The Trump administration has set target dates for closing all international offices of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, including some that are scheduled to shutter within a few months, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.
The offices primarily deal with international adoptions, family visa applications, petitions for citizenship for military members stationed in foreign countries, and citizenship applications, along with help on refugee processing and investigations of fraud.
USCIS Director Lee Francis Cissna sent a message to all employees last month saying he was working to transfer the duties of international offices to the State Department, and that if they agreed, the closures would take place.
The plans have yet to be finalized. But USCIS is in "preliminary discussions to shift its international workload to our domestic offices and, where practicable, to US embassies and consulates abroad to maximize resources and free up funds to help address growing backlogs,” Jessica Collins, an agency spokesperson, said. “This would be an administrative change to where the work is done and who the work is done by.”
Collins added that the agency is working with the State and Homeland Security departments to coordinate and avoid interruptions in services.
The more than 20 offices abroad are slated to begin shuttering as soon as June 30, 2019, starting with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and then Manila in the Philippines just a few days after that.
In September, the Monterrey, Mexico, office is projected to close, as well as the station in Seoul, South Korea. By the end of January 2020, the majority of the offices, including those in Mexico City, London, Athens, and Guatemala City, are slated to cease operations. All offices, including the main district offices for the separate regions, are scheduled to close by March 10, 2020.
Former USCIS officials said the closures were troubling.
“The closure of any international office will clearly decrease services on fee-paying US citizens attempting to use our legal immigration system to be united with family members,” said Ur Jaddou, a former USCIS chief counsel. “Second, to start in Juárez, Manila, and Monterrey, where the US has strong ties, is the exact opposite of what our country should be doing.”
USCIS officials confirmed that a “couple of offices” could close as soon as this summer due to minimal workloads. The roughly 70 USCIS employees abroad would be brought back to the United States, according to the agency.
USCIS conducted a “cost analysis” last year that estimated the agency will save “millions of dollars every year” by phasing out the offices, funds that can be used to address domestic backlogs.
Agency officials do not believe the closures will affect refugee processing.