USCIS Moves Forward to an Electronic Future: A Digital FOIA System

Published On
Jul 5, 2019
Read Time
3 Minutes

USCIS has taken another step towards the digitalization of their processes. Earlier this year, USCIS has announced a new strategy called eProcessing which accelerates their transition to a digital business model. Now it is here with the expansion of its digital FIRST (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Immigration Records System) from June 25th, 2019.

Do you know, the Federal Act FOIA is signed on July 4th, 1966 by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson? According to this act, any Citizen has the right to request access for information from the Federal agencies. This includes any data except for the one which is protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.Now, USCIS is all set to digitalize the process of sending FOIA requests, tracking the status and receiving the documents. All this is possible through digitalizing FIRST. This enhancement will now speed up the process, reduces the time taken along with eliminating human errors.

What you need to understand before making an FOIA request?

If you are intended on making an FOIA request, first try to determine if the information is already available. With the advancement of technology, you can find any important information on the website of the corresponding Federal agency. But if you cannot, then you can submit an FOIA request with the corresponding agency and get the response.

Who can submit the Freedom of Information Act request?

Any person irrespective of their citizenship can make a request for the FOIA. One can make the requests in the name of an individual or an organization. However, there is no particular form for making your requests.

How can you submit an FOIA request?

Earlier information seekers have to manually write the request and describe the documents they need. The agency will go through your request and send you a written response or the documents required. One cannot determine the exact response time for this process as they process the request based on receipt number and complexity of the request. But in the month of May 2019, USCIS has announced the beginning of FIRST, which is the only system that allows its users to submit FOIA requests online. To do so, you have to create an account with the USCIS. Since then users have created 77,000 accounts for requesting and receiving responses from the respective Federal agency.
Now with all these latest updates and implementations, you can submit the requests electronically through your USCIS account. USCIS have also stated that in the later part of the year it will facilitate account holder to make a request on behalf of another person.

Who handles FOIA requests?

There is no central office in the government that can handle all the FOIA requests for all federal departments and agencies. Each federal agency processes its own records in response to FOIA requests.

USCIS is Moving towards an Electronic Future - Kenneth Cuccinelli

Addressing the latest improvements, acting Director of USCIS Kenneth Cuccinelli said: "I am excited to implement the first fully digital FOIA system, and the benefits it will bring for FOIA requestors who take advantage of this service". He also added that "USCIS continues to move the nation's legal immigration system away from paper-based services to an electronic future". "FIRST brings the antiquated FOIA process into the 21st century and makes it a more efficient and easy process".

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