Administration Plans to Close Immigration Offices Abroad

One World Trade Center and the American Flag are seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park

One World Trade Center and the American Flag are seen from Brooklyn Bridge Park

The Los Angeles Times obtained an internal email from USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna on Tuesday announcing the plan to close the agency's overseas offices and likely shift much of the global operations to the State Department.

The Trump administration is seeking to close almost two dozen U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices around the world in a move it estimates would save millions per year. That might slow down the work of processing family visa applications, foreign adoptions, and citizenship petitions from members of the military, the Washington Post reports. Its 23 offices overseas carry out duties that include helping Americans who try to bring relatives into the country, considering travel requests from people outside the USA for urgent humanitarian reasons and processing refugee applications. They also consider parole requests from people outside the US for urgent humanitarian reasons and process naturalization documents for military members who marry foreign nationals, among other responsibilities.

The Homeland Security Department is moving toward closing immigration offices outside the United States, including in the Philippines, saying it is expected to free up millions of dollars a year to better address a backlog in domestic locations.

The 21 offices being closed fall under the USCIS's International Operations Division (IO) and are more specifically known as the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate. The closures will happen over the next year, and some of the offices' tasks likely will be shifted to the State Department, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Change can be hard and can cause consternation", Cissna wrote, but he said that the agency was committed to implementing "as smooth a transition as possible".

In places where USCIS does not have overseas posts, the State Department already carries out some of its duties, such as replacing green cards for American legal permanent residents who have lost theirs.

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"The goal of any such shift would be to maximize USCIS resources that could then be reallocated, in part to backlog reduction efforts", Collins said.

One of the responsibilities of the overseas offices is to help process refugee applications.

With a soaring number of people seeking asylum in the U.S. and an increase in Central American families at the U.S. -Mexico border, the Trump administration has struggled to reduce its immigration case backlog.

Collins says the agency will work closely with the State Department to avoid any interruptions to services overseas.

Additionally, the agency says the USA refugee program would not be affected because refugee interviews are conducted by US -based personnel who travel around the world.

Leon Rodriguez, USCIS director under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, said the shift may have been aimed at cutting costs and that most duties now performed internationally by USCIS likely will be delegated to USA consulates overseas. USCIS has been discussing the closure of its global offices to support "backlog reduction efforts", the agency said.

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