The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Charlotte officially reopened for employees last Thursday, but it wasn't until Tuesday before the agency resumed public services like naturalization ceremonies.
In a teleconference Monday afternoon, field office director Chris Heffron shared the agency’s new safety operations and procedures, which are all meant to help slow down the spread of COVID-19. He said the agency’s priority in the coming weeks will be to naturalize "as many applicants as possible" who have had ceremonies postponed. That means asylum seekers and green card applicants in the area will have to wait a few more weeks before they get a notice from the Charlotte field office for a rescheduled appointment.
“From a productivity standpoint, our priority when we reopen is going to be naturalization," Heffron said. “We have a completely redesigned business process that’s focused on social distancing. We’re using PPE. We’re shrinking gathering sizes. We’re trying to use the bigger, more open spaces in the building to do as much of our work as we can.”
Heffron said that leaves USCIS with fewer resources than usual. It changes the way visitors may have previously experienced coming into the building, too, even though all efforts since offices closed have gone toward adjudicating cases that didn’t require in-person appointments.
To catch up, the office is aiming to tackle 150-160 oaths a day by meeting with 15-20 people every hour, by appointment only. By Friday, the office hopes to finish close to 400 of them. This includes 70 or so citizenship applications for children obtaining U.S. citizenship from parents.
Other changes include requiring face masks, only being allowed inside at a set time, being allowed to teleconference with an attorney or interpreter instead of just in person, and taking an oath without friends or family present unless the applicant is a minor or is disabled.
"It will be much, much less to none of the pomp and circumstance that we’re used to, which is sad, but I think in the interest of getting people their citizenship safely we’ll take a hit on that one," Heffron said.
Just like some offices and businesses, visitors will be screened for symptoms before entering the building, social-distance markings will be in and around the building, and no one will be allowed inside the building until 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.
The required security screening will still take place when entering the field office but it will happen one pair at a time. Identity confirmation will no longer take place by use of biometrics and instead resort to the old fashioned way — through approved government IDs.
Visitors can expect to spend up to two hours at the USCIS field office during their appointment to take their oath of allegiance.
USCIS offices across the country had suspended in-person operations for 11 weeks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The agency administers the nation’s immigration processes including asylum requests, naturalization ceremonies and green card citizenship applications.
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