OIG Criticizes the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS)

In a report published last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Inspector General provided recommendations to improve the “unsuccessful” automation of naturalization benefits delivery through Electronic Immigration System. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security urged USCIS to suspend all online applications for naturalization through ELIS due to major breaches in national security.

What is ELIS?

The USCIS Electronic Immigration System is an online, account based system that centralize, and serves to automate, some immigration benefits processes. The system allows applicants to access notifications of decision and receive “real-time” case status updates. Although the online program was intended to modernized the immigration application process, widespread issues and challenges with the online system prompted Homeland Security’s OIG to investigate the effectiveness of automated naturalization applications through ELIS.

Report Findings

The report discovered many issues with the ELIS system for online applications for naturalization (N-400). The program, re-launched in April of 2016, aimed at assisting the processing of the tens of thousands of naturalization requests received by USCIS each month. As with previous ELIS naturalization releases, the application had “significant unresolved functional and technical issues surrounding ELIS.” The delays associated with the ELIS technical issues created a significant backlog (approximately a 60% increase) for USCIS naturalization applications. Even more damaging, the report found that the ELIS errors approved citizenship for at least 200 individuals who had not completed required background checks. The report outlines several ELIS user complaints, from issues with printing certificates of naturalization to issues with editing country of origin on naturalization forms.

The Department of Homeland security made several recommendations to improve both the security and functionality of the ELIS system for naturalization. However, this report follows numerous criticisms of the USCIS Electronic Immigration System. It is unclear how USCIS will move forward to provide modern alternatives to benefit applications while ensuring privacy and safety.