SAN ANTONIO – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has updated its website in hopes of not only simplifying the immigration process, but also freeing up more of its staff to handle an overwhelming number of applications for citizenship or permanent residency.
Arwen FitzGerald, USCIS spokesperson, said the agency received 9.1 million applications and petitions during FY2017, adding to a backlog that quadrupled from FY2016 to FY2017.
By setting up an account through my.uscis.gov, that is also mobile friendly, she said, “It will tell you where you are in the process. It’ll give you text messages, e-mails, and it’ll tell you what the next step is.”
FitzGerald also said its tools feature “has everything you could ever want to do with us on this page.”
She said by going online for the answers, people don’t have to take time off work, make an appointment and travel to the USCIS office off of U.S. 281 North near Evans Road.
FitzGerald said immigration service officers will also have more time to handle the applications themselves.
Laura Manzanares, a permanent U.S. resident, said saw first-hand how my.uscis.gov works.
“It’s really easy to navigate through. I’m not computer lit so this is really making it easy,” Manzanares said.
She said the website echoed much of what an immigration service officer had taken the time to explain.
But Manzanares said she was especially impressed by “Emma,” the site’s virtual assistant.
FitzGerald said a staffer in Washington, D.C., suggested “Emma,” in honor of Emma Lazarus whose iconic poem is engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
“We’re a nation of immigrants and her poem kind of reinforces that, so making her ‘Emma,’ was really important to us,” FitzGerald said.
Found in the upper right hand corner of the website, “Emma” also is bilingual; the answers she gives can be heard or read in Spanish.
“That’s awesome because there are a lot of residents who don’t speak English or read it, so that’s really great. I like that,” Manzanares said.
She said as a result of what she learned Monday, she’ll be spreading the word: “I have a lot of friends who have a lot of questions.”