USCIS Initiates Electronic Immigration Benefits System

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced its May 22, 2012 launch of the initial phase of USCIS ELIS (electronic immigration system) for filing requests for certain immigration benefits. This is part of the overhaul of the systems previously used by the USCIS and is referred to as a part of their transformation. This system allows for the filing of specified requests to extend or change nonimmigrant (temporary) status via the electronic system online, rather than filing with the USCIS by traditional mail or courier services.

Background: USCIS Plans for Transformation

Some background on USCIS plans for shifting to an online filing system as part of this transformation was provided to readers in our March 11, 2011 NewsBrief, USCIS Transformation Initiative for Online Electronic Filings. The online system is account based. It initially was slated for the first phase of release in fall 2011. As often happens with significant technological and procedural shifts, the release was delayed.

The goal of the new system is to transition away from a paper-based filing system, allowing for significant streamlining and cost savings. Currently, the USCIS operates on a paper file-based system, with documents and files moving physically from office to office, as needed.

Initial Availability for I-539 in Certain Limited Situations

The initial release of USCIS ELIS allows for the filing of the application to extend or change nonimmigrant status (Form I-539), only. Moreover, not all uses of the I-539 are included in the online option at this time. It is still possible to paper file all I-539 cases, including those that are eligible for electronic filing.

The ELIS system is available to accept requests for extension of status for those who are in B-1, B-2, M-1, or M-2 status. Also included are F-1s who were admitted with I-94s that contained an end date, rather than the standard D/S indicating validity for duration of status. It is also available for nonimmigrants seeking to change status to B-1, B-2, F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1, or M-2. Finally, it is available for F-1 or M-1 students seeking to reinstate status. The chart setting forth the permissible case types is available on the USCIS WebSite.

ELIS Differs Significantly from Online Filing

As explained in the FAQs, the ELIS system is quite different from the existing online filing system. The online filing system simply allowed applicants / petitioners to fill the required forms online and submit their payments. The supporting documents in the eFiling system are transmitted in hard copy and the entire case review and adjudication is paper based.

The ELIS system is a comprehensive online system, allowing electronic document submission and electronic communication. Individuals create accounts and, thus, avoid having to provide identical information repeatedly. More information is available in the USCIS FAQs.

USCIS Requesting Feedback on ELIS

The USCIS states that transition to ELIS will take time. The need to make adjustments to the system is expected, based on the responses and feedback from users. A designated eMail address has been established for public feedback: The purpose of this eMail address is to generate input on the ELIS system from users, and not for input regarding whether such a system should exist. The USCIS is working internally toward transformation and is committed to this operational shift.


We at the Murthy Law Firm will explore this important development in depth, and will keep readers up to date on expansion of the system and related developments. As with any changes involving technology, bumps and glitches are to be expected. Those among the first to use the system may be wise to ensure their cases are submitted sufficiently in advance of any expiration dates, to allow for possible system-related problems.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.