Difference between USCIS Service Centers and the impact on the case

October 13, 2022 by Piotr Messerszmidt

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What is USCIS ?

USCIS, which is an acronym standing for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is a federal agency, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees lawful immigration to the United States. USCIS comprises several program offices and directorates, for example Fraud Detection and National Security, Field Operations Directorate, Office of the Director, Refugee, Asylum & International Operations, and Service Center Operations. Being a person interested in immigrating to the United States, surely you will have to deal with this institution at some point in time.

What is the difference between the USCIS Field Office and the Service Center?

We have already established that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a complex institution made up of numerous directorates and offices. You probably have heard that there are USCIS Services Centers, as well as the Field Offices. The distinction between them is significant. USCIS Service Centers are within the organizational scope of the Service Center Operations Directorate, so-called SCOPS. It adjudicates applications and petitions for persons seeking immigration benefits that do not require in-person processing or interviews. On the other hand, 88 field offices, operating within the organizational scope of the Field Operations Directorate, are public-facing, providing in-person information and documentary services for applicants. As a result, it is impossible to make an appointment on-site in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as it only processes applications or petitions that are mailed to the service centers directly, filed with a USCIS Lockbox, or filed online. 

Note that cases can be transferred from USCIS Service Centers to Field Offices and the other way around if there is a need for more evidence or interviews.

Service Center Operations Directorate (SCOPS) provides immigration benefits for petitioners and applicants who do not require interviews. It comprises 4,749 federal positions and 1,557 contractors and it is operating through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ headquarters in Camp Springs and five Service Centers, which we will come back to further in the article. Another important fact to note is that the work performed by the service centers is generally organized by the following distinct product lines: 

  • Business (Forms I-140, I-360, I-129) – for example, individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding researchers and professors, but also athletes and entertainers;
  • Family (Forms I-129F, I-130) – includes petitions for immediate family members and fiancé(e)s;
  • Humanitarian (Forms I-360, I-485, I-601, I-730, I-821, I-821D, I-914, I-918, I-929, N-644) – requests filed by refugees and asylees and their accompanying family members, individuals seeking consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and individuals seeking temporary protected status (TPS);
  • Students and exchange visitors (Forms I-539, I-765) – include requests for practical training in a field of study and waivers for medical doctors to enable them to work in medically underserved areas;
  • Fraud Detection – Operational support, oversight, and policy guidance for the Center Fraud Detection Operations (CFDOs) at each of the Service Centers;
  • National Security – operational support, oversight, and policy guidance for the Background Check Units (BCU) at each of the Service Centers.

Where are the USCIS Service Centers located and why is it important to know which one is processing the case?

Five U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Service Centers are located nationwide. Below you will find them with their three letter codes. 

  • California Service Center – WAC or CSC
  • Nebraska Service Center – LIN or NSC
  • Potomac Service Center – YSC or PSC
  • Texas Service Center – SRC or TSC
  • Vermont Service Center – VSC or EAC

The Service Center code is part of the 13 digit USCIS Case Receipt Number that is used to check USCIS Case Status Online

Each of these USCIS Service Centers processes different types of applications. For instance, some of them are only processing applications that are filed in certain states, while others are only processing certain types of applications. The goal of having multiple Service Centers available is to make sure the workload is balanced and has nation-wide coverage.

Why is it important to know which USCIS Service Center is processing your application? 

It is crucial to fully understand your USCIS receipt number. The first three letters in the number identify the corresponding USCIS Service Center for your case. If the USCIS California Service Center (CSC) is processing your case, your receipt number will begin with “WAC”. In the case of the Texas Service Center (TSC), your receipt number will start with “SRC” and so on. That way, by checking the codes listed above, you can verify to which Service Center your case is assigned. 

