The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes all visa and citizenship applications, decides whether or not to grant them, and adjudicates decisions in regards to various claims and petitions.

It is also responsible for safeguarding national security, and for working to eliminate immigration backlogs. A worldwide network, USCIS incorporates 250 offices employing 18,000 government workers and contractors.

A Closer Look at the Functions of USCIS

What, more specifically, are the functions of USCIS? Here is a list of what the USCIS does:

  • 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.

USCIS is also tasked with performing these functions with consistent improvements in efficiency.

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 funded, for the most part, by U.S. 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.

What Kind of Information Does the USCIS Need for Petitions?

The USCIS may need different information based on the different types of immigration petitions. Two primary types of petitions are for legal permanent resident status, and for asylum. Many different forms will need to be submitted along with necessary evidence and fees.

  • Legal Permanent Resident: The granting of this status, also known as the “green card,” must first be applied for with the following information: 
    • Two passport style photos;
    • A copy of your government-issued identity document with photograph;
    • A copy of your birth certificate;
    • Inspection and admission, or inspection and parole documentation;
    • Documentation of immigrant category;
    • Marriage certificate (if applicable);
    • Evidence of maintaining continuous lawful status since arriving in the U.S.;
    • Affidavit and evidence of financial support or job offer;
    • Medical exam report and vaccination record;
    • Certified police and court 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).
  • Asylum Petitioner: An asylum seeker may petition for U.S. resident status by submitting the proper forms and 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, with specific facts.

For an asylum petitioner, it’s important that you explain why you qualify for an asylum. Certain conditions, situations, and statuses qualify the petitioner for asylum. Make sure you check with the USCIS website and find out what is required for asylum.

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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 and local 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. There are many forms that must be filled out, fees must be paid, and much evidence to be gathered in order to file for a change of residency status. There may be deadlines as well. This can be overwhelming, and an immigration attorney can help.