The current U.S. immigration system is slow and costly for immigrants and officials alike. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Technological advances, particularly widespread access to the internet, mean that better, faster ways of handling immigration applications are in our future.
As the Washington Post points out, streamlining the immigration system hasn’t gone smoothly. Forms have been made available for filling out and filing online only to be removed due to technological issues.
The Washington Post is unimpressed with the lack of a comprehensive digital system, given that the U.S. government has spent over $1 billion over the last ten years trying to remedy the situation. But the government recognizes the need for change; this is where the recently formed U.S. Digital Service team, led by former Google engineer Mikey Dickerson, comes in.
The Washington Post is unimpressed with the lack of a comprehensive digital system, given that the U.s. government has spent over $1 billion over the last ten years trying to remedy the situation. But the government recognizes the need for change; this is where the recently formed U.S. Digital Service team, led by former Google engineer Mikey Dickerson, comes in.
The U.S. Digital Service (USDS) team has prepared a Whitehouse report recommending ways to streamline the immigration application process. The report bemoans the amount of paper shuffling required during the application process; according to U.S. Digital Service, “From the time a petitioner submits a petition to the time [that] immigrant receives a permanent resident card, the U.S. government physically transfers paper files no fewer than six times over thousands of miles.”
The U.S. Digital Service team would like to see the immigration system change to be more time- and cost-effective. The U.S. Digital Service Team emphasizes the need for a system that works around the needs of users on both ends of the immigration process, integration of the various activities by the multiple agencies applicants are currently overwhelmed by, clarity and simplification, and consistency of language and design in digital services.
The U.S. Digital Service specifically wants to see information sharing across agencies and increased accessibility to online filing and payment.
In an article for Medium, Vivian Graubard, a founding member of the U.S. Digital Service, describes some of the changes the U.S. Digital Service has made or is making. The USDS has helped USCIS transition to the Cloud, which she says “reduces infrastructure costs and increases reliability and uptime,” as well as “implemented application monitoring,” “[h]elped the teams hit deadlines and establish a regular release process,” done “extensive user research,” and “reimagined the immigrant experience” through myUSCIS.
myUSCIS.gov is a promising digital resource for U.S. immigration applicants. The site offers a variety of services, including a roadmap to help determine which programs an applicant may be eligible for and a databse of doctors authorized to conduct immigration-related medical exams. myUSCIS is designed to be responsive so that applicants can access their options on any device. While the site is fairly new, it holds a lot of promise.
Systems like the USCIS Electronic Immigration System, which was recently rebuilt and improved (including security risk and fraud detection), and the Consular Electronic Application Center, which launched in 2008 and has expanded to provide electronic filing for immigrant and non-immigrant U.S. visas, also show that there’s hope for a better way moving forward.
At present, you can only file the I-90 form and pay the USCIS immigration fee on the USCIS Electronic Immigration System, but this system represents a step in the right direction (and the online application still aids permanent residents who need to replace or renew of their existing green cards, as well as applicants who previously filed I-539 and I-526 forms online). The modernized immigrant visa (MIV) project that State and USCIS are preparing to launch should improve the application experience for visa applicants and increase efficiency in processing through increased digitization. A pilot version will soon be tested at several consulates abroad.
Technology also helps people outside the governmental structure to mobilize in support of changes to the immigration system. FWD.us exists to mobilize the tech community in pursuit of immigration reform. The site was founded by several well-known tech personalities, including Aditya Agarwal, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Marissa Mayer. FWD.us aims to support policies that “keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century.” The site includes news about immigration reform, commentary on developments in immigration, and both motivation and methods to get involved.
While the future is bright, the immigration system as it exists today is still a complex and challenging system to navigate. Luckily, we’re here to help.
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