Introduction and Overview

The digital transformation of government processes began in earnest with the IRS introducing e-filing in 1990. It took another 25 years for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to follow suit, starting with the I-90 green card replacement form in 2015. This move marked the beginning of a gradual shift towards more accessible and efficient immigration services through online filing.

What Processes Can Now Be Filed Online?

USCIS has expanded its online filing capabilities to include a variety of forms and applications across different categories:

Broadly Applicable Forms:

  • I-90: Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card
  • AR-11: Change of Address
  • N-400: Application for Naturalization

Humanitarian Programs:

  • I-821: Application for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • I-821D: Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • I-589: Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal

Family-Based Immigration:

  • I-130: Petition for Alien Relative

Employment-Based Immigration:

  • Only the initial H-1B cap filing can be submitted online. Extensions and cases that include a dependent family member must be filed on paper.

What Processes Cannot Be Filed Online?

Despite the progress, many employment-based processes remain unavailable for online filing:

  • All other I-129 filings
  • Almost all H-1B petitions, all L-1 petitions, and all O and E visa petitions
  • All I-140 petitions
  • All I-485 adjustment of status applications

Comparison with the New USCIS Fee Schedule

The USCIS fee schedule has also seen significant changes, particularly for employment-based cases:

  • Humanitarian Programs: Filing fees are $0.
  • Employment-Based Cases: Fees increased significantly on April 1, 2024, with some fees more than doubling.
  • Employer Fees: An additional $600 per I-129 and I-140 petition is charged to fund expanded humanitarian programs.
  • Discounts: A $50 discount is available for online H-1B cap petitions, the only employment-based petition that can currently be filed online.

A Glimpse of the Future: Online H-1B Cap Petition Filing

The online filing system for H-1B cap petitions is still evolving and presents several challenges:

  • The system is designed for individual filings and does not accommodate multiple filings by corporate petitioners.
  • It lacks an API (Application Programming Interface), which means all information must be manually entered. Any changes require re-typing the entire form, as law office systems cannot communicate with the USCIS system.

Online Filing: Efficiency and Attorney Workload

Contrary to expectations, the current USCIS online filing process can be more labor-intensive than traditional in-office systems:

  • Law Office Systems: These systems can save past work, allow quick edits, and import data into forms, functionalities that the USCIS online system lacks.
  • Process Complexity: Preparing forms is only a small part of the overall process. Much of the time is spent on reviewing and assembling supporting documents, preparing support letters, answering questions, providing updates, and discussing strategies.

Advantages of the USCIS Online Filing System

While there are challenges, there are also potential benefits to online filing:

  • For H-1B cap petitions, it’s still too early to determine if USCIS will expedite cases to encourage online filing.
  • For I-130 family-based petitions, there is evidence that online filings are processed faster, with some cases resolved in a few months compared to over a year for paper filings.

Behind the Scenes: USCIS Workload Management

USCIS is adapting its processes to better manage its workload, particularly for I-130 petitions:

  • Three Tracks: Online, paper, and paper that gets scanned into a digital format.
  • Future Trends: The use of lock boxes and service centers may evolve, potentially leading to a more centralized adjudication process.

As USCIS continues to refine its online filing system, it is essential for applicants and attorneys to stay informed about these changes to maximize efficiency and ensure timely processing of immigration applications.

This blog was last updated 06/03/2024.

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