USCIS: An Overview

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 What is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a sub-agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security which administers the immigration and naturalization in the United States. USCIS processes all citizenship and visa applications.

This includes deciding whether or not to grant citizenship and visa applications. The USCIS also adjudicates decisions regarding various petitions and claims.

The USCIS is also responsible for safeguarding national security and for working to eliminate backlogs in immigration. USCIS is a worldwide network with 250 offices which employ 18,000 government workers and contractors.

What are the Functions of USCIS?

The USCIS has many functions. The USCIS is responsible for many things, including:

  • Processing immigrant visa petitions;
  • Processing naturalization petitions;
  • Processing asylum applications;
  • Processing refugee applications;
  • Administering immigration services and benefits;
  • Issuing employment authorization documents;
  • Granting lawful permanent resident status;
  • Granting U.S. citizen status; and
  • Adjudicating petitions for non-immigrant temporary workers.

The USCIS is also tasked with performing all of these functions with consistent improvements in the efficiency of these tasks.

Why was USCIS Created? A Historical Context

Prior to the creation of the USCIS, the United States was served by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS was dismantled on March 1, 2003.

This is because the INS had come under intense criticism due to its perceived failings related to September 11, 2001. The INS was the agency held responsible for the unnecessarily slow processing of the responsible terrorists’ change of visa status applications.

In addition to permitting the terrorists to remain longer inside the United States, the incompetence and slowness of the INS resulted in an embarrassing mailing out of the terrorists’ student visas long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Therefore, one stated goal of the USCIS is to promote national security by speeding up the naturalization and immigration processes.

What New Services are Offered by USCIS?

In contrast to the INS, which was known for its lack of user interface as well as its cumbersome bureaucratic elements, one of the goals of the USCIS is to implement and operate a functional customer service department.

In addition, in order to assist with developing a positive image as well as an amicable relationship with petitioners, the USCIS introduced an online appointment scheduling service, known as INFOPASS.

How Does USCIS Influence National Security?

In addition to the other improvements, the USCIS also improves the INS in terms of the division of responsibilities. The INS was previously responsible for document processing and enforcement. However, during the Bush Administration, all immigration enforcement authority was delegated to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is made up of the following sub-agencies:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE);
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and
  • The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

While operating under the more enforcement oriented DHS, the USCIS should be able to promote instead of hinder national security in the United States.

How is USCIS Funded?

The majority of the funding for the USCIS comes from the fees which are paid by the immigration petitioners. Because of this, the USCIS is no longer funded, for the most part, by United States taxpayers.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has an interactive website where immigrants are able to do things such as:

  • Begin the petition process;
  • Research all of the laws which are relevant to their case or situation;
  • Check on the status of their pending case; and
  • Update their personal information.

What Kind of Information Does the USCIS Need for Petitions?

The USCIS may require various types of information based on which type of immigration petition an individual is filing. There are two primary types of petitions, one for legal permanent resident status, and one for asylum.

There are numerous different forms which will be required to be submitted along with the necessary evidence and required fees. For a Legal Permanent Resident application, or green card application, an applicant must supply the following formation along with their application:

  • Two passport style photos;
  • A copy of their government-issued identity document with photograph;
  • A copy of their birth certificate;
  • Inspection and parole, or inspection and admission documentation;
  • Documentation of immigrant category;
  • Marriage certificate, if applicable;
  • Evidence of maintaining continuous lawful status since arrival in the United States;
  • Affidavit as well as evidence of a job offer or financial support;
  • Medical exam report and vaccination record;
  • Certified court and police records of all criminal charges, arrests, or convictions regardless of final disposition, if applicable;
  • Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, if applicable;
  • Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal, if applicable;
  • Documentation regarding J-1 and J-2 exchange visitor status, if applicable; and
  • Waiver of Diplomatic Rights, Privileges, Exemptions, and Immunities, if applicable.

For an asylum petition, the asylum seeker can petition for United States resident status by submitting the required forms along with the following evidence:

  • Two passport style photos;
  • Birth certificate, if available;
  • Medical exam report and vaccination record;
  • Certified copies of arrests/court records, if applicable;
  • Passport or other identification document; and
  • Explanation of condition of country of origin, including specific facts.

For the asylum petition, it is essential for the petitioner to explain why they qualify for asylum. There are certain conditions, situations, and statuses which qualify a petitioner for asylum.

It is important for a petitioner or potential petitioner to check the USCIS website to determine what is required for asylum. For more information related to these issues, see the following LegalMatch articles:

Where Should I Obtain Advice and Guidance on Immigration Matters?

The immigration process has many requirements and may be overwhelming. If an individual needs assistance the USCIS may be able to provide it. However, the information and personal advice offered by the USCIS may be limited.

In these instances, the individual may be advised to seek advice from an immigration agency which specializes in guiding applicants through the process. Even if an individual does seek assistance through an agency, they may still require legal representation from an immigration attorney.

This applies especially in cases where the individual is facing other legal issues associated with immigration, such as criminal charges or employment matters. In many cases, it is best to consult with an attorney at the start of the process because they are able to provide specific and individualized legal advice throughout the process.

Seeking Help: How May an Attorney Help?

An immigration attorney can provide assistance with many different types of immigration issues, including:

  • Filing a visa or naturalization petition;
  • Seeking asylum;
  • Seeking refugee status; and
  • Seeing permanent resident status.

Your attorney can assist you throughout the USCIS adjudication process. Your attorney can advise you regarding the benefits to which you may be entitled.

During any immigration process, there are numerous forms which must be completed, fees which must be paid, and substantial amounts of evidence which must be gathered, especially in changes of residency status cases. In addition to all of this, there are deadlines which must be met. All of this can be overwhelming for many individuals, and your attorney can help every step of the way.


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