A small tool to track USCIS case status.
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JavaScript Delete scraper.php Jan 30, 2018
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README.md Update README.md Sep 18, 2018

README.md

USCIS Case Status Auto Query

This may be considered as a DDOS attack to USCIS system!

You are responsible for all consequences of using this tool.

You have been warned!

Unsatisfying USCIS Case Status System

Students under the F-1 visa usually apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) to get work authorization from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When one application is received by the USCIS, they issue a receipt number. Using this receipt number to check one’s progress (at https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/mycasestatus.do) is highly unsatisfying. The application usually takes up to 4 months to process. Until the work authorization is approved, students will only get a somewhat useless paragraph like this:

On November 16, 2017, we received your Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization , Receipt Number YSC1890044628, and sent you the receipt notice that describes how we will process your case. Please follow the instructions in the notice. If you do not receive your receipt notice by December 16, 2017, please call Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283. If you move, go to www.uscis.gov/addresschange to give us your new mailing address.

And nothing more. No estimate time. No queue information. No current status. USCIS does a really bad job of keeping one updated on the progress of a case and in general how far along they are going with the entire year’s batch of students.

Predicting decision time

Fortunately, USCIS issues receipt numbers in chronological order, and they process their cases in a first-come-first serve order. That means if we check other people's case status, we will be able to get an estimate time of case decision:

  • If a huge proportion of people before (and possibly after) me have their OPTs approved, I should have mine processed soon.
  • However, if the people who submitted around my date are stil waiting for their approval, I can expect to wait a long time.

However, doing so manually at https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/mycasestatus.do is a slow and tiring process. Instead, I can write a script to check the website for the 50,000 or so cases before and after my own number.

PHP Version

My initial thought was a multi-thread PHP scraper. PHP is not suitable for multi-threading... at least not natively. Use AJAX...? Cross-Origin Resource Sharing is going to be a problem. Use a PHP script from the same origin as a proxy to load the real page on different origin. This should satisfy all the requirements.

JavaScript + PHP Proxy

Sweet combination.

So I have finished this part at 8:45 PM, 1/25/2018. Looks like everything is working properly.

After setting up scrape controlling conditions, JavaScript will initialize several AJAX threads. When one AJAX query finishes, in its always call back, it starts a new AJAX to query the next case id in queue.

When a query is done, JS will extract interested information, i.e.,

  • Form - which form did the case submit
  • Title - a summary of current status
  • ActivityDate - date of last USCIS activity
  • Content - The full paragraph
  • QueryDate - current timestamp

Then use another AJAX to store them in my remote database. I used an API on my personal server. This will cause CORS error though. But I dont care. The data will be send to whatever server it is, regardless the origin. CORS protection only kicks in when AJAX tries to receive data. But I do not even intended to get any result. Data is sent to my server, and that's all I want.

Tested with 60,000 case IDs with 500 threads. Took almost three minutes to finish the scrape.

IP was blocked at 97,000 queries. Will edit when IP was unblocked.

17 hours has passed and is still blocked:

It was reported to us that your IP address or internet gateway has been locked out for a select period of time. This is due to an unusually high rate of use. In order to avoid this issue, please create a Customer account (single applicant) or a Representative account (representing many individuals).

Unblocked after 23 hrs.

They blocked my IP again. Why did I query on weekends... they are not going to update anything...

Old Versions

Python Version

Works. The Python version is the first thing I come up with. But soon I am tired of comparing the results in command line from different log files. I decide to create one with GUI. For practice purpose, I used Visual C# .NET.

EAD-AutoQuery> python app.py
YSC1890008628 ,  I-765 ,  Request for Initial Evidence Was Mailed
YSC1890010628 ,   ,  Card Was Mailed To Me
YSC1890012628 ,  I-130 ,  Case Was Received

C# Version

Abandoned. Currently can scrape from USCIS website and dump desired data into the SQLite database.

I was working on this one until USCIS blocked my IP after about 2,000 queries. Apparently a (or, actually, a few dozens of) proxy server is needed. I am not planning any budget for this small project. Thus, deploying the C# application on VPS is not an option. There are not many free route proxy server either, I do not trust those "free" proxies. So the only truly free solution seems to be those massive PHP hosting services available online. So I moved on to the PHP version.

And I then decided that I will create a web-based app instead of a desktop app.