After the weather and taxes, immigration is one of the government services that people visit most online. Last week alone, 3.6 million people visited the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website to understand the application process, check the status of their cases, and seek help. USCIS receives about 6 million petitions and applications a year — that’s more than 16,000 a day. Supporting this many users is a huge task, and USCIS knows it could do more to meet customer needs on its website.
I know firsthand how challenging the immigration process can be. After our wedding last July, my husband, a British citizen who was in the United States on a student visa, applied to adjust his status to become a permanent resident. We thought our case would be relatively straightforward — but instead it lasted nine months and involved more than a few sleepless nights.
That’s why I’m excited about the opportunity to help create solutions to address these challenges. Since November, I’ve been working with a team from 18F and USCIS to develop my.uscis.gov, a customer-facing site to help users navigate their relationship with the agency. USCIS approached 18F about the partnership because they wanted to improve the experience for millions of users like my husband and me.
Central to the changes we’re making is focusing on the journey of the person submitting the application rather than the life cycle of a form or process. Currently, USCIS interacts with customers on a form-by-form basis. myUSCIS is a step in creating a unified experience for all the applications and interactions that make up that journey.
We’ve spent the past year gathering the stories of many USCIS customers in order to understand the fine details of the process that really matter to them — the touch points that make the difference between a reassuring, happy process and a confusing or anxious one. The features we’re building address many of these concerns we heard from users directly.
Almost all of the USCIS customers we’ve talked to have told us they have lots of questions about the application process. If they can’t easily find answers on the current site, they turn to third-party sources for information, which give conflicting — and sometimes incorrect — information. On myUSCIS, users can consult a help center, which features a growing repository of plain language answers to frequent questions. This builds on efforts already underway within USCIS to help make forms easier to understand.
Some of the most common issues we’re addressing with myUSCIS:
Users can enter their current immigration status and select what they’re trying to do. The site shows them the benefits they’re eligible for and how to apply.
We’re designing an online application process to replace multiple PDF forms, and are working with USCIS’ plain language experts to make it as clear as possible to do what’s required.
We’re designing an improved account system so users can see their notices and appointments in a single location and find out what to expect next.
myUSCIS launched in January, and we’re testing and building new features every day. Users can already find clearer information on my.uscis.gov. Soon, they’ll be able to apply online and have a smoother experience, with less uncertainty. And we’re just one part of the ecosystem. While we’re partnering with USCIS to tackle the customer-facing side of the problem, the U.S. Digital Service headquarters is helping to modernize USCIS’s technology and make internal processing more efficient. Together, we’re excited to be improving a system that millions of people rely on — and hopefully brings them more satisfaction than either a completed tax return or a sunny weather forecast.