There is no doubt that the United States is an in-demand destination for immigrants, whether based on family ties, for employment opportunities, or for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, in fiscal year 2020, USCIS received over 7 million applications, and the country currently has over 44 million immigrants living in it.
Despite all the technology available in other areas of life, especially in the US, this technological sophistication hasn’t fully reached the immigration space. Most applications that USCIS processes still have to be submitted on paper by mail, including hard copies of supporting documents, and when you consider that hundreds of thousands of employment-based visas are awarded to high-skilled professionals in the tech space, it’s hard to imagine that the immigration system hasn’t looked for ways to innovate to make the process.
USCIS has, over the years, sought to allow for e-filing of some applications, but these efforts have taken lots of time and money and the results have been less than optimal in the view of many practitioners.
Today USCIS is trying again, and is consulting with a number of immigration technology companies who are already building tools that improve the immigration process for individual applicants, employers and law firms alike. The goal this time around is to actively work with immigration tech stakeholders to hopefully, finally, bring a comprehensive and user-friendly online filing platform to the USCIS benefits process.
So, in this article we’re going to dive into some of the history of USCIS’s last attempt to digitize immigration, and then share a few high-level updates on what the immigration bar is hoping to achieve this time around.
2022 is not the first time that USCIS has tried to bring digital innovation into the immigration process in an attempt to make it more efficient. In fact, the agency’s first attempt at this spanned more than a decade, and a whole lot of money. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very successful, but thankfully, there are lessons to learn from the way things were done that first time around.
ELIS, which stands for Electronic Immigration System, was launched in 2005. But after a decade of work and two versions of ELIS launched totalling over $1 billion dollars, USCIS had only managed to turn two of the 94 immigration application forms in the immigration system electronic.
The main issue with the initial roll-out of ELIS stemmed from the fact that the system wasn’t built to account for all the file review that would happen after an application was submitted. None of the behind-the-scenes work that adjudicators had to do to review supporting documents and paperwork was incorporated into the original online platform.
Here are some of the issues that ELIS faced over time:
At the end of the day, ELIS was admittedly not very successful. But USCIS is aware of that, and is now restarting its effort and is working to correct one of the things that was not done as much as it should have been in the ELIS development process: involving more stakeholders early and throughout in order to develop a truly best-in-class system.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association, which has been facilitating meetings with the USCIS Ombudsman, has helped connect immigration technology companies who have specific insights and recommendations based on experience currently supporting lawyers who file immigration applications. One of those recommendations is utilizing an Application Programming Interface, otherwise known as API.
In simple terms, an API is code that allows for the transfer of information from one platform to another. Developing APIs would be a solution that would allow for connecting immigration tech tools that are currently available in the market, and that immigration lawyers and professionals are already using, to a USCIS platform in a way that would allow these systems to “talk to each other.” Basically, it would allow immigration lawyers who currently create complete immigration applications on platforms like Docketwise to send those complete applications directly to USCIS instead of sending them to a printer to then ship to USCIS by mail.
Taking this into account, here are some of the recommendations we would love to see in a digital USCIS platform.
These are, of course, wish-list items that are meant to provoke ideas and suggestions as we continue to push for innovation within the immigration space. The process will likely be slow, but slow and steady still does tend to win the race.
In the meantime, our team at Docketwise is still laser-focused on building the best immigration forms and case management platform on the market. We believe we can learn from all stakeholders in the immigration and legal technology industries to make Docketwise the best tool to streamline your immigration case management, from communications, client onboarding and payments, and more. Learn more about Docketwise at www.docketwise.com
As we continue to work alongside other stakeholders in the immigration and legal technology industry, we’re also working hard on making Docketwise the best tool to streamline and automate your casework, client relationships and more at your law firm. Learn more about Docketwise here: http://www.docketwise.com.