How (and When) to Request Congressional Assistance on your Case

Erick Widman

Following up with the USCIS, the U.S. Department of State, and US embassies or consulates abroad is never a fun task. Phone lines are often run by robots who refuse to transfer you to a human, and it can take weeks (or months) to receive a helpful response to an electronic inquiry or email.

In recent months, these government agencies have continued to make it harder to follow up as case delays grow and case processing errors become more common. USCIS has changed its phone system so that routing to a customer representative is nearly impossible and the National Visa Center (NVC) essentially only accepts requests and inquiries through a public online form, rather than phone calls or special email accounts that they used to use for attorneys and others.

Given these circumstances, it is sometimes necessary to try other routes once all of the general contact and follow-up options have been exhausted. One option for checking in on a severely delayed or mishandled case (after first contacting the responsible agency and receiving unsatisfactory results) is to request assistance from a member of Congress.

State representatives have people on staff whose job it is to liaise with government agencies on behalf of their constituents. This can be a very helpful service for individuals who need a hand getting USCIS, USPS, or another government agency to take action on their case or other issue.

Here is an overview of how to request assistance from a Senator, courtesy of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

  • Search for your local representatives (depends on what state you live in).
  • Click on the legislator’s webpage and look for the “Services” (or “Help Center”) tab. Under “Services,” look for the option on “Help with a Federal Agency” (or something along these lines). You can also search “Help with Federal Agency” in the legislator’s webpage search bar.
  • You will likely need to fill out an authorization or privacy release form. Please note that each representative or senator will generally have their own version of the form, as well as their own instructions for completing and submitting the form to their office, thus you will need to look for a form each time you contact a different legislative office for case assistance.

Immigration attorneys often have contacts at these offices and can assist with making these requests, but most representatives will only accept requests directly from their constituents, so the request form must be completed and submitted by the individual looking for assistance. Some offices may allow attorneys or others to be copied on correspondence if a privacy release is signed.

Congressional officers are usually very quick to reply and confirm that they have received your request. It may take a few weeks for them to receive a response from USCIS or whichever agency they are contacting on your behalf, so you should wait at least two weeks before following up with them. By showing interest in the outcome of your case, these representatives can often be very effective at encouraging USCIS (or other agencies) to take action.

Finding your state senator or congressional representative

The first step for congressional assistance is finding the name and contact information of the congressional representative here. Enter your zip code at the top right corner. Once your zip code is entered, your representative’s name and contact information will be displayed.

Many US representatives and senators will have at least one staff member whose job it is to liaise with the different federal agencies who deal with immigration, including USCIS and the Department of State (DoS). Both USCIS and the DoS also have particular offices and staff dedicated to responding to congressional concerns.

If you’d like to reach out for help, you’ll need to find out who is either your congress member in the House of Representatives or your state senator. While you can contact either of them, generally you should only reach out to one office, to avoid overlapping requests and other delays. Some factors that may influence who you select to approach include how much experience they have had and their position on immigration.

Contact Your Representative

Once you’ve found out who to contact, you can reach out to them via email or phone. Email is generally the most effective way, as it’s easier share all needed information and you always have a record. Once the congressional representative has been contacted and the situation is expressed, the congressman will inform you of any form or document that needs to be submitted. If an expedite request is being filed through the congressional office, the documents proving the reasons for expedited processing will be required by the congressional office.

The Privacy Waiver

The privacy waiver is one of the general forms that is needed for all inquiries with the congressional representative. Without the permission of the applicant, a congressional office cannot contact the USCIS regarding an immigrant petition. This waiver would authorize them to access the application and information that the USCIS has.

To permit the congressional office to make an inquiry about your visa processing, you will be required to fill out a privacy waiver. You can do this online, through the member’s website.

Generally, you will need to provide:

  • your full name, date of birth, and address;
  • a description of the issue;
  • details of what you have already tried to resolve the issue;
  • information about your case (what sort of visa you applied for, where you applied, and the dates you applied);
  • any relevant case numbers; and
  • any other such key documents as USCIS receipt notices or agency correspondence.

From that point on, the representative should be able to guide the applicant in the right direction for any updates or additional documents that are needed. The USCIS typically resolves issues within 30 days of the request sent by the congressional office whether that is forwarded through written correspondence or email.

Passage Immigration Law

Requesting that a congressional representative make an inquiry about your visa does not necessarily mean the process of the visa will be expedited. If you wish to retain our legal services or would like to setup a phone or in-person consultation with an experienced immigration attorney, please give us a call at (503) 427-8243, or you may schedule a consultation here.

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