Trump administration prepares to close international immigration offices
By MARIA SACCHETTI AND NICK MIROFF | The Washington Post | Published: March 12, 2019
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to shutter all 21 international offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a move that could slow the processing of family visa applications, foreign adoptions and citizenship petitions from members of the military.
USCIS Director Francis Cissna said in an email to staffers Tuesday that he is working to transfer those duties — now performed by employees worldwide — to domestic offices and the State Department’s embassies and consulates. He wrote that if the State Department agrees, the agency would move to close its international field offices in coming months “in an effort to maximize our agency’s finite resources.”
“I believe by doing so, we will better leverage our funds to address backlogs in the United States while also leveraging existing Department of State resources at post,” he wrote. “Change can be difficult and can cause consternation. I want to assure you we will work to make this as smooth a transition as possible for each of our USCIS staff while also ensuring that those utilizing our services may continue to do so and our agency operations continue undisrupted.”
The shift will ripple to offices in New Delhi, Rome, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and numerous other cities where the agency has offices that handle emergencies, alleviate backlogs in immigration petitions, and provide direct information in foreign languages. USCIS foreign offices also investigate fraud.
Generally, the offices facilitate applications from potential immigrants to the U.S.; closing the offices would reassign about 70 USCIS staffers across the world who the agency’s website says provide “valuable information services” and solve a wide array of problems, from aiding someone who lost a green card to helping widows of American citizens and members of the military obtain legal documents.
The move comes as the Trump administration is pressing to tighten the nation’s immigration controls and to shift from family reunification to merit-based immigration. Department of Homeland Security officials say it is part of an overall effort to streamline U.S. immigration operations.
A senior DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a decision that has yet to be announced publicly said it primarily is a cost-saving measure that will hand off responsibilities to State Department and DHS personnel working abroad.
The USCIS International Operations Division, under the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate, has about 240 employees in the U.S. and in two dozen field offices in 21 countries, and is “charged with advancing the USCIS mission in the international arena,” according to materials on the agency’s website.
“Reuniting families, enabling adoptive children to come to join permanent families in the U.S., considering parole requests from individuals outside the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, and providing information services and travel documents to people around the world — all with unique needs and circumstances — are just a few of the responsibilities our officers assume on a daily basis,” USCIS says of its mission.
The agency also investigates fraud, aids asylum seekers and refugees, and provides public information in foreign languages.
More than half of the overseas USCIS staff members are foreign nationals, and the local contract employees who perform many of the applicant screenings are likely to continue doing so under State Department supervision, a DHS officials said.
Cissna said in his message to staffers that he would consolidate regional, district, and field offices in the U.S. in coming weeks “to streamline management structures, balance resources, and improve our overall mission performance and service delivery.”