It's a Two Way Street: Homeland Security and State Work Together On Immigration
Facilitating legitimate travel, managing immigration benefits, and securing our borders from threats depends on extensive cooperation between the Department of State (DoS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This collaboration requires constant communication and information sharing.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at DoS work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at DHS. A single non-immigrant or immigrant traveler interacts with some or possibly all of these DoS and DHS offices!
Applying for an employment-based non-immigrant visa (H, L, O, P, Q, and R) exemplifies the routine interactions that take place between DoS and DHS. These are just a few of the interactions:
- An employer submits a petition to USCIS. Once approved, employees at the Bureau of Consular Affairs review uploaded petition information
- A non-immigrant alien with an approved petition completes an online application, pays a fee, and in most cases attends an interview at an Embassy or Consulate abroad. In some cases, countries allow for an interview waiver
- DHS ICE Visa Security Program (VSP) conduct security reviews of visa applications to determine if an individual poses a security threat to the United States. VSP investigates applicants who may be ineligible for a visa, coordinates with other law enforcement entities, and provides information and a recommendation to the Department of State regarding individuals who have been approved but not issued a visa
- Visa-eligible applicants receive a visa, printed in their passport by DoS employees, allowing them to travel to the port-of-entry (POE) in the United States
- The alien arrives at a POE in the United States, where CBP officers review visa information to determine whether the alien can be admitted into the United States
- If admitted, an alien might interact with ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations if he/she acts unlawfully while in the U.S
DoS and DHS face information sharing challenges. For example, ICE VSP uses law enforcement and local information regarding a visa applicant to help the Department of State in determining an alien’s eligibility for a visa. DoS has visa issuance information, accessed and used by CBP officials at the port-of-entry. CBP uses real-time information from DoS to detect and prevent unlawful aliens from entering the United States. This data must be available to CBP. The process works both ways. DoS employees regularly use entry and exit data provided by CBP in the Non-Immigrant Information System (NIIS) to determine an alien’s visa eligibility.
Promoting interagency discussions regarding the difficulties each agency faces in accessing each other’s information and providing suggestions on how to better share visa-related information is the best way to constantly and consistently share information. Increased communication strengthens the partnership between DoS and DHS and maintains an effective and efficient visa process.