisfied with his answer this time, and returns to her chair.
He turns back to me with shaking his head. I get the impression he’s had this one sided conversation before. It’s about 5 minutes into his workday.
I grabbed a seat with the rest of the gang and started filling out my sheet.
At this point, the inspector appeared completely overwhelmed and frustrated. He’s swamped. The line had magically grown another 50 people. I wondered if they were all trying to walk in too.
The form asked me name, nationality and eye colour and height and weight.
I had no idea how the queuing & ticketing system worked but I had a feeling that the quicker I can move -forward- through the system, the better.
I returned to the inspector, who was now drowning in a roiling mass of people all yelling at him in different languages and pointing at random papers.
In between shouting, and fishing through paperwork, he glances at my form. “Finished already?” He seemed genuinely surprised.
“Go to the line.”
At the front of the next station was a woman in a hijab, with a big stamp in her hand. She asked me for my passport, and the two documents I’d brought with me.
She quickly stamped the papers, gave me a ticket and asked me to take a seat at the red chairs, which at this point, with no one ahead of me, were completely empty.
By the time I walked across the room, glancing back at the chaos behind me, a biometrics assistant had stepped out from her booth and waved me in.
From there on, it honestly wasn’t much different than passing customs at the airport. She took my photo, wiped my fingers with a wet cloth (ok that part was different) and one by one, took my fingerprints.
We both looked at the same screen, as my fingerprints were visualized in high definition on the computer screen. It was all over in five minutes.
When we were done, she hands me a “customer satisfaction” slip and points tp the exit.
Walking out, I turn back one final time to survey the area, and notice a middle aged asian woman frantically gesturing at me to help her. She was attempting to fill in the yellow survey slip, probably thinking it was a very important government document.
She couldn’t read english. Using my slip, I showed her how to do it, by ticking ‘excellent’ in the answer box. “See?”
Pausing for a second, thinking, she smiled and proceeded to answer the first question, “How was your experience today? — Very poor, poor, fair, good or very good?”
She ticked them all.