The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) coordinates all immigration, naturalization and citizenship programs. It is a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Created in 2002, the USCIS operates through a network of local offices, application and support centers, field offices, the Internet and customer service phone lines. USCIS processes all immigrant and nonimmigrant benefits provided to U.S. visitors, including family-based petitions, employment-based petitions, asylum and refugee processing, and naturalization (approving citizenship for eligible persons who want to become U.S. citizens). The National Customer Service Call Center is available at 800.375.5283, or for the hearing impaired at 800.767.1833. The USCIS allows you to download forms and check your application status online (for cases pending adjudication at Service Centers).

Aliens can come to the United States in one of two ways: as nonimmigrants or immigrants. Nonimmigrants are tourists or persons conducting business. They enter the country with no intention of staying here permanently. Immigrants on the other hand, enter the country with the intent to stay permanently. Numerous types of visas exist for both categories, and a complex system of quotas determines (for most) who can enter the country and when. A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the United States port-of-entry and request permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, or U.S. Immigration Inspector to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States.

People can acquire U.S. citizenship in one of two ways: by birth or by naturalization.

For all immigration, naturalization and citizenship questions, your first call should be to your local or regional USCIS office. It can help you find the answer to your question or mail you the forms you may need. In some instances, you may need to make an appointment to talk with someone at your local office instead of just being a walk-in. The USCIS Web site maintains information on all immigration, naturalization and citizenship issues and tells you which forms can be downloaded and even filed online.

What is the USCIS National Service Center?

The USCIS Service Centers handle the mail, filing, data entry and adjudication of most applications for immigration services and benefits. Service Centers are not staffed to handle walk-in applications or answer questions. Three of the four Service Centers have special post office boxes to receive applications mailed to the Center by applicants or petitioners residing in its service area. The applications and petitions processed by each Service Center are listed on its home page, as are the special Post Office box numbers and ZIP codes by form type for the Service Centers using them. Prospective applicants should look at this list of forms to confirm that they are accepted by the Service Center in their area. The National Customer Service Call Center is available at 800.375.5283, or for the hearing impaired at 800.767.1833. You can also find information about the Service Centers here.

Forms that must be mailed to a Service Center include:

  • I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document
  • I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé
  • I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
  • I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (some)
  • I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status

This is only a partial list. Always check with your regional Service Center for a complete list of forms accepted. The four Service Centers are located in California, Texas, Nebraska and Vermont. Each Service Center has different post office box numbers and ZIP codes for various applications.

My family member who lives overseas does not speak English. Do her documents have to be filed in English?

You must submit a translation with all documents that are in a language other than English. The translator must certify that the translation is complete and accurate and that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.

What do I need to know about local field offices?

Field offices include district offices and suboffices. There are 33 district offices in the United States. Each has a specified service area that may include part of a state or territory, an entire state or several states. The district offices are responsible for enforcing immigration laws in their jurisdiction. Certain applications are filed directly with district offices, certain interviews are conducted at these offices, and immigration staff is available to answer questions and provide forms. Some district offices also have suboffices that serve a portion of the district's jurisdiction and are determined, in part, to increase convenience to customers. Additionally, smaller satellite offices offer limited services to the public. Information on these offices may be found on the District home pages. Each district and suboffice is listed on the USCIS Web site with address, phone numbers and filing procedures for that office.

What is the National Benefits Center (NBC)?

In addition to filing Forms with Service Centers or district or suboffices, the National Benefits Center (NBC) processes some immigration benefit applications and petitions. The NBC serves as a centralized processing center for field offices by completing pre-interview processing of forms generally requiring an interview. Refer to the NBC Web page to confirm those applications that are accepted by the NBC.

Where can I get help with immigration issues?

If advice is needed, contact your regional USCIS district office for a list of community-based, nonprofit organizations that may be able to assist you in applying for an immigration benefit. For more information on contacting USCIS offices.

How can I find out the status of my petition?

You should contact the USCIS office that received your application. Be prepared to provide the USCIS staff with specific information about your application.

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