Imagine you’re a potential immigrant trying to gain citizenship in the United States. You’re probably going to find yourself on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website looking for information on how to go about this complex process. However, despite this online resource, you’re also probably struggling with the complex process or legal terms and may even have some significant language barriers.
All of these challenges often seem insurmountable to many potential citizens. Fortunately, there is a govie who is dedicated to improving the website and system, one innovative program at a time.
Mariela Melero is the Associate Director of Customer Service and Public Engagement Directorate at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She recently sat down with Christopher Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to talk about the innovations she has spearheaded in the immigration process.
An immigrant herself, Melero is a finalist in the Citizen Services category for the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America Medals, or the SAMMIES—a prestigious award that recognizes some of the most innovative individuals the public sector has to offer. She is nominated for this award because of the work she has done to revolutionize immigration services over the last three decades.
According to Melero, there are a few types of individuals that seek assistance from USCIS. The first is the customer who knows exactly what they are looking for. “These individuals just want to know where to find information, so we have a set of tools designed for them that will take them to the USCIS website and the area that they are interested in,” she explained.
Then there is a middle ground group who maybe know what they are looking for but are not exactly sure. Melero explained that for this group of individuals, “we built a digital platform called myUSCIS that is accessible across devices and helps unsure individuals navigate across options that will eventually lead to information about processes.”
Lastly, there are individuals that come into the U.S. and are not ready to take the process on and need a little bit of help. “For these people we have multiple access points including the digital services, a bilingual intelligent virtual assistant, a 1-800 number, and appointments at a district office,” Melero said.
A lot of these processes are innately complex on the back end and must be simplified for end users. Melero exemplified this through the example of USCIS’s intelligent virtual assistant, Emma. Often times, those who work for USCIS get caught up in the formal terminology and find it difficult to communicate information that individual’s seeking assistance can understand. Emma remedies this issue because she is able to understand and effectively respond to individuals coming to her with different levels of knowledge about immigration processes.
Since her debut last December, Emma has had the opportunity to grow as an avatar. Melero explained that she started out internally but now she is used by almost half the people that visit the USCIS website and is answering 90% of questions correctly. “This is absolutely remarkable because it takes approximately three years to grow an avatar,” Melero said.
Melero and her team are also working on redesigning and improving other immigration processes. “We are creating an electronic filing experience for those seeking permanent residency,” as well as improving language skills in human customer service representatives and automated representatives and systems. Melero discussed how her team is inviting customers who have used their innovative systems to give feedback. “We want to know what we can make better and the only way we can validate our very best is to invite customers to come and give feedback so we can co-create with them and develop the best experience,” she explained.
Bringing innovation to the USCIS truly is a group effort. Melero emphasized that she wouldn’t have been able to innovate like she has had it not been for her team and the people who use their services. “We are public servants providing a service and I am immensely proud to be a public servant and able to work in this space,” she concluded.
The SAMMIES are fast approaching so if you’re not familiar with the other awesome finalists be sure to check them out. Already have a favorite finalist? Be sure to vote for them in the People’s Choice Award to make sure they are recognized!