Immigration Government Agencies
In most immigration cases, the question of which agency to start with can be answered through the location of the individual needing assistance:
- If you are already inside the borders of the U.S. and are in need of help with an immigration issue (including applications for lawful permanent residence, change of immigrant status, and citizenship), you will most likely want to contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- If you are a foreign citizen abroad or overseas, and you need help with an immigration issue (such as an application for nonimmigrant visa for international travel, or refugee status), you will most likely want to contact a U.S. Department of State embassy or consulate near you.
Note: The government agency that many people most likely still associate with immigration -- the Immigration and Naturalization Service (or "INS") -- no longer exists. In its place, in 2003 a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was created called the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS). More on USCIS below.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Created in 2003, the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. USCIS is in charge of all immigration-related applications and authorizations for foreign individuals who are inside the borders of the U.S. When a foreign individual seeks entry into the United States, he or she is subject to the authority of the USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security -- including the power to authorize or deny admission into the U.S. -- even though the individual may have received a valid visa from a U.S. embassy or consular overseas.
USCIS processes all immigrant and non-immigrant benefits provided to visitors of the United States, including:
- Family-based petitions -- facilitating the process for close relatives to immigrate, gain permanent residency, work in the U.S., etc.;
- Employment-based petitions -- facilitating the process for current and prospective employees to immigrate or stay in the U.S. temporarily;
- Asylum and Refugee processing -- deciding asylum and the processing of refugees; and
- Naturalization -- approving citizenship of eligible persons who wish to become U.S. citizens.
Learn more: USCIS website
U.S. Department of State
Foreign citizens who wish to learn more about immigration to the U.S. should contact the U.S. Department of State Embassy, or Consulate in their country. Go here for a list of links to U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. Remember that, once an individual enters the U.S., he or she is subject to the authority of the USCIS, discussed above.
Learn more: U.S. Department of State website
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
A branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the single unified border and port of entry agency of the United States. The CBP joins together the Customs Inspector, the Immigration Inspector and the Agriculture Inspector at the nation's points of entry -- borders, airports, and seaports. The CBP seeks to facilitate the flow of legitimate trade and travel through points of entry into the U.S., while preventing terrorist and other criminal activity from entering the U.S.
Learn more: CBP website
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the law enforcement agency responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation's border, economic, transportation and infrastructure security. The ICE has authority over illegal immigrant detention and removal.
Learn more: ICE website