White House lays out plans to improve immigration IT systems

​The White House and its U.S. Digital Service team are doubling down on the digital streamlining and modernization of the American immigration system.

The White House and its U.S. Digital Service team want to streamline the digital side of the American immigration system.

The White House released a nearly 50-page report last week outlining how it plans to coordinate with several federal agencies and the USDS to help bring the immigration system into the 21st century. And paramount to this plan is improving the technology infrastructure for processing visa applicants.

“Currently, the process to apply for a visa is complex, paper-based, and confusing to the user,” wrote Mikey Dickerson, head of the USDS, in a White House blog post co-authored by Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “Many immigration documents pass through various computer systems and change hands no fewer than six times. Our goal is to modernize this process and deliver a positive experience to our users.”

The departments of State and Homeland Security plan soon to introduce the modernized immigrant visa, or MIV, “aimed at improving the visa applicant experience and increasing efficiencies in
the adjudication process by digitizing as much of it as possible,” the report said. FedScoop first learned of a pilot of this system in March at South by Southwest. MIV will supplement existing electronic processing systems for immigration forms, like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Electronic Immigration System — which ran into some initial troubles before USDS stepped in — and State’s Consular Electronic Application Center.


For the MIV project, the USDS conducted technical assessments at participating agencies to gain a better understanding of the immigration application process. USDS came away with four guiding principles in redesigning the plagued immigration system:

  • Understand what people need.
  • Address the whole experience, start to finish.
  • Make the process clear, simple and intuitive, so that users succeed the first time, unaided.
  • Be consistent by using the same language and design patterns when building digital
    services whenever possible.

Pilots for the MIV program will run through 2015 in Montreal; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro; Frankfurt, Germany; Hong Kong and Sydney, and a more expansive rollout should commence in 2016.

USDS’ principles guided higher-level technical recommendations from the White House, particularly the creation of a cross-agency digital services team to assist in development of the MIV program, the simplification of the applicant’s experience, the redesign of systems based on human users instead of paper forms, the adoption of software development best practices, and the modernization and simplification of technology stacks, to name a few.

These technical improvements come as part of President Barack Obama’s executive action in November 2014 to fix the faulty American immigration system. If the plan is fully executed, the report says, it could “boost our nation’s gross domestic product
(GDP) by between $100 billion and $250 billion, expand the size of the American labor force, and
raise average annual wages for U.S.-born workers by 0.4 percent, or $220 in today’s dollars, over
the next 10 years. The President’s actions would also cut the Federal deficit by $30 billion in 2024.”


The report adds, “Our nation prospers when all the layers of our legal immigration system work
together so that individuals can work and create businesses, reunite with their families, and build
sustainable lives that enhance communities at a local level and grow our economy.”

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