An Introduction to the US Citizenship Immigration Service

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is the government agency involved with the immigration process. If you are filing US immigration documents, applying for a US visa or US citizenship, or want to apply for green card renewal, then you will need to use USCIS forms and apply with the USCIS. USCIS officials will be the ones to review and decide on your application.

The USCIS is in fact a part of the DHS (United States Department of Homeland Security) and used to be known as INS (United States Immigration and Naturalization Service). For a brief time, the USCIS was even known as the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). The INS was a bureau of the Department of Justice. The INS became a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), when the Homeland Security Act of 2002 became law. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, there was much criticism of the INS and its inefficiency, so the measure was meant to provide a new and improved US immigration system. Enforcement of immigration became the responsibility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and by 2003, the USCIS was established to replace the INS. The USCIS was to take care of most immigration matters while the ICE handled enforcement issues.

According to the official US Citizenship and Immigration Service website,, the USCIS exists in order to manage the US immigration system by “providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.” As of July 2010, USCIS maintains 250 offices internationally and domestically, staffed by 18, 000 employees. The current USCIS director is Alejandro Mayorkas. He and other directors of the USCIS report to the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service is responsible for processing visa applications, US citizenship applications, refugee applications, asylum applications, and other US immigration applications and petitions. As well, the USCIS administers US immigration benefits and services and issues employment authorization and permanent residency for the US.

One of the reasons the USCIS was created was to expedite and improve the US immigration process. For this reason, the USCIS in recent years has focused on making the applications process easier, faster, and simpler. To this end, the USCIS has added online service, call center services, the National Customer Service Center (NCSC), and other means of communication to help immigration applicants. The USCIS provides many of its services in English and Spanish. As well, the agency produces a number of materials in multiple languages.