5 Helpful Functions of USCIS.gov Every Foreign National Should Know

by Ashley Emerson Mendoza

The USCIS.gov website, redesigned in 2013 with additional user-friendly features introduced throughout 2014, is inviting and still looks brand new. More importantly, as the official site of US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), USCIS.gov contains a great deal of helpful information and user-friendly tools (and they also have a cool blog!). Here are five functions of USCIS.gov that may serve as useful resources for many foreign nationals and those with cases with USCIS.  

1.  Check Your Case Status & Submit a Case Inquiry or Service Request Online

Instead of calling the USCIS 1-800 number to check on a case status, the case status online feature allows foreign nationals to track their application or petition by using their receipt number (a unique thirteen-character identifier assigned to each case and included on every I-797 Notice of Action) as it moves through the immigration process. Foreign nationals may also create an account to sign up for email or text message notifications when an update on their case is available, which is especially useful for those who do not want to keep checking USCIS.gov every day.

The case query/service request feature allows foreign nationals to submit case inquiries online—again, instead of calling USCIS—if they believe their pending case is taking longer than the normal processing time; or if a notice, card, or other document was not received by mail and may be lost or missing. It also allows foreign nationals to submit service requests if they need appointment accommodations or if they spot a typographical error in their case information, which is essential to get fixed as soon as possible.  

2.  Make An Appointment

This service, called Infopass, allows foreign nationals to schedule a free appointment to visit their local USCIS office. Infopass appointments can be very helpful in a number of scenarios, including when Green Card holders have lost their card and have an emergent need to travel internationally; an applicant for advance parole has an emergent need to travel internationally; or foreign nationals need to ask some questions about a pending case. That said, regarding the last point, for general questions about their case, foreign nationals will most likely find it more productive to speak with their immigration attorney instead of making an Infopass appointment as officers often do not have access to files and may not be able to provide helpful information.

3.  USCIS Forms

All USCIS forms are accessible free of charge. After clicking on a specific form, foreign nationals may access not only the form in PDF, but can also see instructions that provide the government filing fees (if applicable) as well as the mailing address and tips of how to complete the forms and in some instances what evidence to include in the submission. While consulting with an immigration attorney is always advisable when filing forms with USCIS, these instructions and tips can be a great educational tool for foreign nationals to learn more about nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. While many foreign nationals will have an immigration attorney fill out and file forms on their behalf, one form most foreign nationals complete and file themselves is Form AR-11, Change of Address, which can easily be submitted online! Way to go, USCIS!

4.  USCIS Laws & Legal Updates

By publishing laws, notices, decisions, and other controlling guidance used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS.gov provides valuable insight into what the final word is in many aspects of immigration. Importantly, USCIS.gov publishes the statutes governing immigration law in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the USCIS regulations codified in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations (8 CFR). The laws and codified regulations are further explained by USCIS updates and press releases regarding memoranda and appeal decisions that are available on this website. USCIS.gov also has a Q&A for common questions about certain forms and press releases and alerts, which are very helpful to stay up-to-date on key immigration announcements.

5.  USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS)

ELIS is an online, account-based system that allows foreign nationals to submit and view forms and evidence for certain benefit requests, receive electronic notification of decisions, and receive real-time case status updates. Although electronic filing is a wonderful idea in theory and will potentially save time and trees, ELIS has been plagued with development problems and currently only certain applications can be submitted through ELIS, including in some cases the I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. The USCIS immigrant fee due upon issuance of an immigrant visa by the Department of State may also be paid through ELIS. While at this point ELIS isn’t exactly a “helpful function” we’re hopeful in the near future that electronic and online filing with USCIS will be much smoother and more effective.

Please note that ELIS is different than e-filing, which is when the forms for certain benefits may be submitted online and applicants must subsequently mail in the evidence to USCIS. Applications that may be e-filed include in some cases the Form I-131, Application for Travel Document; Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status; and Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service. Benefits of both e-filing and ELIS include that foreign nationals do not have to file a paper application; they may pay the government filing fees (if applicable) with a credit or debit card or through a checking or savings account; and they receive immediate confirmation that USCIS has received the application.

Although we have only listed five, USCIS’s website contains a wealth of information and additional tools that are useful to not only foreign nationals pursuing any type of immigrant or nonimmigrant benefit, but also employers. BONUS: users can research their genealogy on USCIS.gov as well!