On May 22, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) launched an electronic immigration benefits system, the Electronic Immigration System (USCIS ELIS), to enable immigration benefit seekers and legal representatives to create an account to file for benefits online. This launch represents the first phase in USCIS’ transition from paper-based filings to a more progressive online system for filing and processing applications and petitions for immigration benefits through a web-based platform.

Under USCIS’ current e-Filing system, implemented in 2005, applications for specified immigration benefits can be electronically filed, but supporting documentation must be mailed to USCIS to complete an application. On the other hand, USCIS ELIS allows applicants to upload supporting documentation through a secure website which, presumably, should expedite processing times. Features also include the ability to pay fees online, update user profiles immediately using the web program, and electronically receive notices and respond to requests.

The scope of applications eligible for filing under USCIS ELIS currently is limited to requests for a change or extension of status (Form I-539) for certain types of applications, specifically in the B, F, J, or M classification subcategories (i.e., only for certain students and visitors). These applications may be submitted directly by nonimmigrants or through their attorneys. Additional types of online filings of immigration benefits will be gradually introduced into USCIS ELIS, with improvements to the system’s functionality, with the ultimate goal to make USCIS ELIS available for all agency immigration benefits.

USCIS ELIS is the first step in a multi-year transition effort. USCIS has stated that this new system is expected to improve customer service, reduce processing times, and enhance tools to improve identity protections, combat fraud, and identify national security concerns.