AILA Quicktake #310: Update on USCIS Digitization Efforts

AILA’s Innovation and Technology Committee Chair William Stock gives an update on AILA’s engagement with USCIS and DHS regarding USCIS’s digitization process.

Video Transcript

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Hello everyone,
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on behalf of the Innovation and Technology Committee,
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I'm here to talk about some of AILA's recent efforts
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to engage with USCIS and the DHS Ombudsman
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about USCIS innovation and technology,
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and how that will affect our members going forward.
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We had the opportunity to engage with USCIS
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when last spring we convened a group of immigration
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technology companies and together with them, wrote a letter to USCIS
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asking to have input into their digitization efforts.
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As members may know, USCIS has been asked to move all of their processing
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to an electronic only environment within five years by Congress.
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And they recently reported to Congress on their progress.
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We thought it was really important for USCIS to have
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the voice of the customer in that process,
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and we wanted to make sure
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that we were engaging with them and providing the perspective
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both of immigration lawyers, immigration advocates, applicants, petitioners,
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and the immigration technology companies that we rely on to prepare applications,
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as they architect and develop the systems that we're going to have to use.
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In December of 2021, we had the opportunity to hear
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from the highest level of leadership at USCIS in the technology space.
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When the Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer of USCIS
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both gave presentations at the AILA Tech Summit.
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Bill McEleney, the CIO, presented the digital business
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integration strategy that USCIS has.
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They have been preparing
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for an all digital processing environment for a number of years.
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Those of us in the field have not seen as much of the process
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because USCIS has been making the necessary changes to the backend systems
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that will allow them to move to an electronic only processing environment.
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That work has not gone as quickly as some had hoped,
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but the service does feel that it has a strategy that is working for it,
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and they have been building on the successes that they've had with
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some of the smaller applications that they process.
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And they've also begun to focus their technology efforts
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in different spaces, such as automating
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all of the case intake process and then moving forward, automating case
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processing and identity management, and the processes of notifying applicants.
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So we should see changes begin to happen in some of these areas,
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even on paper-filed cases as the service moves these efforts forward.
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We also heard from Rob Brown, the Chief Technology Officer,
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who really emphasized that USCIS is trying to build
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a self-service infrastructure where applicants and their lawyers
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can get information from USCIS systems on their own,
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and where case management information, for example, can be combined with
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USCIS case processing time so that applicants and petitioners
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and their lawyers can get a better idea of when they can expect USCIS
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to be making decisions.
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This will continue to be architected around USCIS's
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ELIS system that they have been developing for several years,
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but will also be expanding beyond ELIS to systems to provide end-to-end
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electronic processing of immigration benefits.
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USCIS recently reported to Congress on these efforts.
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And you can read those efforts in their report to Congress,
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which is posted on AILA Infonet
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and on the USCIS website.
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They have committed to have those electronic processes in place
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by the end of 2026.
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Couple of weeks ago,
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the Technology and Innovation Committee, along with what is called the Technology
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Advisory Group, were able to meet with the USCIS
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Ombudsmen from the Department of Homeland Security.
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That office is responsible for looking out for broad efficiencies
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and problems in the immigration system and making recommendations
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to USCIS as to how they can improve their processes.
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They were interested in gathering information from both attorneys
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and advocates, as well as from technology company representatives
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about how some of these technology pieces were going to need to work,
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and to make available to USCIS
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the resources, knowledge, and understanding of people
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who've been working in the immigration technology space for many, many years.
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We were able to talk with them about how an API,
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an automated interchange of data between the case management systems
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that we lawyers use and the systems that USCIS is going to use
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could be structured and might work.
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We presented to them that having common agreement
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and the industry, along with government partners, sitting down to develop
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standardized languages and security protocols were really critical
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to make these kinds of technology changes
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and to have them adopted on a wide basis.
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We also presented the information about important barriers to adoption
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that USCIS is going to need to consider, including considerations of English
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as a second language folks, people who are unrepresented being able
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to access these technologies, people who do not have access
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to technology as easily still being able to interface
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with the service in an in-person or a by mail way.
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And we were able to talk with them a bit about the kinds of needs
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for ongoing communications and technical support
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that we think the agency has to have in place
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if they are going to have some of these electronic systems in place.
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So what's the takeaway here?
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I think we are very positively received by the agency.
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We have partners who are interested in engaging with us
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and having systems that work and are adopted broadly by immigration
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lawyers and by people applying for immigration benefits.
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And I think we are going to see over the course of the next three to four years
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an increased number of rollouts of electronic-only processing by USCIS.
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So all of us need to be ready for that.
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And we here at AILA will be happy to continue to work
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and get you the best information you can for your practices.
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Thank you.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 22012005.