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Technology to rescue U.S. visa application process

Friday, October 9, 2015

It’s clear that there’s no single solution to fixing the United States’ immigration system. Lack of agreement among candidates and politicians on both sides of the aisle about how to even define the problems facing the immigration system serves to muddy the waters even further.
But there’s one problem with the immigration system that is considered, almost universally, to be a pain point: applying for a United States visa.
The problem with the visa application process transcends politics and partisan sniping. The trouble with applying for a U.S. visa, rather, is its reliance on an archaic, paper-based system. Applicants and government workers must deal with mounds and mounds of paper that are manually shuffled from one federal agency to the next.
Recognizing the challenges that face applicants and agencies, President Obama included a mandate to modernize the visa application process in last November’s executive actions on immigration. The U.S. Digital Service, in cooperation with the Departments of Homeland Security and State, is spearheading the initiative.
This summer, after considerable field research that involved following applicants, paperwork and government workers in the process, the working group issued its
 final report, “Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System.” The team put forward dozens of recommendations that aim to drastically curtail the amount of time and paper involved in the application process, focusing largely on boosting the efficiency of inter-agency communication.
Some of the recommendations are as simple as requiring applicants to pay all the associated fees at once rather than intermittently throughout the visa application process.  Other recommendations were more broad, calling for a redesign of the process based on existing visa/immigration status, rather than on which form the applicant is using or agency that is dealing with the process. For example, the process should be different for a foreign national attempting to enter the U.S. for the first time than for an applicant that has done so in the past.
Implementation of the report’s finding is already underway, with this year’s launch of Selected consulates, including those in Hong Kong, Frankfurt and Buenos Aires, are testing a modern immigrant visa program that, if successful, will expand over the next several months.
While these fixes do little to solve all the problems with the U.S. immigration system, they could go a long way to make sure applicants do not make it through the process simply because the application is overwhelming. It’s a small step toward justice, but it’s a good place to start.

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