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Which Government Office Does What?

Visas
Visas, whether initial or renewal visas, cannot be issued inside the United States. All are issued by United States consulates located other countries. Some consulates are attached to the American embassy in that country, but many consulates are freestanding in other cities. Consulates and embassies are branches of the Department of State.

Applicants for “non-immigrant” visas (J, F, and most others) must present documentation that shows they have no intention of migrating permanently to the United States. Because every visa interview begins with the presumption that the applicant does, indeed, intend to become a U.S. resident, and because it can be difficult to prove otherwise, the refusal rate can be high.

Immigration
In spite of the fact that you probably hold an F or J “non-immigrant” visa, all “non-immigrant” matters are handled by “immigration” offices. The immigration office known for decades as “INS” was absorbed by the Department of Homeland Security as of March 1, 2003, and divided into several bureaus:

The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is in charge of all inspections as people and cargo come into the United States. Both the person you meet at the immigration desk and the one you meet at the customs checkpoint are CBP officers. The immigration official checks your identity and documentation as you enter the U.S., and the customs official checks your luggage and other items that you are bringing into the country.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the branch that investigates infractions of immigration and customs law. It is also the branch that oversees the operation of SEVIS. Except for having your data in SEVIS, we hope you will never come into contact with ICE!

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) provides services to people who wish to become permanent residents or citizens as well as services to non-immigrants. This is the agency which receives and adjudicates applications for changes of status, work authorization for F1 optional practical training, extensions of B2 status, applications for “green cards,” etc.

Social Security
The Social Security Administration was established to make sure that the disabled and elderly populations in this country have some financial security, even if they have no other income. Every person (even a “non-immigrant”) who wants to work in the United States must have a Social Security number in order to receive a paycheck.

The Social Security number is frequently used as an identifying number, although this is not its legal use. It is often required for other purposes, such as opening a bank account or applying for a driver’s license. It is not used as a student ID number at New Mexico Tech; your actual student ID # is a randomly generated number beginning with an @ sign.