Although many people still think of it as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, the agency that is charged with overseeing immigration services for the federal government has been known as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since 2003.
The Homeland Security Act created USCIS and split INS into three separate entities under the Department of Homeland Security. The Act also formed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
USCIS’s primary mission is to focus on the nation’s security by overseeing the administration of immigrant and nonimmigrant visitor applications and benefits. ICE and CBP are charged with immigration enforcement and security of the United State’s borders.
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More than 19,000 employees carry out the mission of USCIS at over 220 offices throughout the world. Headquartered in Washington, D.C. the agency has a budget of $3.2 billion and processes close to 1 million immigration applications each year.
Although there are several ways a person can immigrate to the United States, USCIS deals primarily with two categories of immigration; family based and employer based.
Family based immigration means that a lawful permanent resident in the United States or U.S. citizen will seek to sponsor a relative so that they can become a resident of the country as well. Employer based immigration means that an immigrant is seeking to enter the United States after being sponsored by a U.S. employer, or seeking to work in the United States due to special job skills.
USCIS also deals with other kinds of immigrant categories as well. Some of those include: refugee and asylum seekers, foreign investors who want to invest in the United States in exchange for lawful resident status, Green Card Lottery winners, diplomats seeking citizenship, and a variety of smaller specialized situations such as those involving humanitarian aid.
After being granted a Green Card, which is the only way a foreign national can become a United States citizen, USCIS is the agency that assists lawful permanent residents complete the naturalization process and become a full United States citizen. This multi-year process involves an extensive screening process that includes checking documentation, biometric and screening interviews, and doing research to ensure new citizens are of good moral and financial character.