File a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and you can now expect a response to that request online.
This is the latest expansion of the agency’s new Freedom of Information Act Immigration Records SysTem (FIRST) — a system that will “eventually” allow requesters to navigate the entire FOIA process digitally. FIRST is being rolled out in “phases,” though, so currently any initial FOIA requests still need to be made via fax, mail or e-mail.
After that first contact, though, “requesters can track the status of their FOIA cases and will receive email notification when USCIS has uploaded their records” through an online account with myUSCIS.
“When FIRST is fully operational this September, requesters will be able to use a completely digital FOIA/PA system, from online submission to retrieving and downloading responsive documents,” a press release states.
FIRST launched in May but was initially only available only to individuals with an immigration court date pending. The expansion of the service to all requesters, the agency says, will cut back on the “time and expense associated with receiving requests by mail.”
Online information processing may help USCIS reduce its significant FOIA backlog. According to data from the FOIA Project, the backlog tripled in the two year period between 2014 and 2016 — from 17,998 unanswered requests to 46,550 unanswered requests.” The agency still has about 47,000 cases pending.