The 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 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.
The 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
- 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 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.
The 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.
Note: A lawful permanent resident is eligible to become a citizen of the United States after holding a Permanent Resident Card (Green 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.