According to reports, the Trump administration plans to close international U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices by the end of 2019. USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna told senior staff that the agency’s International Operations Division, which operates in more than 20 countries, will be closed down. The duties of those offices will be transferred to U.S. embassies and consulates, along with domestic USCIS offices and the Department of State (DOS), if DOS agrees. USCIS personnel staffing those offices will return to the United States.
DOS said if it reaches such an interagency agreement, “we anticipate a smooth transition and continued efficient processing of USCIS-related work at all of our missions overseas.” DOS has more than 200 posts worldwide.
Director Cissna said in an email to staff that the closures will “better leverage our funds to address backlogs in the United States while also leveraging existing [DOS] resources at post.” He noted that 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.
In addition to helping people apply for immigration benefits, these offices provide assistance in such tasks as helping U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including military personnel abroad, bring family members to the United States or help them apply for U.S. citizenship; international adoptions; refugee resettlement; and immigration fraud investigations.
According to the International Operations (IO) Division’s website, the division’s work includes reuniting families, enabling adoptive children to come to join permanent families in the United States, considering parole requests from individuals outside the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, and providing information services and travel documents to people around the world, including those with unique needs and circumstances. “Operating in a dynamic global environment with constantly changing political, cultural, environmental, and socio-economic contexts, IO has approximately 240 employees located in the U.S. and in three international districts composed of 24 field offices in 21 countries. Our employees are highly diverse and include foreign nationals in addition to U.S. citizens; foreign nationals make up more than half of the IO staff working abroad and approximately one-third of all IO employees.”
Immigration advocates expressed concerns about further discouraging immigrants and disengaging the United States from the rest of the world. Barbara Strack, former chief of USCIS’ Refugee Affairs Division, said the closures would “throw [the legal immigration system] into chaos around the world.” She warned that the move would “smack all government employees abroad, including folks in the military, who have a foreign spouse or kids they are trying to bring to the U.S. legally.”