Government Report: USCIS Electronic Immigration System is Inefficient

Since May 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has endeavored to create a secure and paperless work environment allowing for the online submission of requests for immigration benefits. The system is known as the USCIS Electronic Immigration System, or ELIS. A July 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) internal accountability authority, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), finds that ELIS expansion efforts have been hampered by a system that has proven to be clunky and inefficient.

Delays Since 2012 and Limited in Scope

As part of an overall transformation program to transition the USCIS from a paper-based organization to electronic immigration benefits processing, ELIS was deployed in May 2012. This system was intended to make the immigration benefits system more centralized and less burdensome for applicants and adjudicators alike. On the day the program was launched, the USCIS issued a press release stating that the system would gradually be expanded “… to cover filing and adjudication for all USCIS immigration benefits.”

Yet, as of this writing, more than two years into the process, the ELIS menu remains extremely limited. The only items are: payment of USCIS immigrant fees, immigrant petition by alien entrepreneur (I-526); and the application to extend / change nonimmigrant status (I-539), but only for limited eligibility categories.

Electronic Submissions Taking Longer to Process than Paper Forms

According to the 2014 DHS-OIG report, ELIS suffers from shortcomings that are causing any expansion efforts to be stymied:

“… instead of improved efficiency, time studies conducted by service centers show that adjudicating on paper is at least two times faster than adjudicating in ELIS. Immigration services offices take longer to adjudicate in ELIS in part because of the estimated 100 to 150 clicks required to move among sublevels and open documents to complete the process. Staff also reported that ELIS does not provide system features such as tabs and highlighting, and that the search function is restricted and does not produce usable results.”

As a result, for the limited range of materials ELIS handles, service is considerably slower than would be expected from a fully digital system. Speaking of the entire USCIS IT system, the report found that, due to its “[l]imited functionality and reliability … processing of benefits is delayed, and USCIS customers may have to wait longer for a decision on their applications for [immigration] benefits.”

IG’s Recommendations for Improvements to ELIS and Training

According to the DHS-OIG report, USCIS personnel find the ELIS system difficult and unwieldy to use because of its many components, including twenty-nine different commercial software products that have yet to be seamlessly integrated. Efforts to fix these problems have been in the works since October 2013.

A new system – ELIS 2 – is slated for deployment by the end of the 2014 calendar year. The report recommends additional ELIS training for USCIS personnel to help them use the system more productively. It also falls on the USCIS to “communicate a plan of action to refresh outdated IT infrastructure, including computers, printers, and software.”

USCIS Response to Report

Commenting on the draft report, USCIS management says the agency’s Office of Information Technology “has made progress in refreshing outdated workstations and peripherals,” since the draft audit report was issued. It is also noted that, as of May 2014, workstations have been “refreshed” at USCIS service centers in Vermont, Texas, and California, and at the National Records Center. The USCIS also agreed to provide more training on ELIS, as necessary.

USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez testified before Congress in July 2014 that, by the end of the year, ELIS will support electronic submissions of the application to replace permanent residence card (form I-90). New architecture is also expected by the end of 2014 that will aid in faster and better development. The overall program finalization goal is for fiscal year 2018 or 2019, but new functions are anticipated at least every four to six months, according to Director Rodriguez.


A fully paperless USCIS system is a long way off. But, the USCIS is clearly committed to the ELIS program, despite problems the program has faced. MurthyDotCom will continue to track issues, updates, and changes to ELIS, and the Murthy Law Firm remains optimistic that the USCIS eventually can harness the use of technology that will allow for more efficient immigration applications and benefits processing.

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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.