Immigration lawyers and their clients aren’t the only ones frustrated by the clunky ELIS electronic filing system. USCIS examiners also complain that the system is creating all sorts of headaches.

According to the OIS report:

USCIS’ IT systems do not fully provide the functionality needed to support its  mission. For example, as part of its Transformation program, USCIS created ELIS, an electronic immigration system. The aim of ELIS is to provide a more efficient and higher quality adjudication process. However, instead of improved efficiency, time studies conducted by service centers show that adjudicating on paper is at least two times faster than adjudicating in ELIS.  Immigration services officers take longer to adjudicate in ELIS in part because of the estimated 100 to 150 clicks required to move among sublevels and open documents to complete the process. Staff also reported that ELIS does not provide system features such as tabs and highlighting, and that the search function is restricted and does not produce usable results.

OIT and the Office of Transformation Coordination leadership are aware of the problems with ELIS and solicited concerns from users in operations. USCIS made changes in subsequent releases of ELIS, such as reducing the number of clicks required to perform operations. However, USCIS has been limited in its ability to
make changes to ELIS because of challenges with the existing architecture. The architecture consists of 29 commercial software products, which are difficult to integrate. Most changes, like adjusting the interface to make it more intuitive, will be implemented as part of the program’s transition to a more flexible architecture. The start of development in the new architecture began in October 2013. ELIS2 is scheduled to be deployed by the end of calendar year 2014.

I know from firsthand that USCIS is trying to fix the problems and is finally starting to realize that engaging with the immigration bar is important since we’re their biggest customers. The report sheds light on a lot of issues, however, that most immigration lawyers didn’t know and it would be nice if there was a good enough relationship between the bar and USCIS that we wouldn’t be learning about ELIS’ many woes through an Inspector General report.

The report can be found online here. USCIS’ response is noted in a report on which is posted here. Incidentally, the OIG report also trashes USCIS’ Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS) for being extremely clunky and USCIS examiners dreading using it. Both ELIS and EDMS actually seem to be slowing adjudications rather than speeding them up. And the difficulty in using them as well as inadequate training mean examiners are making poor quality adjudications when they fail to see critical information on a case.

Finally, I’d ask USCIS to formalize a beta testing system that includes members of the immigration bar. USCIS’ practice is to test its software with USCIS employees and this is not a substitute for actually having customers give you feedback.


Greg Siskind