Modernizing the American Dream: How USCIS Dramatically Reduced Verification Case Processing Times
U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Federal Health and Civilian
Modern Software Delivery,
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) embraced Agile Development and DevOps to improve service delivery to aspiring citizens. Despite significant progress, however, aging systems continued to impede their long-term goals. The agency was saddled with lengthy processing times and voluminous customer-service requests for “cases” involving eligibility verification. The systems involved were outdated and required intensive, time-consuming deployment processes. With Excella’s support, USCIS pressed forward and updated three of these mission-critical legacy systems. The modernized systems have dramatically decreased case processing times, improved customer service, and introduced a new, modern technology infrastructure. Their success demonstrates that leaner government IT processes can effectively respond to 21st century needs.
At the turn of the last century officials hand-processed 12 million arrivals at Ellis Island. Today, USCIS is the gateway to the United States, where 19,000 federal employees and contractors at 237 offices globally provide immigration services to over 37 million people each year. Tasked with safeguarding the nation’s immigration system, USCIS’ work demands significant attention to detail, but after years of struggling to keep up with paper forms and applications, the agency refocused its mission to improve customer service, strengthen security, and eliminate case backlogs.
A refocused mission required stronger IT, but many USCIS legacy systems struggled to keep pace with changing demands. Cumbersome system updates necessitated lengthy release windows and undesirable outages and downtime. The need to stay up and running competed with the desire to regularly add new features and fix defects. Costs were high—according to recent congressional reports, the government spends roughly three-quarters of its $95.7 billion IT budget simply maintaining aging systems. For an agency that processes over 37 million applications a year—under a DHS operations and maintenance budget of $5.3B—modernizing was no longer aspirational, it was critical.
Excella partnered with USCIS to clearly define the business problem, provided a cross-functional team with the right skills to rapidly deliver, and collaborated with a dedicated USCIS Product Owner to elicit customer and stakeholder needs. Through a series of fast-paced, iterative cycles, the team and the Product Owner delivered usable, working software. Tangible, incremental deliveries solicited effective feedback so that after six short two-week sprints, the first of the new modernized applications, the Status Verification System (SVS) had a functional release in production.
The new Verification system has achieved unprecedented levels of scalability.
Before the government shutdown in December 2018, E-Verify had never processed more than 220,000 cases in a day. In the first day after the 2019 government shutdown ended, the system processed 675,000 cases, a 300% increase in demand. Volumes peaked at 1,200 cases a minute. The system handled the traffic with ease, with no reduction in service.
In an average week SAVE processes approximately 200,000 cases. During the initial economic shutdown caused by COVID-19, SAVE processed 599,000 cases in a single week. This 300% increase resulted in no service interruptions or downtime.