USCIS: An Overview

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What Is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes all visa and citizenship applications, decides whether or not to grant them, making adjudicates decisions in regards to various claims and petitions. A worldwide network, USCIS incorporates 250 offices employing 18,000 government workers and contractors.

Historical Context: Why Was USCIS Created?

Prior to its dismantling on March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had come under intense criticism because of its perceived failings relating to September 11, 2001. The INS was held responsible for the unduly slow processing of the terrorists’ change of visa status applications. In addition to allowing the terrorists to stay longer in the U.S., INS’ slowness and incompetence resulted in the embarrassing mailing out of the terrorists’ student visas long after the attacks of 9/11. Thus, a stated goal of the USCIS is to promote national security by speeding up the immigration and naturalization process. 

What New Services Are Offered by USCIS?

Unlike the INS, which was notorious for its lack of user interface and its cumbersome bureaucratic elements, USCIS seeks to implement a functional customer service department. Also, to help develop a positive image and an amicable relationship with petitioners, USCIS introduced an online appointment scheduling service, INFOPASS. 

How Does USCIS Influence National Security?

USCIS also shows improvement over INS terms of its division of responsibilities. Previously, the INS was responsible for document processing as well as enforcement. The Bush Administration delegated all immigration enforcement authority to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border protection (CBP). These two sub-agencies, together with USCIS, constitute the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While acting under the enforcement-oriented Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS should be able to promote rather than hinder national security. 

How Is USCIS Funded?

Nearly all of the funding for USCIS comes from the payment of fees by the immigration petitioners. Therefore, USCIS is no longer a drain on the taxpayers. 

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offers an interactive website where immigrants can start the petition process, research all laws relevant to their case, check on the status of pending cases, and update their personal information. 

Seeking Help: How May an Attorney Help?

Whether you’re filing naturalization or visa petition, seeking asylum, or seeking refugee or permanent resident status, a qualified immigration attorney may help you through the USCIS adjudication process. An attorney experienced with immigration laws can help you fully understand the benefits to which you may be entitled.

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Last Modified: 04-16-2014 02:35 PM PDT

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