Immigration FAQs

What do USCIS, CBP, ICE and DOS mean?

USCIS stands for “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services”. It is the agency in charge of granting visas and other immigration benefits. CBP stands for “Customs and Border Protection.” This agency was created to control the flux of persons and goods through U.S. borders. ICE stands for “Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” It is the agency in charge of enforcing immigration laws though various means, including removal operations. All three agencies are parts of the Department of Homeland Security.

DOS stands for “Department of State.” Through its U.S. consulates all over the world and the National Visa Center, the Department of State participates in processing immigrant and non-immigrant petitions.

What is a Visa?

A visa is a stamp placed in your passport by a U.S. consulate or embassy outside of the U.S. All visas serve as U.S. entry documents. They can be designated as either nonimmigrant or immigrant. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S., but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Immigrant visas are for those who intend to live permanently in the U.S.

Except for a few types of visa renewals, visas cannot be issued inside American borders. Thus, you must be outside the U.S. to obtain a visa.

What is the difference between a Visa and Status?

Status is the name for the privileges given when you receive immigration benefits, either as a nonimmigrant or permanent resident (i.e., a “green card” holder). Visas and green cards are things you can see and touch. A status is not.

While you must be given a status with each visa, the reverse is not true. If you want nonimmigrant privileges, you can get a nonimmigrant status by applying in the U.S. and keep that status for as long as you remain on U.S. soil. You will not, however, get a visa at the same time because visas can be issued only outside the U.S. This is important for nonimmigrants, because they can travel in and out of the U.S. on visas, but not with a status. If you have nonimmigrant status, but not a corresponding visa, you will lose it as soon as you leave the U.S. You can regain your privileges only by getting a proper nonimmigrant visa from a U.S. consulate or embassy before returning.

What is an I-94 Card?

An I-94 card is a small green or white card given to all nonimmigrants entering the U.S. It serves as evidence that you have entered the country legally. On this card, an immigration inspector stamps either a specific date or “D/S” (duration of status). This card, rather than the visa in your passport, governs the authorized period of stay in the U.S. for any given visit.

If you are admitted to the U.S. until a specific date, and overstay the I-94 card end date without filing a timely application for extension of stay or change of status, you will automatically void or cancel all the visas you may have in your passport. In addition, you may be required to obtain future U.S. visas only in your home country.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

Nationals from certain countries may enter the U.S. without a visa as tourists for 90 days or less. This is permitted under what is known as the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). As of October 26, 2005, all participating countries are required by U.S. law to ensure that their passports are machine-readable with biometric information on an electronic chip, and/or digital photos. For countries not able to meet the new passport deadline, people traveling to the U.S. will need to apply for a visa. For certain other travel-without-Visa situations, click here.

VWP nationals may enter the U.S. under the same rules as the B-1/B-2 classifications, for up to 90 days. VWP entrants are not eligible for change of status, extension of status, or adjustment of status (unless it is on the basis of an immediate relative petition). In an emergency, it may be possible for VWP entrants to obtain an additional period of 30 days to depart the U.S., after prior approval from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).

What are my rights if I’ve been stopped by government officials?

If you have been stopped by the police, the FBI, or any of the Department of Homeland Security Agencies (USCIS, CBP, or ICE) please click here for important information from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ACLU also has handy wallet-sized reference cards available to help with these situations, and you can read or print your own brochure in several languages from the links below.

English | Spanish | Arabic | Urdu | Hindi | Punjabi | Farsi | Somali

I just moved-do I need to notify USCIS?

In a recent major policy change, anyone living in the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen must report every change of address to USCIS within 10 days of the move on Form AR-11.

For proof of due diligence, it is strongly recommended that the form be sent using Certified Mail with Return Receipt cards. Please note that if you have a case pending with USCIS, the Form AR-11 does not also change your address for your case. You should contact your legal counsel and notify the service center handling your case separately.

Official instructions regarding change of address and form AR-11, as well as online change of address, can be found here.