The US immigration agency plans to significantly reduce its presence abroad, according to an internal email 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.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna, in an email message to agency employees, announced plans for closure of the international field offices and the said plans called for shifting those duties to US-based agency offices and American consulates and embassies abroad.
“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,” Cissna 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.”
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), operates under the Department of Homeland Security and currently operates 23 offices overseas, scattered across Latin America, Europe and Asia, according to the agency’s website.
“It is a pullback from the international presence of USCIS,” said León Rodríguez. Rodriguez, who served as the USCIS director under the Obama administration, also said that the shift may have been aimed at cutting costs and that most duties now performed internationally by USCIS likely will be delegated to US consulates abroad.
The USCIS offices are in-charge of a number of services, including helping Americans who want to bring relatives to the United States, processing refugee applications, enabling overseas citizenship applications and assisting US citizens who want to adopt foreign children, according to the official USCIS website.
The international offices can also process naturalization of US military service members who are not already US citizens. USCIS officers abroad also look for fraud in visa applications and provide technical immigration advice to other US government officials.
“They are doing an across-the-board effort to dismantle the capacity of this country to process refugees and immigrants legally,” said Mark Hetfield, president of the US refugee assistance organization HIAS. “It is not consistent with what President Trump said in the State of the Union (address), which is that he wants immigrants to come here, that he wants them to come here legally.”
“This is another example of the administration pulling up the drawbridge,” Hetfield added.