The Immigration and Naturalization Service's telephone assistance program provides callers with accurate benefit information in a fast and friendly manner, according to a new report from the Justice Department's inspector general. INS customer service representatives answered 200 out of 250 questions correctly on immigration procedures and benefits in a review of the agency's telephone assistance program, providing "excellent" or "good" service 95 percent of the time, according to a December IG report
from Justice. INS is part of the Justice Department. Callers waited 69 seconds on average for assistance, and agency representatives were courteous, professional and "frequently provided information above and beyond that requested," the report said. In 1999, INS created the toll-free phone service, in English and Spanish, to help customers with questions on immigration benefits and procedures. The phone service, which receives up to 50,000 calls a day, features an automated menu and 550 employee representatives who are available to field calls Monday through Friday. The IG's office made 250 telephone calls in English to more than 159 INS customer service representatives, recording waiting times and rating employees on their accuracy and professionalism. Of the 250 questions asked in the survey, telephone representatives answered 12 questions incorrectly and referred another 38 inquiries to an INS information officer. The questions most often answered incorrectly concerned the proper documentation for employment eligibility. Anyone hired for a job, including U.S. citizens, must provide proof of employment eligibility. Employers should only accept original documents, not photocopies, for the government's proof of worker eligibility form, according to the IG report. The survey recommended that INS phone representatives receive training in employment eligibility verification and employment authorization to improve "an already high-quality program." The INS agreed with the IG's findings and pledged to continue to improve its telephone assistance program by providing customer service representatives and immigration information officers with more training in the areas noted in the report. To consolidate agency services, INS also plans to route phone calls from employers on its business line directly to representatives in the telephone assistance program. The IG report praised INS for its response to the review, particularly its effort to merge its customer service programs. "This response not only provides INS customers with a true one-stop information resource, but also serves to address the special information needs of the business customer," the report said.