On Thursday, May 23, 2013 USCIS and twenty five stakeholders held a conference call to discuss the roll-out of the new ELIS system for I-924 and I-526 petitions. If one thing is clear after the USCIS conversation, it’s that the system will be a document library system, not a case management system. Aimed at reducing physical paper submissions, the new ELIS system will allow regional centers and investors to manage and share their documents easily between each other and with USCIS. Perhaps most importantly, USCIS plans to allow physical attestation pages from regional centers and investors to reference the online resource, reducing the repetitive need to physically print files for submissions. USCIS hopes this will reduce adjudication time as well as the bulky paper submissions so many of us are familiar with. Below is a brief discussion of USCIS approach to the regional center’s access, the investor’s access and criticism and questions from the audience.
In terms of access, the system has two operators – the regional center and the investor. To access the regional center side, the RC must designate a representative – perhaps a principal – to manage the account(s). Once that person registers their information with USCIS online, USCIS will send a paper confirmation to the designated representative with information for that person and only that person to access the document library. A phone-text system is contemplated, but for now paper validation creates the most secure form of authentication.
The audience immediately criticized USCIS for only allowing one person to access/alter the documents in the library – why not two? USCIS said it would review this question, but had originally intended single-user access to be a way to maintain privacy and security. Somewhat confusingly, however, one rep may access several different regional centers - as long as they are always the sole person with access to those documents. Reason being that a sole person would manage the accounts and work offline with everyone involved. Responding to the concerns of the audience, USCIS will consider changing this and opening this up to controllers at the NCE level and below when the ELIS system rolls out.
Once past the access stage, the rep has tools at their disposal to speed up the process for adjudication. For example, the rep may upload as many documents as they may need, allow access to investors, and reference their forms in the attestation. When USCIS began to describe ELIS’s functions, however, it was clear that this was not a case management system. ELIS will not ask the rep for the requisite documents to upload, restrict the amount of folders or documents a rep can upload, or tell the user the state of adjudication on a particular deal packet (a USCIS term for an application). In fact, the system will prohibit overwriting or deletion to protect users from deleting whole files. It is in all sense of the word a document library. True, USCIS will look at the documents referenced in the 924 application references, but nothing more.
One commenter brought up whether they could monitor whether the investor included a document in their I-526 application- no. Can the investor see which files have been approved? No. Can the system submit the document with an electronic signature and track case status? No. Although the capabilities of the ELIS system may one day reach those, USCIS voiced concern that practitioner may not adopt overwhelmingly adopt the system—making enhanced features a bit of a waste in their opinion.
After discussing regional centers, USCIS discussed investor access. Basically, a RC rep will designate certain files within the ELIS document library for an investor to review and include in their application. Investors cannot see other documents in the library so that different investors may be offered different deals. The investors then submit their paper application and reference the online documents in their attestation pages. Some criticism was brought up about an RC’s lack of ability to view the documents that the investor was submitting, but USCIS pointed out that there might be personal information involved and that it would be beyond the constraints of the system right now.
There are still many questions yet to be answered, but USCIS feels confident that ELIS will cut down on the time length of adjudication. Additionally, USCIS said that as they add new reviewers in D.C., they will not reduce California until they reach full capacity- creating somewhat of a bubble. Nevertheless, whether USCIS will allow features that would dramatically speed the process up such as giving adjudicated documents a sort of pre-approval for subsequent petitions or something closer to a case management system depends on whether the system becomes popular and new features are demanded.