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Formation of BCIS E-filing Standards Group Announced

by Robert C. Meltzer

The responses to this Monday's letter to the editor and Editor's Comments in Immigration Daily about the opportunity BCIS e-filing presents to the Immigration Bar have been, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly encouraging and positive. It is apparent that interest in e-filing is already high and clearly this is an issue that resonates with the entire immigration law community.

In more than a half-decade of developing electronic application processing systems for immigration benefits, we have been in contact with the INS, BCIS, DOL, and their contractors, focusing our discussions on developments in online filing and processing of applications. Never before has there been an e-government initiative that could have the kind of impact that BCIS e-filing can - not only on the productivity and customer service mission of the BCIS, but on the immigration law profession as a whole.

Our conversations with those associated with the INS/BCIS e-filing project indicate that there is both need and opportunity for the Immigration Bar to help shape the future of this system.

"There are opportunities for third parties, such as immigration attorneys, their organizations, and representatives of software companies that serve immigration attorneys in this capacity to make their voices heard. This should be encouraged, although I cannot say what the specifics are at this point," said one contractor representative associated with the project.

He added "Right now, with the system, there are still plans to refine [it] as it is put in use. We always try to take what we see when something goes live, and look for ways to improve it. It can be a fluid thing."

Marc Topoleski, an attorney at the immigration law firm of Ellis Porter, sees the need for the Immigration Bar to work together to ensure that the profession's technological needs are met. "We need to have a voice. When the basic architecture of e-filing is established, the ability to work electronically with the system without an additional major investment is critical. Without it, BCIS e-filing won't be used to its fullest potential."

"If you look at how the IRS worked with the private sector when developing online tax filing, you can see that by working together, the government and the industry created the most useful system possible," added Topoleski.

Now is the time for action.

The BCIS e-filing program represents an unprecedented opportunity, both for the government and the Immigration Bar. This opportunity lies in addressing the needs of the BCIS to handle its benefits administration in a more efficient, cost-effective, and customer-friendly way. At the same time, the opportunity can also address the needs of the immigration law profession, which has been waiting for the government to catch up to, if not match, its embrace of the latest technologies. The gap between the opportunity and the need has not yet been bridged. What is required is an active, energized support structure that will ensure that opportunity and need meet to produce the best possible outcome for all parties involved.

Based on the responses we have seen in the past week from the Immigration Bar and vendors that serve it, it is evident that the desire to have input on the development of the e-filing system is there. What is now needed is a way to speak with a unified and influential voice.

This voice will be provided via the formation of an inclusive, industry-wide group to formalize past efforts in this area and work with the BCIS and its contractors: the E-filing Standards for Immigration Group. The E-filing Standards for Immigration Group (ESIG) will ensure that e-filing standards meet the needs of the Immigration Bar and the technologies that it uses to serve their clients.

The ESIG will provide an organized, unified, and focused platform for which to present the expertise, ideas, and needs of the Immigration Bar as it relates to BCIS e-filing. We encourage everyone - attorneys, paralegals, third-party software vendors - to unify under the ESIG umbrella in a concerted effort to ensure that we are included in the e-filing process.

The ESIG will:

  • Encourage a coordinated response to the e-filing initiative comment period established by the BCIS last month.
  • Agree on the technological needs of the Immigration Bar as they pertain to filing applications electronically with the BCIS, taking into account the bureau's security and cost concerns.
  • Formalize these needs into clear standards that the BCIS and its contractors can use as a guideline for further e-filing system developments.
  • Work toward the timely adoption of these standards by the BCIS and its contractors.
  • Communicate with the Immigration Bar and its technology partners to keep them informed of immigration e-filing developments.
Those interested in shaping the future of BCIS e-filing are strongly encouraged to join the ESIG. To join or for more information, send an e-mail to Together, our collective expertise, experiences, and contacts can help ensure that the e-filing program reaches its fullest potential.

About The Author

Robert C. Meltzer is the founder and President of

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.