USCIS Takes Step Toward Going Digital

 

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer June 4, 2019
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​U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced May 22 that business travelers and students in certain situations are now able to apply for visa extensions online.

Known as the agency's eProcessing initiative, it's the first step toward transitioning immigration processing into a digital experience.

Applicants who want to extend their stay under the following visa categories are now able to file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, online:

  • B-1 temporary visitor for business.
  • B-2 temporary visitor for pleasure.
  • F-1 academic student with a specific status expiration date.
  • F-2 spouse or child of an academic student with a specific status expiration date.
  • M-1 vocational student.
  • M-2 spouse or child of a vocational student.

The agency said the initiative will expand to additional visa categories soon, with the spouses and children of H-1B workers next to be included.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Obtaining U.S. Employment Visas]

The agency said the digital system should lead to faster decisions and more transparency during the application process and will allow applicants to apply and communicate with USCIS online and receive a decision about their case digitally.

"USCIS launching online visa extensions is a huge step forward," said Roman Zelichenko, CEO and co-founder of New York City-based LaborLess, a cloud-based platform that digitizes and streamlines labor condition application postings required for H-1B visa processing. "While much of the petition-creation process is digitized for many visa applications, petitions need to be submitted via hard copy. This means that at the end of the day, you still need to print the visa petition, put it in an envelope and send it via snail mail. Until USCIS allows for fully electronic visa applications, the immigration sector won't see the kind of automation and streamlining that, for example, you see with tax filing."

USCIS receives more than 8 million requests for immigration benefits each year. The agency announced an initiative in 2005 to move from paper-based processing to an electronic, Web-based case management system. But over the next 14 years, the transformation plan would be known primarily for its cost overruns. Currently, only about 9 percent of immigration forms can be filed online.

Zelichenko noted that USCIS is not the only agency with an immigration role that needs a technological upgrade. He said the Department of Labor's iCert system will soon be replaced by a cloud-based platform called the Foreign Labor Application Gateway. "Broadly speaking, this signals to me that the federal government is looking at immigration holistically and understands that for a truly digitized immigration process, multiple agencies will need to automate in parallel."

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