USCIS Expands Digital Access to FOIA

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced an upgrade to its online tool, the Freedom of Information Act Immigration Records System (FIRST). FIRST now allows stakeholders to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests online for certain documents.


FOIA, which went into effect in 1967, allows the public to request government records from federal agencies. The goal of FOIA is to promote government transparency. Of course, the government is not obligated to release all information through the FOIA request system. There are nine exemptions to the FOIA. A few notable exemptions include:

  • Exemption One: Information that is classified due to foreign policy and national security interests
  • Exception Five: Information protected by attorney-client privilege
  • Exemption Six: Information that would compromise personal privacy

More details on the FOIA process are available in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, FOIA Request Can Help Resolve Some Immigration Cases 09.Aug.2017.


The USCIS receives more FOIA requests each year than any other federal entity. To help streamline the FOIA process for stakeholders, the USCIS began to roll out its online tool, FIRST, in May 2018. The system allows users to track FOIA requests and receive requested documents through the online portal.

Certain FOIA Requests Can Be Submitted Electronically

The latest upgrade to FIRST now allows users to make certain FOIA requests electronically. As the USCIS website explains, “FOIA requestors with a USCIS online account can submit requests online for their own records. Soon, they will be able to submit online requests for non-A-File material (policies, communications, etc). Later this year, USCIS online account holders can make requests on behalf of another person.”


The USCIS hopes FIRST ultimately will improve FOIA processing times and reduce errors. One can visit the USCIS website to create a FIRST account. We at the Murthy Law Firm are pleased that the government is attempting to improve transparency and its processing times for FOIA requests with the online system. It is helpful if the intent of the government is consistent with the reasons that the FOIA was enacted back in 1967. One would think that more than half a century later, FOIA would be operating seamlessly and efficiently.


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