U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced the release of its newly expanded Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Immigration Records System (FIRST). The USCIS system is the only one in the federal government that permits users to submit, track, and receive documents digitally. According to USCIS, utilizing this system will increase the efficiency of processing these requests and reduce potential errors in paperwork. USCIS receives more FOIA requests than any other agency.
FOIA is a federal law passed in 1967 to promote government transparency. The law authorizes individuals to request government records from all federal agencies. There are some documents, however, that are exempt from FOIA, including information that is classified due to foreign policy and national security interests. Other materials that are exempt from FOIA include those that are protected by attorney-client privilege and those that would compromise personal privacy.
Before implementing FIRST, USCIS only accepted FOIA requests via mail, fax, and email. USCIS then would respond to these requests by mailing the documents on a compact disc to the requesting party. The launch of FIRST comes following the expansion of the USCIS Electronic Reading Room, which is accessible from the USCIS website. The Electronic Reading Room contains policy documents and external correspondence, along with replies to the correspondence. USCIS now places all documents that individuals have requested at least three times under FOIA in the Electronic Reading Room. This move is to make these documents more easily accessible to the public.
The system is already available for use for individuals who want to request their records electronically. The next rollout of the system will allow individuals to request non-A-file material, such as policies and communications. Later this year, individuals will begin being able to make requests for records on behalf of other persons.
USCIS first rolled out FIRST in May 2018. At that time, the system allowed users to create online accounts, track requests, and download paperwork. Individuals have since created more than 77,000 online USCIS accounts for managing and receiving FOIA requests. Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 359-3362.