There has been considerable discussion in the news about the treatment of foreign nationals declining since the current administration took office. This overt initiative has been referred to by the news media as the “Invisible Wall”. The objective behind this initiative has been to make immigration difficult for all foreign nationals (also known as “aliens”), whether they are legal immigrants or illegal immigrants.
The most recent impact of the initiative has been felt at USCIS service centers and field offices throughout the country. In the past, foreign nationals who were in the process of adjusting status from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident were easily able to schedule in-person appointments at the USCIS field offices. These appointments, called “Infopass” appointments, allowed foreign nationals to appear at USCIS field offices and make necessary queries concerning pending immigration applications. They also allowed foreign nationals with pending adjustment of status applications to apply for important benefits such as emergency travel authorization. Such requests for travel authorization were typically approved at the field offices within a matter of hours. However, USCIS has introduced a new policy/program known as the “Information Services Modernization Program”.
The Program is described in detail at this URL: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-expand-information-services-modernization-program-key-locations.
The Program was implemented at the Newark field office on November 26, 2018, and at the New York City field office on January 7, 2019. Although the Program was deliberately named to suggest that it would benefit foreign nationals with pending applications, the objective of the program has instead been to limit the channels of communication between foreign nationals and USCIS, and prevent foreign nationals from obtaining key benefits such as emergency travel authorization. Whereas foreign nationals used to be able to easily schedule in-person appointments through the USCIS website, they are now required to repeatedly call USCIS and attempt to schedule appointments through telephone representatives (which appears to be exactly the opposite of "modernization"). The effect has been that applicants have had to make repeated telephone calls to USCIS and endure extraordinarily long wait times, at the conclusion of which applicants were frequently told that no appointments were available, that the computer system was down, or any one of a number of other ridiculous excuses. In addition, many of those applicants who were lucky enough to receive appointments were told that while they appeared to qualify for the benefit, such as emergency travel authorization, they nevertheless needed to schedule another appointment through the USCIS telephone representatives before returning to the USCIS field office with additional evidence.
Accordingly, it in unsurprising that since the start of 2019, many applicants have abandoned their requests for emergency travel out of sheer frustration with USCIS. In a nutshell, the Program has made requesting emergency travel authorization all but impossible. Applicants who are applying for adjustment of status need to carefully time the filing of their applications and speak with their lawyers about contingencies for traveling abroad at a moment’s notice should the need for same arise.