US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is getting ready to debut Emma, their new virtual assistant. Billed as an “innovative way to help you find information” on USCIS.gov, Emma will be located at the top right of the USCIS.gov homepage and when clicked, will open up into a chat window. As indicated in the preview, Emma gives an immediate written and spoken response to questions and will also look for specific pages on USCIS.gov and automatically refer the user to these pages for more information.
According to USCIS’s email announcing Emma’s debut: “Emma is still learning so that in the future she can answer many different questions about the services USCIS provides.” USCIS is thus encouraging users to ask Emma questions as the more questions Emma is asked, the “smarter” Emma will become.
We tested Emma out briefly this afternoon with some questions:
“How do file an I-90?”
Emma sent us to the I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card page. Nice job, Emma!
“How do I apply for employment authorization?”
Emma sent us to the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization page. Again, nice work!
“My O-1 has been pending for two months. How do I quickly get the case adjudicated?”
Emma provided information on the O-1 page but didn’t address what action to take to either convert the case to premium processing or file a service request for cases pending outside normal processing times. Something to work on, Emma.
“My case is outside normal processing times. What do I do?”
This time Emma was a little more helpful. She said: “We usually processes cases in the order received. Please check our website for the normal processing times for your case type. If your case has been pending longer than the processing time posted on our website, select the link below to submit an inquiry...
“How do I sponsor my employee?”
Emma rather unhelpfully gave us information on the Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, normally used for family-based immigrants to show they have adequate means of financially support. So this is another question where Emma could definitely improve her response.
“When will comprehensive immigration reform pass?”
We decided to get a little more advanced. Emma gave us the pages for applying for a Green Card and for citizenship, which doesn't quite answer it. More relevant pages would include USCIS.gov's page on President Obama's executive actions and also the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) page.
"Do you read dbvisablog.com?"
Emma's response was thoughtful if disappointing: "I don't have a favorite book, but I do enjoy reading A Guide to Naturalization. It is extremely helpful if you are becoming a U.S. citizen."
A New Way of Thinking
According to USCIS, Emma’s development team will examine every question Emma answers incorrectly or is unable to answer and then “teach” Emma how to answer that question in the future. USCIS is hoping the expanded database will mean better customer service when Emma is ready to debut and, we believe, serve as an alternative to USCIS’s 1-800 representatives, which historically have not always been as helpful or well informed in responding to clients’ more complicated questions.
USCIS states: “Emma is an example of a new way of thinking about making our online tools and services as useful as possible. Your insights and collaboration throughout this process will help make this happen.” At this time, Emma works best with Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9, USCIS reports. (We had a slight issue using Emma with Firefox, though Chrome seemed to work fine). Users are also encouraged to send any issues or problems they experience using Emma to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to working with Emma in the future!
UPDATE DECEMBER 4, 2015: Emma is live! After a few months of testing, USCIS has launched Emma this week on USCIS.gov. Emma answers questions in English with the goal of appropriately navigating users to relevant USCIS web pages. While Emma can answer many basic questions, her knowledge base is still growing, and as customers ask more questions, Emma gets smarter and can better assist future customers.
At this time, Emma can be accessed on a desktop or laptop, but soon she’ll be expanding to mobile devices. Her Spanish language capabilities will be arriving early next year. To ask Emma a question go to USCIS.gov and click “Ask a Question” in the upper right-hand corner of the page.