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Bringing Our Immigration System into the Digital Age

Federal agencies are undertaking new actions to improve the visa experience for families, workers, employers, and people in need of humanitarian relief.

In November, President Obama announced a series of Executive Actions to fix the broken immigration system. As a part of these efforts, he charged the key federal agencies responsible for administering our legal immigration system to explore ways to modernize and streamline the system. The goal was to develop recommendations to bring the system into the 21st century to grow our economy, help businesses and workers, and protect families.

Today, we are taking the next step in this effort, releasing a report on Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century. This report includes a wide range of new actions that federal agencies will undertake to improve the visa experience for families, workers, employers, and people in need of humanitarian relief.

Currently, the process to apply for a visa is complex, paper-based, and confusing to the user. 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.

This is why the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) sent a team of engineers and designers to work with the Departments of State and Homeland Security on a month-long assessment. These teams worked together to assess the viability of a pilot program set to launch at over six major consular posts this summer, which will bring as much of this visa process online as possible.

Based on that experience, today’s report makes technical recommendations with four key principles in mind:

1. Understand user needs.

USDS designers did user research to discover the needs of people who use immigrant visa services, and the ways the service fits into their lives. We also looked at government agencies as “users” of their own processes, and asked for insights about what could be improved. This invaluable data will inform future technical and design decisions to better our system from the inside out.

2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish.

We heard time and time again from users that they are often overwhelmed by the multiple agencies that play a role in processing their immigration application. Our goal is to minimize confusion for the user, streamline the adjudication process, and reduce redundancy.

3. Make the process clear, simple, and intuitive, so that users succeed.

It is necessary to make our process as clear and simple as possible so that individuals understand the process, are fully prepared when they make their request, and can apply for and secure the immigration benefit for which they qualify.

4. Use the same language and design patterns when building digital services.

Consistent design patterns help users become familiar with the services offered. An applicant shouldn’t feel like they’re submitting multiple forms to multiple agencies and players, and should feel secure that their forms are received.

These principles guided the numerous, detailed recommendations in today’s report that will make our system more accessible to users and bring our technology into the 21st century.

For more on the work we’re doing to digitize the visa process, check out the full report here.

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