USCIS has now unveiled the much anticipated case status checking system. Although it is noticeably better than its predecessor, it fell short of expectations.
From the DHS leadership journal and various speeches made by government officials, people had the impression that the new online status system would achieve two major objectives:
- Identify the current processing step of an immigration case, i.e. let a customer know what has been done, what is being worked on and what is coming next on their application; and,
- Provide an estimated waiting time before a case can be adjudicated, i.e. let a customer know “how many people are waiting in line or how long it may be before USCIS can process and approve his application.”
USCIS has done a fairly good job for No. 1 (case status), but not nearly enough for No. 2 (waiting time).
The case status tool now displays seven steps: Acceptance, Initial Review, Request for Evidence (RFE), Testing and Interview, Decision, Post Decision Activity, and Document Production or Oath Ceremony. Below is an example of the RFE step (see more examples here):
The benefit of this format is that all processing steps are displayed in one window – people who are not familiar with the immigration process are now able to figure out what steps have been completed and what is likely to come next. For others, especially high-tech workers under employment based categories, this change is far less appealing because most of them understand the green card work flow quite well already.
As it stands now, a new status update will replace the old one, and if a case has reached the next step, previous ones will be grayed out. A better way would be to keep all status updates in the system until at least some time after the case has been adjudicated. This way it also acts as a personal journal for the applicant. The data are stored in the USCIS database anyway, why not make them useful?
The new alert function via text messaging is nice and geeky, but doesn’t deserve so much spotlight in my opinion.
Regardless of how case status is presented, what is critical to immigrants is that the information in the system is complete and up to date. For example:
- Does the system reflect a RFE that has been responded to?
- Is background check information included in the report?
- Does a rescheduled appointment or interview get updated?
- If a case is at a certain stage, does it mean all previous steps have been completed? In another word, does RFE mean FBI name check is cleared? If an interview is scheduled, does it mean all RFE’s have been processed?
The waiting time report, implemented as National Volume and Trends on the new website, is far from what everyone expected. We will discuss it in a separate post.
It is worth mentioning that USCIS redesigned the website in a hurry, and completed the bulk of new development in roughly three months. So it is probably unrealistic to expect a complete overhaul. It is an excellent start, however, and USCIS deserves credit for that. But we certainly hope that the efforts don’t stop here. USCIS.gov is one of the most popular government websites (6 million visitors monthly), so hopefully the agency will have the support to continue to make it better.
Update: USCIS has started releasing pending I-485 inventory since September, 2009. Although it doesn’t provide an estimate of wait time, it does tell you how many green card applicants are still waiting ahead of you. More information can be found in this post, or you can check out the inventory directly using our green card tracker.