Becoming a U.S. citizen: What you need to know
Since the U.S government has given legal immigrants the ability to apply for immigration benefits online, more than a million people have used the online tools available at the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, the federal agency said.
Immigration authorities celebrated this milestone in their efforts to embrace the digital era because it streamlines their operations and the legal process, often reducing wait times for immigrants applying for benefits like achieving American citizenship through naturalization or a green card replacement for permanent residency.
“Online filing is a more convenient and interactive way for applicants to submit applications, check the status of their case, and receive notices from USCIS,” said USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins in a statement sent to el Nuevo Herald.
“Applicants can be more confident they are providing the necessary information and payment as they apply, and that receipt and processing of their case will not be delayed by mail or clerical errors.”
The first step is to create a personal account with USCIS by going to https://myaccount.uscis.dhs.gov and using an email address.
Online filing helps immigration officials reduce the time, cost and effort they spend sharing, moving, storing and scanning printed documents related to requests for immigration benefits.
“USCIS will be able to electronically request and receive additional evidence from applicants, promoting timely adjudication from the most reliable information possible,” said Collins.
Currently, the following forms are available to file online:
Of the one million immigrants who have taken advantage of the digital resources provided by USCIS, 61 percent used online filing to replace their permanent resident card or green card, and 37 percent applied for U.S. citizenship.
California, Texas and Florida are the top three states for online filing for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The California field offices account for 19 percent of all N-400s filed online, Texas field offices account for 11 percent, and Florida field offices for 9 percent, according to the agency.
USCIS says that online filing makes the application process easier and more convenient because foreigners are prompted to complete data fields and upload supporting evidence documents.
The agency’s successful path into the digital era comes at a time when USCIS, which is a Department of Homeland Security component agency, has been harshly criticized by immigration rights activists and immigration attorneys who complain about the slow pace of the application process for visas, work permits, green cards, citizenship and other benefits.
The U.S. immigration system has undergone numerous changes under the Trump administration, which have strengthened DHS’s ability to enforce immigration law. As a result, the legal immigration process has become far more rigorous, immigrant advocates say.
A new program that promises to reduce case processing times, by freeing agency staff to spend more time adjudicating benefit requests, was recently deployed to USCIS’ Miami District Office. It allows immigrants to check on the status of their cases and receive other important information by telephone.
USCIS says these are the advantages to online applications for immigration proceedings:
▪ The online account provides a convenient and secure way for immigrants to send their applications and review the status of their applications or petitions during the decision process.
▪ It simplifies the way to pay the fees required.
▪ The USCIS electronic archive is compatible with cell phones and tablets, so immigrants can use those devices to access their accounts.
▪ Applicants can update their personal information online.
▪ In one single operation, immigrants can submit their application, upload supporting documents and pay the required fees.
▪ Applicants can access all their information in real time and review the full history of their interactions with USCIS.
▪ The electronic application form is easy to use because it groups together all related questions on one screen. It asks only those questions required by the information provided by the applicant.
In the coming weeks, the immigration agency will launch an aggressive media outreach campaign in cities with large numbers of immigrants to promote online applications for immigration benefits. This includes explanatory videos that describe, step by step, how to navigate the complex American immigration system from a computer, tablet or cell phone.