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USCIS Goes Electronic (For Real This Time) via ELIS

As of yesterday, USCIS officially released the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS), kicking off its long awaited debut of online form filings, starting with Form I-539. Today, I’ll discuss the impact these changes may have on immigration practitioners.


While competition in any industry can be healthy, nobody likes it when competitors play unfair- especially when competitors aren’t even licensed and prey on the vulnerable in our society. This is where USCIS gets it right during its official ELIS rollout yesterday. The FAQs makes very clear that ELIS is an online tool to be used by very specific, qualified individuals, their attorneys or their accredited BIA representatives. Notarios and “immigration consultants,” as well as other groups, are prohibited from creating an account in ELIS. This is indeed very consistent with USCIS’ message June 2011 regarding its efforts to combat the unauthorized practice of immigration law (UPIL). I’ve blogged about UPIL in the past and continue to bring attention to this area when it matters. USCIS’ explicit instructions on this add additional weight to this message. As users become more familiar with ELIS, it will be interesting to evaluate how effectively ELIS keeps out UPIL culprits and what mechanisms ELIS will have to actively combat UPIL.


Streamlined processes can equate to potentially significant cost savings in the form of:

• less paper print outs

• less storage space

• faster access to data

• more time to process more cases

• faster case processing (potentially….)

Is this all sounding a bit too familiar? I hope so. I’ve been preaching the practice of technology optimization for the past few months, including our last webinar on April 25th. When users optimize technology, the resulting benefits can be significant. Here, the challenge to achieving faster case processing times by USCIS adjudicators will require applicants of all backgrounds (the average foreign national to the technology-savvy attorney or BIA representative) to utilize ELIS in an efficient manner by:

1) ensuring the applicant qualifies to use ELIS

2) uploads proper documents

3) uploads legible documents

Failure to satisfy all three requirements above could render an applicant’s Form I-539 disqualified, thereby necessitating a paper application instead. Whether ELIS can ultimately improve Form I-539 application processing times will be a question of time.


Ultimately, most practitioners will want to know how this will impact their practice of law, if at all. Innovations in technology should not cause fear (or panic). By understanding how to leverage the technology, you’ll be in a better position than any Chicken Little. ELIS is merely a tool. Clients will still need assistance in understanding how, when, and if they may utilize ELIS. Or, if issues arise when utilizing ELIS, you will be the first point of contact for most individuals. By understanding the changes USCIS is undergoing and preparing your office to transition with USCIS through those changes, you remain on the cutting edge. As USCIS expands the ELIS program to include other types of immigration processes, stay tuned to CM Guru for more details and updates!