A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

USCIS Transformation Plans

One day you may be able to file all U.S. immigration petitions online. To change your address or to correct a typo error, you can just login to your account and change the application that you filed. Instead of putting down the same personal information three times in the I-130, G-325A and I-485, you will be able to just input the info once online. No, I am not joking. All these changes will become reality under a transformation plan of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

According to a recent presentation by the USCIS in corroboration with IBM, the transformation plan will be rolled out in stages over several years. But the standards of the new system are being established now. The new system will employ External Data Interface Standards (EDIS) as the standard for data transfer between USCIS and other entities. The first step is to gather business requirements from stakeholders to define EDIS guidelines. These requirements include the types of data, format of data, message types, data attributes, business rules, etc.

Under the current system, most users file their applications and forms in paper format. The USCIS inputs some of the information filed onto several electronic systems. The paper applications are still kept in paper files. Although electronic filing is possible with some forms, it is not a complete electronic system. The new system will provide a complete on-line filing system. Users may either use the USCIS Portal to file application forms or use a third-party system to input their data. The exchange of data between and USCIS and third party systems will be in form of XML messages. Paper filings will still be allowed after transformation. To implement these transformation efforts, the USCIS established the Transformation Office in February of 2006.

The benefits of the new electronic system are also discussed. One of the most important benefits is the increased efficiency for both the users (immigration practitioners and applicants) and the USCIS employees. The new system will also be more transparent and user-friendly as it is designed from the perspective of the user needs and preferences. As mentioned above, the system will also allow customers to submit, track, and manage their applications in one place through their user accounts. The EDIS and other standards will improve data integrity and security. The same standards will also ensure that data is consistent across the platforms of other agencies such as the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security.

It is expected that a complete transformation will take years to achieve, with bumps and obstacles along the way. Legacy systems need to be consolidated, business processes need to be re-engineered, and employees need to be trained. However, transformation is no longer an option but a necessity given the exponential growth of immigration petitions. It is simply not possible to keep track of and organize millions of paper applications year after year. We applaud the USCIS transformation efforts and wish them the best of luck!

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