On May 22 2012 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has commenced operating its online filing portal for immigration applications. The Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) is the first operational stage in the USCIS transformation programme that is intended to take the application process into a paperless, web-based environment.

Initially, ELIS wil have an impact on a limited group of non-immigrant B-1 visitors, F-1 students, J-1 exchange visitors and M-1 trainees, along with their dependants, who can now electronically file Form I-539 – Application to Extend/Change Non-immigrant Status. Over time, ELIS will include more benefit types and increased functions.(1)

Announced in April 2010 as part of the USCIS transformation process,(2) the online I-539 filing portal was originally due for release in December 2011. ELIS introduces a new USCIS filing system that requires the creation of customer accounts for individuals seeking some types of immigration benefit. The system involves user registration for benefits and is similar to the Department of Labour's online filing systems for e-filed labour condition and the permanent labour certification programmes.

The USCIS online system will initially process the electronic version of the standalone Form I-539. It is not yet known when the service will finally allow online filings for Form I-129 business visa petitions (eg ,H-1B and L-1) or employment-based immigrant visa petitions filed on Form I-140. In addition, the fate of the USCIS Trusted Employer Initiative, announced by Director Mayorkas, is similarly unknown.(3)

Nonetheless, the initial stage ELIS filing format, portal design and user rules provide an indication of whether the electronic process will be made simpler and easier for users. An initial glimpse of how the system works is available in a five-minute USCIS multimedia presentation entitled "USCIS ELIS Prototype Video".(4) Those intending to use the system to file an I-539 should download the full instructions for requesting benefits using ELIS.(5)

While not yet mandatory for I-539s (other categories of USCIS applications will follow in due course), intending users may now go to the USCIS transformation webpage(6) and, if they fall within one of the eligible categories for an I-539 e-filing, create an account.(7)

This transformation initiative will allow applicants to submit fees, information and manage their benefit requests, while also enabling USCIS to access all available information about an applicant in a single, online location and to streamline procedures for managing information. Additionally, ELIS may expedite the adjudications process, as the system can issue notifications automatically to applicants when an examiner takes action on a case or issues a request for evidence, and will permit the applicant to respond through the portal.

If you want toAnd youThenExceptions
Extend statusAre a B-1, B-2, F-1, M-1 or M-2You can use ELIS

Individuals in the F-1 classification who received a date-specific visa that requires completion of a given course of study within a specific time can extend status in ELIS.

Other F-1s are admitted for duration of status and should contact their designated school official to extend status.

Change statusWant to become a B-1, B-2, F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1 or M-2You can use ELISAn M-1 student may not change status to an F-1 student.
Reinstate statusWere a F-1 or M-1You can use ELISThe spouse or child of an F-1 or M-1 student may be included in the principal's benefit request.

Before creating an ELIS account, applicants should review the table above to ensure that a benefit request can be filed using ELIS and consult the programme questions and answers section.(8) If filing an application to extend or change status in a non-immigrant category not shown above, applicants should download the Form I-539 paper application, which must still be filed by post. Students and exchange visitors should visit the USCIS students and exchange visitors page(9) for information on those specific visa categories.

For further information on this topic please contact Rami D Fakhoury at Fakhoury Law Group PC by telephone (+1 248 643 4900), fax (+1 248 643 4907) or email ([email protected]).


(1) See Table 1 for initial stage eligibility guidelines.

(2) See USCIS Transformation: Proposed Rule for Mandatory E-filing: www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=126c93af1edfe210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=994f81c52aa38210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD.

(3) See testimony of Alejandro Mayorkas, Senate Judiciary Committee, Oversight hearing (May 11 2010): http://judiciary.senate.gov/pdf/5-11-10%20Mayorkas%20Testimony.pdf.

(4) Available at www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=160205bc4cefe210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=b1659e415d116310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD.

(5) Available at www.uscis.gov/USCIS/USCIS%20ELIS/elis-instructions.pdf.

(6) www.uscis.gov/transformation.

(7) To find out more about the system, see www.uscis.gov/uscis-elis.

(8) www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=c5f924fa49716310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=c5f924fa49716310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD.

(9) www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=704e2f8b69583210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=704e2f8b69583210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD.