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At the edge of a new frontier: USCIS begins transition to Electronic Immigration System

In July 2015, the White House announced a series of technology initiatives aimed at modernizing the application process for certain immigration benefits.  As part of this effort, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) was charged with overhauling their Electronic Immigration System (ELIS).  First released in 2009, ELIS was an aspirational response to meet the growing demand for web-based applications for immigration benefits.  The proposed goal of ELIS was to provide a faster and more reliable adjudication process, however, instead of improved efficiency; a July 2014 audit conducted by the Office of Inspector General concluded that ELIS actually slowed the adjudication of applications by almost 50%.

After two years of redesign, ELIS is almost ready to be relaunched.  Yesterday, USCIS announced that starting August 30th, they will be discontinuing their legacy e-filing system while they complete the transition to the newly revamped ELIS.  Any form started in the legacy system prior to August 30th must be completed and submitted by September 20th.  No new electronic filings can be initiated after August 30, 2015.

The White House’s commitment to modernizing USCIS is to be lauded, however past experience with ELIS demands a degree of cautious optimism. The roadmap into the "new" electronic frontier presents both opportunities and perils, especially if stakeholder feedback is not adequately sought out and incorporated.  However, with a renewed commitment to efficiency, and harnessing technology backed by modern best practices for software development, USCIS and the White House are taking a much needed step forward into the digital age.

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