After many years in the making, the USCIS is fast becoming an online paperless system of case processing. It is called Electronic Information System, or ELIS. Is this a good thing for consumers?
Advantages: Overall, yes it’s good. We are now a technology based society. Consumers will be able to interface directly with immigration agencies for updates and tracking. We all want to know the status of our cases and to the use of technologies help. It’s efficient.
Disadvantages: There should be a few words of caution for consumers. An online system can be deceptively seductive. It’s easy to think of immigration as a vending machine: insert data here and pick up visa there. However, immigration officers must perform their very human function of reviewing what is submitted. Not long ago I was at a USCIS Service Center. An officer mentioned he did not like the online system since he had to print out all the data in order for him to carefully review what was submitted. He preferred reviewing the paper forms. Within the immigration system things are not so automated as they may appear.
- The essential role of the immigration officer is to find problems and deny. Immigration is still an adversarial system. Immigration officers have no duty to the consumer and by regulation immigration officers are not responsible for what they say. The officer’s duty is still to the government alone. It is up to the consumer to get it right in order to succeed.
- The data collected from you will be permanently stored in the immigration system. Your filings must be correct or problems can arise later. Throughout the life of a foreigner, immigration benefits must be filed at different stages leading up to U.S. citizenship. If a foreigner does not want U.S. citizenship, then the green card itself must be renewed every 10 years. When filing for immigration benefits, officers consistently look back into your history to see if they can detect any inconsistencies. It often happens that defects in filings that were earlier missed are uncovered many years later. A misrepresentation of facts at any stage will jeopardize your entire immigration status.
For example, it often happens when a green card holder applies for U.S. citizenship an old problem surfaces. If there is misrepresentation, all immigration benefits are challenged all the way back to initial entry to the U.S. A foreigner who has been in the U.S. legally for many years can be put into removal proceedings if facts are misrepresented at any stage in case processing.
A major advantage to online data collection is that immigration officers are able to detect and document fraud more easily. Even a careless or an innocent misrepresentation can cause trouble. Immigration officers have a duty to find problems. Only you have a duty to get your filings right the first time. This is true now more than ever since data is so easily accessible. It is no longer necessary for immigration officers to pull records from storage.
Out of Status: Illegal immigrants and also those who came on a valid visa but then fell out of status have a particular problem. When you file applications online and the application is rejected for any reason, ICE knows where you live and can detain you easily. The sharing of technologies with policing agencies help ensure our immigrants are all here legally and in status. Data transfer will help policing agencies ensure that foreigners in communities are all legal and in status. If you are here illegally or your visa status has expired, be careful about what you file online since you are revealing information about yourself that could get you picked up. You need to talk to an immigration attorney.
ELIS is currently available for only certain online immigration applications such as extending stays on a tourist or student visa. You cannot apply for a visitor or student visa through ELIS because the USCIS does not issue visas. The USCIS only handles immigration functions for those foreigners who are already in the U.S. Visas are all issued at overseas consulate posts.
ELIS is starting out slow because the USCIS wants to test the system before embarking on more complicated immigration procedures. Over the coming months, the USCIS will roll out more online applications until immigration becomes fully electronic.