We have previously written about the abundance of acronyms that are used by US immigration attorneys. At our office, some of those acronyms we use most frequently include: USCIS, CBP, DHS, DOS, and DOL, all of which happen to be five of the most important federal agencies involved in US immigration. (Immigration & Customs Enforcement—i.e., ICE—also has a large impact on some US immigrants, but our firm does not often work with this agency.) In this post, we provide a brief introduction to five of the federal agencies we work with most often, explain their areas of oversight, and how they are related.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states its aim is “to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.” Specifically, the agency has five homeland security goals:
As part of the DHS, there are quite a few component agencies responsible for working toward these goals, including agencies that work on such issues as election security infrastructure and nuclear threat preparedness, but the ones we encounter most in our work are CBP and USCIS (discussed in further detail below).
US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)
US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) “administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.” This is the agency we deal with the most, as all petition-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applications are processed through USCIS. The agency has several service centers across the US that process these petitions (such as the Vermont Service Center), as well as field offices that handle scheduled interviews on non-asylum related applications. USCIS also offers services to foreign nationals, including an online case-status checker, online forms, and a virtual assistant, Emma, among others.
Department of State (DOS)
The Department of State (DOS)’s mission is “to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.” This agency plays a significant role in US immigration since DOS is in charge of all the US Embassies and Consulates around the world, which are responsible for the issuance of US visas. (In most cases, foreign nationals must obtain a visa stamp in their passport after receiving an I-797 approval notice from USICS.) The agency is also responsible for releasing the monthly Visa Bulletin, which lists the availability of immigrant visa numbers, allowing foreign nationals to know when they are eligible for adjustment of status or consular processing. The DOS also administers the annual Diversity Visa Lottery, which makes available 50,000 immigrant visas for individuals from countries with historically low immigration rates. DOS also issues guidance regarding certain immigration topics as they did, for example, after President Trump’s “travel ban.”
Customs & Border Protection (CBP)
US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) safeguards “America's borders thereby protecting the public from dangerous people and materials while enhancing the Nation's global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel.” Foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States are inspected at US Ports of Entry by CBP officers who determine their admissibility. If deemed admissible, CBP issues electronic I-94s to those foreign nationals, evidencing their legal status in their category of admission. CBP is also responsible for seizing drugs being brought to the US, preventing harmful insects and pests from destroying our agriculture, and stopping counterfeit items from being imported to the country, among other functions.
Department of Labor (DOL)
The Department of Labor (DOL)’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” The DOL plays an important part in the issuance of certain nonimmigrant visas and employment-based immigrant visas. Specifically, as part of the H-1B and E-3 visa petition processes, US petitioner employers must attest to the DOL that they will pay wages to the nonimmigrant workers that are at least equal to the actual wage paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment—whichever is greater. Similarly, for most EB-2 and EB-3 immigrant visa petitions, US petitioner employers must conduct a review of the labor market (known as the PERM) in order to obtain a certification from the DOL that no US workers exist to fill the job offered to the foreign national.
We hope this post clarifies what each of these agencies do and why they may be involved in a foreign national’s immigration process. But remember, they are just five of the numerous federal agencies involved in US immigration law. Others include Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the DHS; the Social Security Administration (SSA); the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); as well as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), both part of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Hooray, even more acronyms.