U.S. Spends 10 Years and $1 Billion to Digitize Immigration Forms … and Ends up with Just One

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Paper immigration forms being filled out at USCIS (photo: Getty Images)

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has demonstrated just how difficult it can be for a federal agency to upgrade its technology and move into the digital age.


USCIS embarked on a plan 10 years ago to convert nearly 100 paper forms into electronic documents, with the expectation that it would cost about $500 million. After a decade of work, the agency has managed to put only one form online—at a cost more than $1 billion.


The Washington Post reported USCIS may have to spend another $2 billion to finish the project and digitize the other 94 forms used by immigrants who come to the U.S. The new projected completion date is 2019.


“You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency,’’ Kenneth Palinkas, former president of the union that represents USCIS employees, told the Post. “It’s a huge albatross around our necks.’’


The effort was problematic from the start, the Post’s Jerry Markon reported. “Agency officials did not complete the basic plans for the computer system until nearly three years after the initial $500 million contract had been awarded to IBM, and the approach to adopting the technology was outdated before work on it began.”


USCIS’ parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), knew the project was in trouble three years ago. But DHS still began to unveil it “in part because of pressure from Obama administration officials who considered it vital for their plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies,” Markon wrote.


At one point the agency had three forms available online. But two of them were pulled off because of extensive technical problems that led to a plan to reconfigure the entire system.


The one form now available for electronic filing is an application for renewing or replacing a lost green card. But even that one has had trouble, with many who used it waiting up to a year for their new card. Others never received their new cards at all.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

A Decade into a Project to Digitize U.S. Immigration Forms, Just 1 is Online (by Jerry Markon, Washington Post)

Outrageous! $1 Billion to Post One Form on Immigration Site (by Eric Planin, Fiscal Times)

Immigration Service Sued after Trying to Deport Legal Immigrant because of its own Bungled Paperwork (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Immigration Service Awards New Contract to Background Check Company Charged with Fraud (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Citizenship and Immigration Services “Wins” Poor Writing Award (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Timmy 8 years ago
Another example of Homeland Security's thirst for power. They could take examples from another government agency that excelled in creating fear for foreigners, criminalist and deporting them with: the GeStaPo. They were very efficient until they went out of business.

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