However, before you receive your USCIS receipt number it can take from two to three weeks. That is why it is important to know an alternative way of verifying your USCIS Service Center. There is an additional way consisting of two stages of getting to know which USCIS Service Center is proceeding with your application. Firstly, you need to identify the service center based on the application, or petition type. Secondly, you have to verify which USCIS Service Center has jurisdiction over your case. You can do it by checking which service center processes the cases from the state of your submission. Importantly, you should bear in mind that the service center closest to you geographically, will not necessarily be the one assigned to process your case.  

What is the USCIS receipt number? 

The USCIS receipt number is a unique 13-character identifier that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides for each petition and application, which is needed to identify and track the case. As we have already established, the first three letters of your receipt number indicate which USCIS Service Center is handling your case (California, Nebraska, Potomac, Texas, or Vermont Service Center). Interestingly, a further 10 numbers also have significant meaning. The two digits following the three letters dictate the fiscal year USCIS opened your case. The next three digits indicate the computer workday that USCIS opened your case. Lastly, the remaining numbers are the unique case number. 

You will receive your USCIS receipt number in the receipt notice sent out by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, once they receive your application. You will find the 13-character receipt number at the top left corner of the receipt notice. If you did not receive your USCIS receipt number, you can call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to get your receipt number. You should explain your circumstances to the USCIS representative and they will help you retrieve your receipt number. USCIS’s phone number is 1-800-375-5283.

Can you choose the USCIS Service Center? Can my case be transferred to another service center?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to indicate the service center preferred to handle a particular case. Key in this regard is the criteria given above for assignment to a particular service center and the so-called system of “load-balancing”. To maintain an even distribution of work for each service center, your application may be transferred by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to another point. If your case is to be transferred, you will receive a transfer notice. However, your receipt number will not change, and USCIS assures you that the transfer will not delay the processing of the case. 

Can the USCIS Service Center affect my case? 

The Service Center Operations Dictorate’s (SCOPS) mission statement is to “Through our dedicated staff of professionals, Service Center Operations efficiently provides quality services for persons seeking immigration benefits while ensuring the integrity and security of our immigration system.” Generally, the service provided by the various points should have an equal level and not deviate from the points in other locations. One thing that varies significantly between particular USCIS service points is the time. The first thing that can depend on the particular USCIS Service Center handling your case is the processing time. Despite the above-mentioned “load-balancing”, some USCIS service centers have more workload than others. You can look for processing times for particular USCIS Service Centers online and see that they can differ quite significantly. Although these are not always correct predictions, we advise taking into consideration the premium processing option, which guarantees efficient handling of the case by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Another aspect that can vary depending on the USCIS Service Center that processes your application, is the time of receiving the receipt note. Although as noted earlier, generally it takes from two to three weeks to get the receipt note, and thus also a receipt number, it will also depend on which forms you filed and which service center the forms have been filed with.

Conclusion

We realize that the entire paperwork process of handling a case through USCIS can seem convoluted and burdensome. That’s why, as PassRight, we are happy to guide you through the process, which can be challenging for many people on their own.The USCIS website also offers support and assistance to those who need it. You can track your assigned Service Center, and the status of your case by following this link: https://www.uscis.gov/

FAQ

  • How do I know which USCIS Service Center will process my case?

    You can do it by checking which service center processes the cases from the state of your submission. Importantly, you should bear in mind that the service center closest to you geographically, will not necessarily be the one assigned to process your case.
  • Can I choose the USCIS Service Center in which my petition will be filed?

    Unfortunately, it is not possible to indicate the service center preferred to handle a particular case.
  • Are cases treated differently depending on the USCIS Service Center?

    Although there could be a myth that certain Service Centers are more flexible than others, this is not a fact. The service provided by the various points should have an equal level and not deviate from the points in other locations.
  • Are processing times different depending on the USCIS Service Center?

    Despite the above-mentioned “load-balancing”, some USCIS service centers have more workload than others. You can look for processing times for particular USCIS Service Centers online and see that they can differ quite significantly. Although these are not always correct predictions, we advise taking into consideration the premium processing option.