On August 29, 2011 USCIS announced that it will be changing a series of federal regulations so that filings and benefits requests will be handled electronically. The changes are designed to move USCIS benefits filing away from the current paper filing system to a more efficient and secure online system. USCIS already currently allows electronic filing for many applications but the announcement in August seems to indicate that the electronic system will become the primary way of dealing with USCIS in the future. According to the announcement a new Web-based system “…will assign new customers a unique account which will enable them to access case status information, respond to USCIS requests for additional information, update certain personal information, and receive timely decisions and other communications from USCIS”.
The process will not be an overnight one. The new system will be rolled out over a period of years. According to the announcement, more than 50 parts of Department of Homeland Security regulations related to immigration will be revised.
An obvious downside to this movement is that older people who are not as internet savvy, as well as those who live in poorer countries, may have extreme difficulty filing applications and communicating with USCIS electronically. Another worry is that the Web-based system will have glitches that take inordinate amounts of time to fix. A case in point is the US Department of Labor’s LCA electronic filing program. The electronic LCA system does not have all employer tax identification numbers in its database. When a legitimate company initially files an LCA application it will get rejected and take up to a week for the Department of Labor to verify that the tax id number is legitimate. If memory serves correctly, this problem has been occurring for at least a couple of years now. There are similar types of glitches and costly delays in the electronic prevailing wage determination program and e-verify programs as well.
The move to a predominately online Web-based system seems like a logical move. American society as a whole is moving away from paper and more towards electronic media. Amazon.com recently reported that it sold more electronic books than paperback or hardback books. Filing electronically reduces the chances of human error, eliminates the need for mailing documents (saving you time and money associated with mailing documents) and allows for instant feedback regarding an application. Overall, as long as the glitches are kept to a minimum, I believe the Web-based system will bring a lot more efficiency to USCIS.