USCIS launches first online form

US Citizenship and Immigration Services claimed an important milestone in their transformation initiative to a digital agency with the debut of the agency's first online form.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has launched its first online application form, which the agency said is a key first step in its multi-year transformation initiative to shift from paper to digital forms.

Starting immediately, eligible visa-holders can establish an online account in the USCIS “ELIS” system and apply online to extend the duration of their visit to the United States or request other changes in their status, the agency said in a May 22 news release. The initial application form for visa holders is the first of many forms expected to launch on the ELIS system, which is a new central resource for application and adjudication of immigration benefits.

“Today marks a significant milestone in our agency’s history,” USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in the release. “We have launched the foundation for the Web-based future of our agency and our immigration benefits system. USCIS ELIS will transform how we interact with our customers and how we manage the 6-7 million applications we receive each year.”

Eligible individuals include foreign citizens who travel to the United States temporarily to study, conduct business, receive medical treatment, or visit on vacation.

The agency said the new digital system will enable quicker and more centralized reviews of the application, because paperwork will no longer need to be collected from multiple agency locations across the country.

“Benefits of using USCIS ELIS include filing applications and paying fees online, shorter processing times, and the ability to update user profiles, receive notices, and respond to requests electronically. The system also includes tools to combat fraud and identify national security concerns,” the agency said.

The agency has been working on its Transformation initiative since 2005 after struggling with a backlog of 1.5 million cases and thousands of missing or poorly-organized paper files.

After delays, the program was believed to be progressing from 2006 to 2009, according to a 2009 audit report from the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General.

In 2008, USCIS awarded IBM Corp. a transformation initiative contract worth as much as $491.1 million over five years. The total transformation program was estimated to cost $536 million at that time.

A report by Nextgov in February 2011 said the total transformation project cost was projected to increase to $2.2 billion.