United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a bureau in the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It performs many of the functions formerly carried out by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which was part of the Department of Justice. The stated priorities of the USCIS are to promote national security, to eliminate immigration case backlogs, and to improve customer services. The Bureau is headed by a director who reports directly to the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security. USCIS was formerly and briefly named the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), before becoming USCIS.


USCIS is charged with 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) performed by the former INS. Other responsibilities include:

  • Administration of immigration services and benefits
  • Adjudicating asylum claims
  • Issuing employment authorization documents (EAD)
  • Adjudicating petitions for nonimmigrant temporary workers (H-1B, O-1, etc.)
  • Granting lawful permanent resident status
  • Granting citizenship

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which includes the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals, and which reviews decisions made by USCIS, remains under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. The bureau consists of approximately 15,000 federal government employees and contractors who work in 250 local and field offices in the U.S. and all around the world.

While core immigration benefits functions remain the same as under the INS, a new goal is to process applications efficiently and effectively. Improvement efforts have included attempts to reduce the applicant backlog, as well as providing customer service through different channels, including the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) with information in English and Spanish, Application Support Centers (ASCs), the Internet and other channels.

USCIS focuses on two key points on the immigrant's journey towards civic integration: when they first become permanent residents and when they are ready to begin the formal naturalization process. A lawful permanent resident is eligible to become a citizen of the United States after holding the Permanent Resident Card for at least five continuous years, with no trips out of the United States that last for 180 days or more. If, however, the lawful permanent resident marries a U.S. citizen, eligibility for U.S. citizenship is shortened to three years so long as the resident has been living with the spouse continuously for at least three years and the spouse has been a citizen for at least three years.


The INS was widely seen as ineffective, particularly after scandals that arose after September 11, 2001. On November 25, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 into law. This law transferred the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) functions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Immigration enforcement functions were placed within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the immigration service functions were placed into the separate USCIS. On March 1, 2003, the INS ceased to exist and services provided by that organization transitioned into USCIS. Eduardo Aguirre was appointed the first USCIS Director by President Bush. In December 2005, Emilio T. Gonzalez, Ph. D., was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Director of USCIS, and he held this position until April 2008.

Official Web Site

USCIS's official website was recently redesigned in October 2006. Its redesign made the web page interface more similar to the Department of Homeland Security's official website Also, USCIS runs an online appointment scheduling service known as INFOPASS. This system allows people with questions about immigration to come into their local USCIS office and speak directly with a government employee about their case and so on. This is an important way in which USCIS serves the public. Also, appointments are generally required by most USCIS offices if members of the public want their questions answered.


Unlike most other federal agencies, USCIS is funded almost entirely by user fees. Under the President's FY2008 budget request, direct congressional appropriations will make about 1% of the USCIS budget and about 99% of the budget will be funded through fees. The total USCIS FY2008 budget is projected to be $2.6 billion.


USCIS handles all forms and processing materials related to immigration and naturalization. This is evident from USCIS's predecessor, the INS, (Immigration and Naturalization Service) which is defunct as of May 9, 2003.

USCIS currently handles two kinds of forms: those relating to immigration, and those related to naturalization. Forms are designated by a specific name, and an alphanumeric sequence consisting of one letter, followed by two or three digits. Forms related to immigration are designated with an I (for example, I-551, Permanent Resident Card) and forms related to naturalization are designated by an N (for example, N-400, Application for Naturalization).

For a list of all public use forms USCIS handles see http://www.uscis.gov/forms

Contact USCIS

All immigrants who hold a valid receipt number given to them on their I-797 Notice of Action can call USCIS' National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283 for additional information on their case status. A receipt number is not required for general inquiries. USCIS call centers are open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Customer Service telephone number is operated not by USCIS immigration officers but by civilian contractors with limited knowledge of the U.S. immigration laws and with access to a very limited amount of information regarding pending cases. They can, however, request expedited processing on a pending application and send it to the office processing your case. This process occurs instantly over the phone. They can also perform "COA" (Changes of Address), "ONPT" (Outside Normal Processing Time), "ND" (Non-Delivery) ex. Permanent Resident Cards, Appointment Notices, and a variety of other service requests. There is an affective way to bypass the computerize options by pressing *1 on you phone after you choose English or Spanish this will transfer you to a USCIS representative instantly.

If people do have questions about complex immigration policies and procedures, they are advised to set up an appointment at their local District Office through the INFOPASS Appointment system.

Applicants can open an account with the online status checking system of USCIS. It is free of charge and can be configured to send an email alert when there is an update on a particular immigration case and displays the most recent action on the case.

A summary of how to contact the USCIS can be found in the external links section below.



External links

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