Citizenship agency launches interactive Web site

Portal designed to be more user-friendly, increase transparency

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has launched a revamped Web portal that agency officials say is more user-friendly, interactive and informative than its predecessor.

The upgraded site allows applicants for citizenship and related benefits to follow the progress of their cases. They can choose to receive notifications through e-mail messages or text messages when the status of an application changes, the agency said.

The redesigned USCIS.gov has, for the first time, a Spanish language version. It also provides access to national trend data and raw data that can be used in additional applications. USCIS petitions and applications will be accessible through the case status feature, and include applications for naturalization and certificate of citizenship, as well as petitions related to the status of non-immigrant workers and relatives and fiancés from other nations.

“It’s part of a broader effort in this agency and it is in keeping with [Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s] emphasis as well as the administration’s emphasis on transparency,” Alejandro Mayorkas, USCIS’ director, said in an interview Sept. 21. USCIS is an agency under the Homeland Security Department.

Mayorkas, Napolitano, and Jeffrey Zients – the Obama administration’s chief performance officer – are scheduled to announce the revamped USCIS.gov site at a press conference today. Mayorkas said the site is customer-centric and the public's response to new site will be the greatest benchmark of its success.

USCIS developed the site in a hurry after President Barack Obama announced June 25 that the agency would launch the new portal in 90 days.

The government is using new technology "to reduce the unnecessary paperwork, backlogs, and the lack of transparency that's caused so many people so much heartache,” Obama said.

On the portal, a feature named  “My Case Status” gives applicants or their representatives information about their cases in the context of the adjudication process, including relevant processing times. Users can also be able receive indications regarding whether their case has been transferred to another USCIS office. 

Meanwhile, a new feature on the site named the“National Dashboard” lets users see graphs of processing times to compare different data sets and trends. The portal also gives users a new, improved search engine, according to USCIS.

Tom Parisi, chief of new media for USCIS, said the portal is unique because it gives people the opportunity to get the data in a CSV file format, in line with the administration’s effort to make more raw data available.

The USCIS site has traditionally been one of the most used government portals. According an agency spokesman, about 2.8 million users accessed the case status page on the legacy Web site each month. Parisi said the legacy USCIS.gov site got 230,000 users per day and each month got six million visitors and 25 million page views.

Mayorkas said the agency plans to continue to add features to site. In the coming months, the agency plans to continue to expand information available on the Spanish language Web site, improve access and searchability of forms.

“I think a consumer does receive more information [from the new site] in that they know not only where they are, but what the process is ahead of them and what are the anticipated time frames for each step in that process so they have some predictability to the future of their application,” Mayorkas said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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