USCIS Brings Immigration Benefits System Online

By Julia at Legal Language
Posted on 06/07/2012
In Immigration, News

US Citizenship and Immigration Services is transitioning from a paper-based to an electronic system for immigrant benefits. The new system is called USCIS ELIS, named in honor of Ellis Island, which served as the primary immigration hub to the US for more than 60 years.

The new system marks an important step in USCIS’s plans to bring its services fully online.

The Old System

The old system was more time consuming. Anyone seeking immigration benefits was required to apply by mail. Once the application was received by USCIS, a USCIS employee would mail documents between offices to make an ultimate determination. Finally, the applicant was notified of benefits received by receiving documents by mail.


The new system enables certain immigrants to establish an online account through the USCIS ELIS system, and apply online for immigration benefits.

The applicant may file electronically for immigration benefits, upload and submit evidence in support of the application, submit a payment, manage account information and receive communications from USCIS. USCIS officers review the applications online and are able to seamlessly pass applications between many agency locations. They are quickly able to conduct a fraud investigation, validate background and supporting documents, and make decisions on immigration benefits.

Only certain groups are eligible to use the new system. These include foreign nationals who travel to the US to study, do business, receive medical treatment or vacation. Attorneys and accredited representatives may also set up a USCIS ELIS account on behalf of their clients who fit into the above categories.

For now, the system can be used to extend, change or reinstate status. The system is currently available only in English. Following this initial release, USCIS will solicit feedback from users and improve the system in order to ensure a smooth transition to online filing over time.

An online system brings many benefits. Applicants can look forward to shorter processing times, the ability to apply and pay fees online, and tighter security to prevent fraud and identify national security concerns. Eligible users will also be able to obtain real-time, detailed case status information.

The new system, however, does not change the requirements for filing — online forms must still be accurate and supported by appropriate documentation.

Are paper applications still accepted?

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of submitting an electronic application, don’t worry. USCIS will still accept paper-based applications.

Plans for Expansion

USCIS intends to gradually expand the electronic system to cover all filing and adjudication for all USCIS immigration benefits. According to USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, the new system is an important milestone.

“We have launched the foundation for the web-based future of our agency and our immigration benefits system,”  Mayorkas commented in a USCIS announcement. “USCIS ELIS will transform how we interact with our customers and how we manage the 6-7 million applications we receive each year.”

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