USCIS Definition

USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS handles all forms and processing materials related to immigration and naturalization. The USCIS replaced the now defunct INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)

Currently, USCIS, handles immigration, and naturalization forms. All forms have a specific name and an alphanumeric sequences consisting of one letter, followed by two or three digits. Forms related to immigration are identified with an I (for example, I-90, Green Card Renewal or Replacement) and forms related to naturalization are designated by an N (for example, N-400 Citizenship Application).

USCIS is responsible for processing immigrant visa petitions, naturalization petitions, and asylum and refugee applications, as well as making adjudicative decisions performed at the service centers, and managing all other immigration benefits functions (i.e., not immigration enforcement) carried out by the former INS. Other responsibilities include:

  • Administration of immigration services and benefits
  • Adjudicating asylum claims
  • Issuing Employment Authorization Documents (EAD)
  • Granting employment authorization to eligible foreign nationals (H-1B, O-1, etc.)
  • Granting lawful permanent resident status
  • Granting United States citizenship
  • Maintaining Forms I-9
  • Administering the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program

USCIS consists of 19,000 federal employees and contractors working at 223 offices around the world.

Unlike most other federal agencies, USCIS is primarily a fee-based agency, more than 90% of USCIS operating costs are covered by fees paid for immigration services and applications.

USCIS History

After September 11, 2011, INS became the subject of various scandals and was perceived as widely ineffective. On November 25, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which transferred the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) functions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Immigration enforcement functions were placed within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The immigration service functions were placed with USCIS, formerly and briefly named the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

On March 1, 2003, the INS ceased to exist, and the remaining services provided by that organization transferred to USCIS.

USCIS primary goal is to process applications as efficiently and effectively as possible. Improvement efforts have included attempts to reduce the applicant backlog and to improve customer services. The enforcement of immigration laws remains under Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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