One of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As a part of the Department of Justice, formerly carried out by United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), USCIS performs many administrative functions. Promoting national security, to eliminate immigration case backlogs and to improve customer services are the avowed priorities of the USCIS. USCIS is headed by a director who reports directly to the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security.
Previously it was named shortly as U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), then became USCIS. Alejandro Mayorkas was sworn in as USCIS Director on August 12, 2009 after he was nominated by President Obama on April 24 and unanimously confirmed on August 7 by the U.S. Senate.
Functions and History of USCIS
Processing immigrant visa petitions, asylum and refugee applications, naturalization petitions, as well as making adjudicative decisions performed at the service centers come under the in-charge of USCIS. In short managing all other immigration benefit functions but not immigration enforcement which was performed by the former INS.
Following are other responsibilities:
• Immigration services and benefits administration
• Asylum claims adjudicating
• Employment authorization documents (EAD) issue
• Petitions for non-immigrant temporary workers like H-1B, O-1 etc.)
• Lawful permanent resident status granting
• United States citizenship granting
The jurisdiction of the Department of Justice includes the Executive Office for Immigration Review which includes the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals, and which reviews decisions made by USCIS. The bureau consists of around 15,000 federal government employees and contractors who work in 250 local and field offices in the U.S. and all around the world.
Similar functions as under INS are performed but applications are processed efficiently and effectively. Reducing the applicant backlog and 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 are part of improving efforts of USCIS.
After the scandals especially that arose after September 11, 2001 the INS was broadly seen as ineffective. So on November 25, 2002, President Georg W Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 into law. Thus law transferred the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) functions to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
As a result the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took care of immigration enforcement functions while the immigration service functions were placed into the separate USCIS. The INS ceased to exist on March 1, 2003 and services provided by that organization transitioned into USCIS.
USCIS is funded almost entirely by INS forms user fees unlike most other federal agencies. Direct congressional appropriations made about 1% of the USCIS budget and about 99% of the budget was funded through fees under President George W Bush’s FY2008 budget request.
USCIS Immigration Forms
All forms and processing materials related to immigration and naturalization are dealt with by USCIS. Two kinds of forms, those relating to immigration and those related to naturalization are handled by them. A specific name and an alphanumeric sequence consisting of one letter, followed by two or three digits are designated to forms. 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).
Online appointment scheduling service known as INFOPASS is run by USCIS. People with questions about immigration come into their local office and speak directly with a government employee about their case and so on under this system. This is an important way in which USCIS serves the public.