By Jerry Heinauer
A little-known fact about Nebraska is that one of its major federal employers is the Nebraska Service Center (NSC). The NSC, located in Lincoln, employs 1,100 men and women who process applications for a wide variety of immigration benefits. Half of these employees are federal employees. The other half work at the center for a contracted firm that does data entry, mail room and file room functions. The NSC operates out of two buildings. One building on the north end of the Haymarket area houses mail, data entry and file functions; the other, located northwest of the airport, houses most of the adjudicative functions.
The Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) was formed in 2003 as an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. Formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, CIS also has service centers in Laguna Niguel, Calif.; Dallas, Texas; Lee’s Summit, Miss.; and St. Albans, Vt. Service Centers have been in existence for almost 25 years. The concept behind them is to process those immigration benefit requests that do not require a face-to-face interview. An example of this would be renewal of an employment authorization card or issuance of a travel document for an ayslee (a noncitizen who has received a grant of asylum from the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security or the attorney general) or refugee. Because service centers focus on paperwork, they are not open to the public. Face-to-face inquiries to information officers should be made at field offices such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Office in Omaha. It is best to schedule an appointment using the InfoPass link at www.uscis.gov
Though not open to the general public the NSC endeavors to be responsive to the needs of those it serves, hosting regular meetings and teleconferences with a number of immigrant aid associations and community-based organizations representing asylees, refugees, students and applicants for adjustment to permanent residence. Additionally, over 17,000 written inquiries and almost 15,000 telephone inquiries from congressional staffers and community-based organizations were answered in fiscal year 2007, as well as almost 110,000 written inquiries from the general public.
Among other functions, service centers preprocess naturalization applications, consolidating files and running various security checks prior to sending a naturalization application to a field office for a required interview and oath ceremony. The NSC is the only service center, however, that preprocesses naturalization applications for active military members who may complete their naturalization interviews at their overseas duty locations. In October 2007 NSC processed its 50,000th military naturalization application since Sept. 11, 2001, for a soldier stationed in Iraq. The NSC takes pride in the attention given to these military applications. Certainly these brave men and women deserve the best.
The NSC is also the nation’s sole processor for the I-360 Special Immigrant Translator Program. This immigrant classification provides permanent resident status for qualifying translators working with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. All such applications receive initial review within two weeks of receipt. Approved applications are immediately forwarded to the Department of State for possible visa issuance by that agency. A total of 1,038 of these applications were approved in fiscal year 2007.
Travel document applications are also solely within the purview of the NSC. Reentry Permits, issued to qualifying lawful U.S. permanent residents, and Refugee Travel Documents, issued to qualifying refugees and asylees in the United States, are booklets similar to passports used by these groups to facilitate reentry to the United States after travel abroad. These individuals, particularly refugees and asylees, are often unable to readily obtain travel documents from their countries of origin. In fiscal year 2007, 141,000 applications were approved with booklets manufactured and mailed to the applicants from the NSC. Due to the frequently compelling and emergent needs for travel, approximately 1,000 of these documents are produced each month as expedite requests.
Enhancing national security, improving customer service and maintaining operational excellence are the three strategic imperatives that guide the NSC’s efforts. The NSC’s mandate is to improve services and ensure that the right person receives the right benefit in the right amount of time, in keeping with the agency’s core values of integrity, respect and ingenuity.
In order to enhance national security and ensure immigration integrity, USCIS conducts security checks for all applications. The most-used system is the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS), a system that combines information from several databases relating to national security risks, public safety issues and other law enforcement concerns. In 2007 the NSC processed more than 60,000 IBIS hits.
The Nebraska Service Center is paired with the Texas Service Center (TSC) in Dallas, Texas, in a USCIS program known as Bispecialization. Under this program, these two centers are equally responsible for nationwide processing of applications for immigrant alien workers and applications for permanent residence based on employment and asylee status. The centers work jointly to standardize processes and examination standards so that each application, no matter where it is filed, is completed with the same attention to detail, fairness and discretion.
We are very proud of the role the Nebraska Service Center plays in reducing processing times, enhancing national security and initiating new processes and programs. As USCIS Director Gonzalez noted in September 2006: “Our work takes on significance beyond other government benefits. What we do is more than just numbers, applications and forms. The services we provide profoundly affect people’s lives.”