The Trump administration has begun discussing plans to close nearly two dozen U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices around the globe. The administration says that closing these offices would save the government millions of dollars per year. Critics of the proposal are wary and say closing field offices in other countries would only further slowdown refugee processing, family reunification petitions, and military citizenship applications.
Why Is USCIS Closing International Immigration Offices?
Jessica Collins, spokeswoman for USCIS, said the agency is in "preliminary discussions" to shift its international responsibilities to the State Department, or to its own personnel in the United States. The agency also says some of the workload would be taken up by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
"The goal of any such shift would be to maximize USCIS resources that could then be reallocated, in part, to backlog reduction," said Collins,
According to the cost analysis that was conducted last year, USCIS officials expect to save millions of dollars each year by phasing out international offices.
What Cases Do International Immigration Offices Handle?
USCIS field offices handle refugee applications, family reunification visas, and foreign adoptions, as well as parole requests from people outside the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reason. USCIS field offices also process naturalization documents for military members who marry foreign nationals.
The USCIS website states that another "important function” of the agency is "to provide technical expertise on immigration-related matters to U.S. government agencies abroad, including other Department of Homeland Security components, the Department of State and the Department of Defense."
Collin’s statement downplays the impact of closing all 23 field offices in 20 countries, but assures the transition would be coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, "to ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners."
However, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, says USCIS plans will create a bottleneck of refugee applications that is hindering opportunities for asylum seekers. Pierce also points out that the Trump administration cut the cap for the number of allowable refugees from 45,000 in fiscal year 2018 to 30,000 in 2019 because of "a massive backlog of outstanding asylum cases."
Pierce said, “It's yet another step that USCIS has taken that slows the processing of refugee applications and will slow customer service in general.”
The USCIS International Operations department has roughly 70 staffers working in its offices around the world. Foreign nationals makeup over half of the staff working abroad and close to one-third of all USCIS employees.
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