It’s taken nearly 300 years, but one of the oldest practices in the United States is finally joining the digital age. In a blog post last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declared that the American immigration system would finally be joining the 21st century and enjoying all the tech benefits that have come with the times.
It is estimated that in 2013, immigrants comprised a staggering 13 percent of the total American population, and the U.S. attracted 20 percent of the international migrant population. And despite the fact that one in four Americans are now immigrants or children of immigrants, the process behind immigration remains frightfully archaic. In fact, as per the OMB’s report, “Currently, the process to apply for a visa is complex, paper-based, and confusing to the user. Many immigration documents pass through various computer systems and change hands no fewer than six times.” But now, all that is changing.
At the request of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a specially curated team of engineers and designers set out on a project with the Departments of State and Homeland Security that spanned the course of a month. In their assessment of the current immigration landscape and recommendations on what could and needed to be improved, they ultimately devised a pilot program that, the OMB says, is “set to launch at over six major consular posts this summer, which will bring as much of this visa process online as possible.”
Under the leadership of former Google engineer Mikey Dickerson, the team recently released its final report, titled “Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System,” detailing ways in which the immigration process could be simplified from a technological and digital perspective, as well as how various agencies involved could better communicate with one another. As a whole, the team was stunned by the sheer amount of inefficiency the process in its current state boasted, with one White House official telling Wired, “As a group of technologists, that stuff just killed us. It’s insane we would do that in 2015. We invented these things called computers.”
Many of the recommendations Dickerson and the experts made are exacting, making it easy for agencies to implement and test. These include paying all fees associated with applying for a visa at once, as well as streamlining the process based on the applicant, not the government agency the applicant happens to be dealing with.
While the ultimate overhaul of the system is still yet to come, this marks a preliminary but incredibly important step in a revamping that is long overdue. So from the bottom of this first-generation American’s heart: Thanks, OMB.