WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- At the end of May, immigrants wanting to renew or replace green cards or apply for work permits will be able to do so electronically, the Homeland Security Department said Friday.

The department's Bureau for Citizenship and Immigration Services will start accepting applications filed through the Internet on May 29.

Department officials expect more than 30,000 people to file electronically for those benefits. Those two types of applications account for 30 percent of about 7 million applications each year for various immigration benefits.

"This is the first step in our bigger plan to automate a lot of the applications," said John Shewairy, a spokesman for the bureau.

Previously, applications were available online, but they had to be mailed in.

Under the new service, once immigrants fill out and send their applications online, they must call the National Customer Support Center to schedule an appointment. Immigrants applying for other benefits, such as naturalization, will continue to receive receipts in the mail with appointment times and locations.

At the appointment, immigrants' photos, fingerprints and signatures will be taken with high tech equipment.

Immigration officials will archive the fingerprints and other information to check the applicant's identity against FBI databases and to do other background checks. The citizenship bureau said the replacement or renewed green cards and work permits will have special security features.

In the fall, the bureau plans to accept electronically filed applications for other benefits, including for temporary protected status, petitions for nonimmigrant workers and for nonimmigrant status changes or extensions.

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