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.
By Laura Brache for WFAE90.7
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