US Immigration: Government Agencies

Learn more about the agencies responsible for immigration and immigration policy in the US, from application processing to border security.

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US Immigration Government Agencies

A country made up of immigrants, the United States has attracted newcomers through its offering of vast opportunity in many forms. Whether individuals are drawn to the US by economic opportunity or by family members who have already migrated, immigrants are required to meet certain eligibility requirements and complete specific applications before being able to move permanently. The following government agencies play a key role in the immigration process, from application processing, to ensuring the safety of the US borders.

US Department of Homeland Security

The major federal agencies relating to immigration fall under the larger US Department of Homeland Security. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and US Border Protection (US CBP) in particular play important roles in the immigration process. Whether you are applying to immigrate through family or employment-based preferences, or seeking to come to the US temporarily, some of these agencies will likely be involved.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS has 223 offices across the world, and its mission is to provide accurate information to customers, grant immigration and citizenship benefits, promote awareness and understanding of US citizenship, and “ensuring the integrity of [the American] immigration system” (USCIS.gov). USCIS “oversees lawful immigration to the US,” receiving and processing applications for permanent residence/green cards and citizenship/naturalization. USCIS.gov provides information on immigration policy and news, visa eligibility, along with all forms necessary to begin the immigration process. They carry out interviews and provide tools that allow prospective immigrants to check their status, as well as other helpful resources.

USCIS has field offices throughout the United States that handle scheduled interviews for non-asylum cases, as well as international offices that provide services to US citizens, permanent residents, and certain other individuals who require assistance outside of the US. USCIS also has offices that deal with particular matters, including the Administrative Appeals Office, Application Support Centers, Asylum Offices, National Records Center, and Service Centers and our National Benefit Center.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE is responsible for “enforc[ing] federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety” (ice.gov). They have over 400 offices throughout the US and 46 foreign countries. ICE is split into three primary operational branches, each handling different immigration and international related activities: Enforcement and Removal Options (ERO), Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA). These are all supported by the fourth directorate, Management and Administration. The mission of ICE is to enforce immigration laws in the US, to investigate the illegal movement of goods and people, and to prevent terrorism.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations, responsible for “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the US while facilitating lawful international travel and trade” (cbp.gov). According to US Customs and Border Protection, each day they “welcome nearly one million visitors to the US, screen more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrest more than 1,100 individuals, and seize nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs.” CBP officers are stationed at and between US ports of entry in order to stop those deemed inadmissible as well as the passage of illegal goods. In this way they work to secure the border. US CBP became the nation’s first “comprehensive border security agency” in 2003. Prior to that year, this facilitation of international trade and travel was carried out by multiple different groups.

CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations, responsible for “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the US while facilitating lawful international travel and trade” (cbp.gov). According to US Customs and Border Protection, each day they “welcome nearly one million visitors to the US, screen more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrest more than 1,100 individuals, and seize nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs.” CBP officers are stationed at and between US ports of entry in order to stop those deemed inadmissible as well as the passage of illegal goods. In this way they work to secure the border. US CBP became the nation’s first “comprehensive border security agency” in 2003. Prior to that year, this facilitation of international trade and travel was carried out by multiple different groups.

The United States Embassies fall under the Department of State, which is the government agency responsible for issuing visas. There are currently 294 physical US embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions across the globe. If you are planning to immigrate or travel to the US, you may be required to contact your country’s local or regional embassy.

Other Immigration Related Resources and Organizations

There are a number of non-governmental immigration organizations in the US that work to provide immigration information, along with resources to help newcomers settle. Learn more about these organizations, and what they do!