Established by Congress in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) has approximately 40 federal employees.
Our mission is to:
- Assist individuals and employers in resolving problems experienced when seeking immigration benefits from USCIS;
- Identify trends and areas in which individuals and employers have problems dealing with USCIS; and
- Recommend changes in USCIS’ administrative practices to mitigate problems and enhance processes.
We are an independent office in the Department of Homeland Security and are not part of USCIS.
Section 452 of the Homeland Security Act provides the legal authority for the CIS Ombudsman. The text of this section is below.
SEC. 452. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES OMBUDSMAN.
(a) IN GENERAL.—Within the Department, there shall be a position of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (in this section referred to as the ‘Ombudsman’). The Ombudsman shall report directly to the Deputy Secretary. The Ombudsman shall have a background in customer service as well as immigration law.
(b) FUNCTIONS.—It shall be the function of the Ombudsman—
(1) To assist individuals and employers in resolving problems with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services;
(2) To identify areas in which individuals and employers have problems in dealing with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services; and
(3) To the extent possible, to propose changes in the administrative practices of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to mitigate problems identified under paragraph (2).
(c) ANNUAL REPORTS.—
(1) OBJECTIVES.—Not later than June 30 of each calendar year, the Ombudsman shall report to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Senate on the objectives of the Office of the Ombudsman for the fiscal year beginning in such calendar year. Any such report shall contain full and substantive analysis, in addition to statistical information, and—
(A) Shall identify the recommendation the Office of the Ombudsman has made on improving services and responsiveness of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services;
(B) Shall contain a summary of the most pervasive and serious problems encountered by individuals and employers, including a description of the nature of such problems;
(C) Shall contain an inventory of the items described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) for which action has been taken and the result of such action;
(D) Shall contain an inventory of the items described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) for which action remains to be completed and the period during which each item has remained on such inventory;
(E) Shall contain an inventory of the items described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) for which no action has been taken, the period during which each item has remained on such inventory, the reasons for the inaction, and shall identify any official of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services who is responsible for such inaction;
(F) Shall contain recommendations for such administrative action as may be appropriate to resolve problems encountered by individuals and employers, including problems created by excessive backlogs in the adjudication and processing of immigration benefit petitions and applications; and
(G) Shall include such other information as the Ombudsman may deem advisable.(2) REPORT TO BE SUBMITTED DIRECTLY.—Each report required under this subsection shall be provided directly to the committees described in paragraph (1) without any prior comment or amendment from the Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, or any other officer or employee of the Department or the Office of Management and Budget.
(d) OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES.—The Ombudsman—
(1) shall monitor the coverage and geographic allocation of local offices of the Ombudsman;
(2) shall develop guidance to be distributed to all officers and employees of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services outlining the criteria for referral of inquiries to local offices of the Ombudsman;
(3) shall ensure that the local telephone number for each local office of the Ombudsman is published and available to individuals and employers served by the office; and
(4) shall meet regularly with the Director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to identify serious service problems and to present recommendations for such administrative action as may be appropriate to resolve problems encountered by individuals and employers.
(e) PERSONNEL ACTIONS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—The Ombudsman shall have the responsibility and authority—
(A) To appoint local ombudsmen and make available at least 1 such ombudsman for each State; and
(B) To evaluate and take personnel actions (including dismissal) with respect to any employee of any local office of the Ombudsman.
(2) CONSULTATION.—The Ombudsman may consult with the appropriate supervisory personnel of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in carrying out the Ombudsman’s responsibilities under this subsection.
(f) RESPONSIBILITIES OF BUREAU OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES- The Director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services shall establish procedures requiring a formal response to all recommendations submitted to such director by the Ombudsman within 3 months after submission to such director.
(g) OPERATION OF LOCAL OFFICES.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Each local ombudsman—
(A) shall report to the Ombudsman or the delegate thereof;
(B) may consult with the appropriate supervisory personnel of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding the daily operation of the local office of such ombudsman;
(C) shall, at the initial meeting with any individual or employer seeking the assistance of such local office, notify such individual or employer that the local offices of the Ombudsman operate independently of any other component of the Department and report directly to Congress through the Ombudsman; and
(D) at the local ombudsman’s discretion, may determine not to disclose to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services contact with, or information provided by, such individual or employer.
(2) MAINTENANCE OF INDEPENDENT COMMUNICATIONS.—Each local office of the Ombudsman shall maintain a phone, facsimile, and other means of electronic communication access, and a post office address, that is separate from those maintained by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, or any component of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The CIS Ombudsman is appointed by the DHS Secretary and reports directly to the DHS Deputy Secretary. Nathan Stiefel is the current acting CIS Ombudsman.
- Phyllis A. Coven (2021-2023)
- Michael Dougherty (2019-2021; second term)
- Julie Kirchner (2017-2019)
- Maria Odom (2012-2016)
- January Contreras (2009-2012)
- Michael Dougherty (2008-2009)
- Prakash Khatri (2003-2008)
The CIS Ombudsman reports directly to the Deputy Secretary of DHS. In the office, our leadership consists of the CIS Ombudsman and the Deputy CIS Ombudsman. We have five divisions that report to the Deputy CIS Ombudsman: Casework, Public Engagement, Policy, Operations, and Strategy.
To view or download the organizational charts:
Our current strategic plan describes how we plan to serve as a champion for a transparent and efficient immigration benefits system. The four goals in the plan are:
- Goal 1: Strengthen our identity and customer service
- Goal 2: Build and develop our workforce
- Goal 3: Mature our organization
- Goal 4: Elevate our stature and expand our reach
To learn more, please read our FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan.
- Case assistance inquiries: email@example.com
- Public engagement and webinar inquiries: CISOmbudsman.PublicAffairs@hq.dhs.gov
- 1-855-882-8100 (toll free)
- 202-357-8100 (local)
Our hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern. We encourage you to email us if you are not able to reach us by phone.
Please note: We have received reports that scammers sometimes use our phone number on caller ID. This is called spoofing, and it is illegal. If in doubt, let the call go to voicemail. We will always leave a voicemail. Also, we will never ask for your Social Security number, credit card information, or payment. Please report scammers directly to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Mailing addressOffice of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman
Department of Homeland Security
Mail Stop 0180
Washington, D.C. 20528
If you choose to send information to us by mail, please know that delivery may be significantly delayed due to security measures with the government mail system (even for overnight couriers and express mail).
You can follow us on Twitter (@cisombudsman, https://twitter.com/cisombudsman), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/company/cisombudsman), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/cisombudsman).