July 2017 Impact Report • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Modernizing our Immigration System

The Challenge

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes millions of immigration requests a year through a paper-based system that results in long waiting periods for applicants who have little visibility into their applications’ statuses. When the agency’s five-year Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) modernization project ran into a host of challenges, USDS joined the USCIS team to help with implementation.

The Solution

The DHS Digital Service has been supporting the release of USCIS’s most critical digital services including ELIS — the enterprise software that will support adjudication of digitized immigration forms, and myUSCIS — the authenticated user experience which will allow applicants to apply and track their cases online.


USDS continues to build upon its strong partnership with USCIS to support the creation of a digitized system for immigrant applicants. The tools and features under development include the digitized interactive version of the most critical USCIS forms, and a case activity page for applicants. Many of these tools had soft launches in 2017 and will be adopted as the primary entry point for applicants seeking naturalization once USCIS transitions from the legacy CLAIMS4 system to ELIS.

To ensure the launch and adoption of ELIS, analysts needed to have confidence that the results of applicants’ background checks were accurate. Currently, the best method of ensuring accuracy is a manual follow up after a background check has been run, which is a time- and labor-intensive process that has the potential to introduce human errors. To solve this problem, USDS developed the VERIFI tool, which automates the validation of background checks.

Overall, USDS has also helped USCIS institute organizational changes that align toward building better digital services, aligning workflow and governance to promote efficiency and effectiveness, and procuring design services for better user experience. These organizational changes manifest as closer interactions between USCIS’s directorates, bringing in contracted designers through a new USDS-led procurement, helping orchestrate a USCIS internal restructuring to put user needs first, and shifting USCIS’s software development paradigm to focus on working with users rather than for them.

This project was previously chronicled in our 2016 Report to Congress.

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