Not long ago, USCIS started accepted the I-589 asylum form online. Of course, I resisted filing online because (1) I don’t like learning new things, (2) I don’t like computers, and (3) I REALLY don’t like learning new things on computers. But I also don’t like waiting (literally) six months for my clients’ asylum receipts, all the while not knowing whether USCIS has lost their application. And so urgency and lawyerly duty have finally overcome inertia, and I filed my first I-589 online.

Here, I want to talk about the process of filing online and give some suggestions for improving the “user experience” (short answer: There are advantages to filing online, but there is also room for improvement).

To file a form online, the applicant and attorney must each have a USCIS account, which you can create here. You will need an email address and you will be asked to create a password. You will also need to provide a cell phone number, email address or authentication app (such as Google Authenticator) to verify your identity each time you log in (USCIS sends a text message or email with a code that you then enter to sign in). To finish creating the account, you will need to answer five security/recovery questions (“What is the name of your second pet?”). And then – voila! – you have your USCIS account.

Once you have an account, you can input additional information about yourself, add an existing case by entering the receipt number, or file a form online. You can also review and electronically sign forms prepared by your lawyer. In addition, there are a number of useful resources: You can pay a fee online, inquire about a case or missing mail, correct errors on a USCIS document, find a designated physician for the Green Card exam, &tc.

Today, though, I want to focus on the form I-589. If you’re used to completing the I-589 form as a PDF, entering the data directly onto the form, the new online system will be a bit of an adjustment. The applicant’s information is collected in a different format, and you can’t view the entire document until the very end. Even then, the information on the form is presented in a format that is not easy to read (or maybe it just requires some getting used to).

Also, it is important to note that not everyone can file the I-589 online at this time. Certain applicants must file by snail mail at the Asylum Vetting Center, including people who were previously in Immigration Court or the Asylum Office, or who were a dependent on another person’s application – see the Special Instructions here.

One inconvenience with the online form is that you can’t jump from one section to another without scrolling through all the sections in between. This makes editing the form awkward. It seems to me that an easy solution would be to create a hyperlinked index that would allow you to go directly to whichever section of the form you want to work on.

Another surprising nuisance is the attorney-client interface. Once the attorney completes the form, she gets a code that she forwards to the client. The client then uses that code to access the form, check that it is correct, and electronically sign the document. As part of this process, the lawyer needs to print a document called “Preparer’s Contact Information, Certification, and Signature,” complete it by hand (or for those with PDF skills, on a computer), sign it, and send it to the client. This all seems a little much. I get that USCIS wants to ensure that clients are protected, but why not simply incorporate this information into the online I-589 itself?

When you file the form, you can also upload documents and evidence. If you don’t have any documents to upload, the form will double check and remind you that such evidence is important. The main effect here, at least for me, was to make me feel guilty for not submitting much evidence at the time of filing. Given that most asylum cases take years, I prefer to submit evidence closer to the date of the interview, so I can submit the most up-to-date information available. Also, one quirk I noticed was that the names of uploaded documents cannot contain certain characters. For example, I named one document, “Passport, US visa, and I-94.” The program did not like the commas, and so did not accept the filing (I later renamed it “Passport” and it was accepted). The main issue here was that it was unclear whether the document had been uploaded or rejected, as the error message (or lack thereof) was confusing. Once a document properly uploads, both the lawyer and client can see it in their portal.

I imagine that most users are more savvy than me and will have an easier time with the online form. I also imagine that I will get used to it in time. And there are advantages to filing online.

The main benefit is that you get instantaneous proof that your case was submitted (though it may take a few days for the case to be “accepted” and the receipt issued). This is particularly important these days, given that receipts from mailed-in I-589 forms can take several months. For people facing a one-year bar, it is certainly comforting to know that USCIS has your application and that you will not be blocked from asylum for filing late.

Another benefit is that you can upload additional evidence in support of your claim. Under the old system, you can mail in evidence with your initial application and if you have additional evidence, you can mail that directly to the local asylum office. The problem is that the local offices tend to lose whatever evidence you mail them. This became such a common problem that I got into the habit of emailing them one copy, mailing a second copy, and bringing a third copy to the interview, all in the hope that they would actually receive what I was sending. With the new online system, you can upload documents to your case, which–presumably–will not get lost. Assuming this works, it will be much easier and more reliable than the old system.

Finally, with the online system, you will get updates about your case status, which will be a faster and more reliable way to keep track of your application.

While there are still some kinks to work out, there are real advantages to online filing, and I expect that it will become more and more common as applicants and attorneys adjust to the new system.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: