U.S. immigration agency to slash overseas presence

The US immigration agency plans to significantly reduce its presence overseas, according to an internal e-mail seen by Reuters and current and former US officials, in an effort to shift resources to domestic offices that took some career officials by surprise.

Generally, the offices facilitate applications from potential immigrants to the United States; 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 their green card to helping widows of American citizens and members of the military obtain legal documents.

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.

Another "important function" of USCIS' worldwide offices is "to provide technical expertise on immigration-related matters to US government agencies overseas, including other Department of Homeland Security components, the Department of State and the Department of Defense", the agency explains on its web site.

The move is the latest from an administration that has worked to limit legal and illegal immigration since Trump took office in January 2017, including cuts to the US refugee program and heightened vetting of USA visa applications. But mostly, one anonymous official tells the Post, it's a move to save money.

"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".

A senior DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a decision that has yet to be publicly announced said it was primarily a cost-saving measure that will hand off responsibilities to State Department and DHS personnel working overseas.

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"As we have internally shared, USCIS is in preliminary discussions to consider shifting its global USCIS office workloads to USCIS domestic offices in the United States and, where practicable, to U.S. embassies and consulates overseas", agency spokeswoman Jessica Collins said in an e-mail to Reuters.

Advocates expressed concern that the move to close down overseas offices would create additional roadbocks for vulnerable applicants. She provided assurances that the transition would be coordinated with the Department of Homeland Security as well as the State Department, "to ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners". The agency previously announced that its Moscow field office will permanently close at the end of this month, citing a "significant decrease in workload".

"Reuniting families, enabling adoptive children to come to join permanent families in the US, considering parole requests from individuals outside the USA 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.

But the closure of all overseas USCIS offices represent a shift in the agency's operations and came as a surprise to some employees.

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.

However, he said, "There is nothing that will go undone". They also consider parole requests from people outside the USA for urgent humanitarian reasons and process naturalization documents for military members who marry foreign nationals, among other responsibilities.

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