The world of immigration law is filled with lengthy words, unrecognizable phrases, and endless acronyms. If you’re applying for a green card or visa, reading these can be confusing and overwhelming. Deciphering these can also be time consuming, so we’ve put together some explanations for common terms you might hear during the immigration process.


This is the first in our Immigration Terms Explained Series and we will start by explaining the main governmental parties and agencies involved in U.S. immigration. You can sign up here to receive subsequent editions of our Immigration Terms Explained Series as they become available.


If you’d like to learn more about which agency may be involved in your case, call today to set up a consultation with a Chicago immigration lawyer. You can also book a consultation with us directly here. Our experienced lawyers are here to assist you getting a green card or visa, and many of us are immigrants who have been through this process personally. Call us today to learn more.


Department of Homeland Security / DHS

Department of Homeland Security or DHS is the 3rd largest Department of the U.S. government. DHS is responsible for several areas of government including immigration, border security, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and many more.


From an immigration point of view, DHS has 3 main agencies that are involved in various aspects of immigration: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services / USCIS

USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is the federal agency that oversees immigration into the U.S.


Generally, when we file cases like employment-based work petitions and green cards, family-based green cards, humanitarian applications, O-1 visa and EB-1A green cards, DACA, work authorization cards, and many more, we file them with the USCIS.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement / ICE

ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE really is the enforcement arm of DHS and ICE is the agency that issues removal/deportation proceedings, arrests and detains immigrants, conducts raids etc.


It’s also important to note, and some think a little unusual, that DHS has granted ICE authority over the international student visa and exchange visa programs. Sign up for our newsletter here to be notified of a subsequent post – Immigration Terms Explained: International Student Edition – coming later this year.


Customs and Border Protection / CBP

CBP stands for Customs and Border Protection, and it’s another agency within the Department of Homeland Security. CBP is, amongst other things, responsible for inspecting and admitting people into the U.S. and they are the officers you see at the airports and land ports of entry.


Executive Office for Immigration Review / EOIR

The Executive Office for Immigration Review is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). EOIR is responsible for immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).


Unlike other courts, our nation’s immigration courts are controlled by the Department of Justice — the very same law-enforcement agency that is charged with prosecuting criminal immigration cases in federal courts. For this reason, our immigration courts lack meaningful independence from the Executive Branch and there have long been calls for an independent immigration court system. You can read more about this here and here.


Department of State / State Department / DOS

Depending on the type of immigration case, we may also deal with the Department of State also referred to as DOS or State Department.


U.S. Embassies and Consulates are under the remit of the Department of State and if you’re applying for a visa or green card from abroad, you will be dealing with this Department.


National Visa Center / NVC

Those applying for green cards or K-1 fiancée visas will also deal with the National Visa Center. The NVC is a division of the Department of State and immigrant visas (green cards) that are being processed abroad and K-1 fiancée visas go through the NVC before they are sent to the specific U.S. Embassy or Consulate for interviews and processing.


Department of Labor / DOL

Some types of employer-sponsored green cards and temporary visas are required to file parts of the case with the Department of Labor. This typically happens with H-1B visas, H-1B1 visas, E-3 visas, H-2B visas, PERM green cards, and some others.


Administrative Appeals Office / AAO

This Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) is a division within the USCIS that is responsible for reviewing appeals of denials of immigration cases.


Because the AAO – a division within the USCIS – is tasked with reviewing a USCIS officer’s decision, many immigration lawyers feel that, depending on the specifics, an appeal to the AAO may not be the best course of action. Other options could include re-filing the case, suing in federal court, and possibly some others.


If your immigration case was denied by the USCIS and you would like to consult with our experienced immigration attorneys about what options you have, please give us a call on 773-828-9544.


Board of Immigration Appeals / BIA

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is an administrative appellate body within EOIR and is responsible for reviewing decisions of the U.S. immigration courts and certain actions of the USCIS, CBP, and ICE.


Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals / BALCA

The Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) principally hears appeals brought by employers whose PERM labor certification applications for foreign workers have been denied.


American Immigration and Lawyers Association /AILA

Finally, last but by no means least, we wanted to mention AILA – the American Immigration Lawyers Association.


AILA is not a government agency, but it plays such a role in the practice of immigration law that we wanted to include it here.


AILA is the national bar association of more than 16,000 immigration attorneys and law professors. AILA’s mission is to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.


All our McEntee Law attorneys are proud members of AILA and our Managing Attorney, Fiona McEntee, is one of 24 national spokespeople for the entire AILA organization. She has also been a member of AILA’s Media Advocacy Committee for several years and was proud to be Committee Chair from 2020 – 2022.



We hope you found this Immigration Terms Explained post helpful. You can sign up here to receive subsequent editions of this series.


If you would like help from an experienced Chicago immigration lawyer you can call our office on 773-828-9544. You can also book a consultation with an immigration lawyer directly here. Our experienced immigration attorneys are here to assist you getting a green card or visa, and many of us are immigrants who have been through this process personally.



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