Immigration Reform News: USCIS Has One Single Form Online, After a Decade
and $1 Billion Spent to Modernize - Report
By Robert Schoon [email protected]
/* */ | Nov 09, 2015 04:27 PM EST
Immigrants becoming U.S. citizens ceremony
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has spent more than $1
billion and a little more than ten years in an attempt to modernize the
immigration filing system, and according to a new report, progress hasn't
been good. In fact, the project to digitize immigration forms has
accomplished about one percent of the total job.
USICS is a large agency, with 223 offices across the world and a total of 19
,000 government employees and contractors, according to the agency's
So with a total of 95 immigration forms to digitize and put online, it may
come as a surprise that the agency has only managed to make one single form
available for online applications, and one type of fee that immigrants can
pay through the Internet, according to a Washington Post exposé published
And that's after 11 years working on the project, known in the agency as the
"Transformation Program," which was originally supposed to be
finished in 2013 and cost a half-billion dollars. Now at over $1 billion and
two years over deadline, as WaPo reported, the immigration paperwork
digitization project is expected to continue for four more years and reach
up to $3.1 billion before it's finished.
As it stands, 94 of the immigration forms still have to be completed in
paper. The USCIS processes approximately 8 million immigration applications
per year, according to the International Business Times.
Since the vast majority of those applications have to be filed by paper,
immigration lawyers and their frustrated clients are still stuck shipping
paper documents across the country, through a labyrinthine paper-shuffling
process from government office to office. If a single form is misplaced or
lost during its odyssey through the immigration system, final approval can
reportedly be set back by months.
As the Washington Post described the current, outdated system, "delays
The single digitized immigration form, so far, is for the purpose of
renewing or replacing a lost or stolen "green card," the document
held by permanent legal residents of the U.S.
And according to government documents obtained by WaPo, even this single
online green card replacement application process continues to be slow and
inefficient, with many online applicants waiting up to a year to receive
their new cards and some never receiving them at all. The USCIS's former
deputy ombudsman Luke Bellocchi told the Washington Post that he'd
handled at least 100 cases of lost applications, mostly for green card
replacements, in the past few years -- describing it as "an absolute
The Transformation Program to digitize, and thus streamline, USCIS's
immigration application processes was reportedly mismanaged from the very
beginning. And pressure from the Obama administration -- which, as the WaPo
reported, considered the program a vital part of its plans to reform the
immigration system -- didn't help.
From the start, USCIS officials reportedly took almost three years, after
IBM was awarded the half-billion dollar contract, before finishing a basic
plan for the computerized system. And unsurprisingly, given the pace of
technology's evolution, those plans were defunct by the time the agency
began to implement them.
One year away from the Transformation Program's initial deadline, in
2012, USCIS's digitization efforts were "riddled with hundreds of
critical software and other defects," as WaPo put it. Feeling pressure
from the administration, the agency pushed on regardless, which led to more
waste and delays.
For example, at one point there were three immigration forms that reportedly
had been digitized and made available online. But two of them had to be
taken down, as the original system -- hardware and software, both --
eventually had to be scrapped.
"In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program
around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of
simply scratching it and starting over,'' USCIS spokesman Shin
Inouye told the Washington Post. "We took a fresh start -- a fix that
required an overhaul of the development process -- from contracting to
development methodology to technology.''
Inouye went on to say that the new system has been able to process about 1.2
million requests and that based on that process, USCIS was now confident it
was "moving in the right direction."