The Trump administration is moving to consolidate resources and cut costs while targeting backlogs in international immigration offices.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it is preparing to close nearly two dozen of its international offices and shifting the services to domestic offices and the State Department, according to The Washington Post.
The agency plans to shutter the international field offices in the coming months “in an effort to maximize our agency’s finite resources,” according to USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna.
“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 in an email to staff on Tuesday. “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 move could potentially save millions of dollars annually, according to estimates by USCIS officials and is planned to ensure “no interruption” of services currently being provided by offices in cities from Rome, to Haiti, Mexico and China.
“As we have internally shared, USCIS is in preliminary discussions to consider shifting its international USCIS office workloads to USCIS domestic offices in the United States and, where practicable, to 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 efforts,” USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins wrote, according to The Hill.
“For such a decision, USCIS will work closely with the Department of Homeland Security and with the Department of State to coordinate necessary interagency agreements to ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners,” Collins added.
According to the website, the USCIS International Operations division’s officers “are responsible for adjudicating a wide variety of petitions and applications filed internationally, providing information services, and issuing travel documents to people in a wide variety of circumstances.”
“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,” the website states.
According to The Washington Post:
More than half of the overseas USCIS staff members are foreign nationals, and the local contract employees who perform many of the applicant screenings will probably continue doing so under State Department supervision, a DHS official said.
If the State Department agrees to take over those duties, American employees in international offices would transfer back to the United States. Officials said USCIS would still provide services from U.S.-based offices and visits abroad. Refugee processing would not be affected because a different unit handles that function, officials said.
Critics of the move argue that the decision is another step by President Trump to make the legal immigration process more difficult while calling for action against illegal immigration into the U.S.
“People around the world depend on these services,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal said, according to The Hill.
“We have serious consular needs around the world,” the Washington Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said. “As someone who came to this country on a visa for 17 years, I know what that’s like to stand in a visa line.”
But policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies countered that State Department officers are perfectly capable of carrying out the extra duties.
“It’s really a better fit for the State Department to be performing this very critical function, and it’s very expensive for CIS because they’ve got to send an employee overseas,” former consular officer, Jessica M. Vaughan, said. “The State Department is already there.”
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