US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States of America. USCIS GOV is the official website.

USCIS.CA (this site) is a private website and NOT a government agency. USCIS.COM and USCIS.ORG are parked ad websites.

They establish immigration services, policies and priorities to preserve America's legacy as a nation of immigrants while ensuring that no one is admitted who is a threat to public saftey.

Included among the immigration benefits the USCIS oversees are: citizenship, lawful permanent residency, family- and employment-related immigration, employment authorization, inter-country adoptions, asylum and refugee status, replacement immigration documents, and foreign student authorization.

In addition to administering the programs that provide these benefits, we also work to answer questions and find solutions to problems brought to our attention by the public, special interest groups, other government agencies, and the U.S. Congress regarding immigration concerns.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS GOV). The investigative and enforcement functions (including investigations, deportation, and intelligence) were combined with U.S. Customs investigators, the Federal Protective Service, and the Federal Air Marshal Service, to create U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The border functions of the INS, which included the Border Patrol along with INS Inspectors, were combined with U.S. Customs Inspectors into the newly created U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

What are the eligibility requirements for getting a Permanent Resident Card?

Lawful permanent residence is based upon various immigrant classifications.

What is an Immigrant Visa Number?

An immigrant is someone who is not a U.S. citizen but has been authorized to permanently live and work in the United States.

If you want to become a US immigrant, you must go through a three-step process. First, the USCIS must approve an immigrant petition for you, which is usually filed by an employer or a relative for you.Second, a visa number, through the State Department must be immediately available to you, even if you are already in the United States. If you receive an immigrant visa number, it means that an immigrant visa has been assigned to you.

Third, if you are already in the United States, you may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available for you. (If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to your local U.S. consulate to complete your processing.)

U.S. law limits the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available every year. This means that even if the USCIS GOV approves an immigrant visa petition for you, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In some cases, several years could pass between the time USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. In addition, U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country. This means you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas.


What Does the Law Say?

The Immigration and Nationality Act is a law that governs the admission of all immigrants to the United States. For the part of the law concerning immigrant visa numbers, please see INA 201, INA 202, and INA 203.

Who is Eligible?

People who want to become immigrants are divided into categories based on a preference system. The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the application filed for them is approved by the USCIS. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for a visa to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.

  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, and the unmarried sons and daughters (regardless of age) of lawful permanent residents and their children.

  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children.

  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children.

All people who want to become immigrants based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Priority Workers including aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers.

  • Second Preference: Members of Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability.
  • Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals and other qualified workers.

  • Fourth: Certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations.

  • Fifth: Employment Creation Immigrants.

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The immigration debate is once again dominating the news as members of Congress focus on the long-neglected problem of fixing our country's failed immigration laws.

American lawmakers are now at a critical point. Enforcement-only legislation won't work and hasn't worked. Previous efforts to solve this problem by focusing exclusively on border security have failed miserably.

In fact, during the past decade, the U.S. tripled the number of agents on the border, quintupled the budget, toughened our enforcement strategies and heavily fortified urban entry points.

Yet during the same time period, America saw record levels of illegal immigration, porous borders, a cottage industry created for smugglers and document forgers and tragic deaths in our deserts.

We must learn from our mistakes, not repeat them. What we need is comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform that deals smartly with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S.

Most are relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful residents or workers holding jobs that Americans do not want. People already here who are not a threat to our security, but who work hard, pay taxes and are learning English, should be allowed to earn permanent residence.

The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and others, includes the necessary components of reform and provides the basis for fixing our system. It combines toughness with fairness, creating a new temporary visa program that provides a legal flow of workers.

This "break-the-mold" worker program would significantly diminish illegal immigration by creating a legal avenue for people to enter the U.S., something that barely exists today. Current immigration laws supply just 5,000 annual permanent visas and 66,000 temporary visas for essential lesser-skilled workers, in no way meeting the annual demand for 500,000 such workers.

In addition, reducing the decade-long backlog in family-based immigration would reunite families faster and make it unlikely that people would cross the border illegally in order to be with their loved ones.

Congress and the administration must act wisely as they weigh their choices. We've had enough "quick fixes" that have made an already unworkable system worse. We cannot control our borders -; or enhance our national security -; until we enact comprehensive immigration reform.

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