A website supposed to fully computerize what is now a paper-based immigration system by 2013 has scored a small win, by adding a form for replacing green cards, according to federal officials.
The addition of the Form I-90 application brings the total number of transactions available on ELIS (a tribute to America's welcome port and shorthand for the Electronic Immigration System) to four.
The advance was aided by a White House digital fix-it team, a squad that also saved Obamacare website HealthCare.gov. The new online version of the I-90 allows users to track the status of their replacement request and sends out an e-notification when a decision is made.
Last fall, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees green card processing, test drove the e-application for 72 hours.
"Improvements to the Form I-90 were made based on user feedback gathered during the limited introduction," the agency stated on its website. The agency still is processing the forms users submitted during the two-day trial "and will consider them in the order they were received."
Users cannot upload all the requisite personal information for a replacement card online. The I-90 process requires submitting fingerprints in person.
ELIS, managed by the USCIS Transformation program, is intended to close cases faster and enhance fraud detection, but not entirely replace the decision-making of human adjudicators.
The White House lent USCIS its Web-savvy team for two weeks last June, an administration official said earlier this year. The tech support was part of the administration’s "Smarter IT Agenda" to enhance e-services governmentwide, including HealthCare.gov.
Eventually, the squad evolved into a new White House office, called the U.S. Digital Service.
ELIS' initial price tag was $536,000. Today, the cost has skyrocketed to $2.6 billion and the "high-risk" system isn't scheduled to be fully operational until 2018 or 2019.
Critics say because ELIS is paid for with user fees, not congressional funding, and it caters mainly to foreigners, the project's stumbles have not rankled Capitol Hill as much as the HealthCare.gov debacle.
The White House assist, according to the official, yielded a successful "digital services pilot at USCIS to enhance transformation’s digital capacity." The system does not have the ability to handle the country's roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants, nor the entrance of about 5 million undocumented individuals brought to America as children and their parents, whose deportations are pending under a 2014 executive action.
Via ELIS, people currently can file I-526 or I-539 forms to apply for a green card as an entrepreneur or extending a stay as a nonimmigrant, respectively. Users also can log on to pay USCIS immigrant fees. And U.S. commercial ventures can exchange documents with immigrant entrepreneurs seeking legal residency, through ELIS’ Regional Center Document Library.