Government Agencies handling your Immigration Applications
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE (DOS)
The DOS handles matter of foreign affairs, along with the U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, and its Kentucky Consular Center, by processing diversity lottery visas and coordinating USCIS petition approvals with the embassies and consulates.
If you are entering the U.S., you will be primarily dealing with a U.S. consulate—and if you are currently in the U.S., you may have to travel to a consulate to complete your application. Not all U.S. consulates provide visa-processing services. To find more information about the U.S. consulate nearest to your home, please visit www.usembassy.gov.
Note that you cannot normally apply for an immigrant visa (permanent residence) in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside your home country. You may be able to apply for non-immigrant visas (such as a tourist visa) in a third country, so long as you have never overstayed your permitted time in the U.S., even by one day.
NATIONAL VISA CENTER (NVC)
NVC is a private company under contract with the Department of State for the purpose of handling case files during certain intermediate parts of the green card application process. After USCIS approves a visa petition by a U.S.-based family member or a company, NVC is given the file and handles the case until it is time to forward the file to the appropriate U.S. consulate or USCIS district office.
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES (USCIS, FORMERLY CALLED INS)
USCIS is an agency which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS is charged with processing immigrant visa petitions, naturalization petitions, and asylum applications. Its stated priorities are to promote national security, eliminate immigration case backlogs, and to improve customer service.
An applicant can be living outside the United States, and have to go through USCIS, particularly if they are applying for a green card rather than a temporary visa. Most green card applications must be started by a U.S.-based family member or a company filing a visa petition with USCIS.
USCIS has various types of offices which handle immigration applications, including Service Centers and Lockboxes (large processing facilities that serve a wide region, which you cannot visit in person), District offices (which interact with the public by providing forms and information and holding interviews), Sub offices (like district offices, but smaller and with more limited services), Application Support Centers (where you go to have fingerprints taken and, in some cases, pick up forms or turn in applications), and Asylum offices (where interviews on applications for asylum are held).
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR (DOL)
DOL is part of the U.S. federal government. It is responsible for occupational safety, wage and hour standards, unemployment benefits, and much more. If your visa or green card application is based on a job with a U.S. employer, certain parts of the paperwork may have to be filed with and ruled on by the DOL. The DOL’s role is to make sure that hiring immigrant workers does not make it harder for U.S. workers to get a job and that foreign hires are being paid a fair wage.