US immigration agency to slash overseas presence

13 Mars, 2019, 04:12 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

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 worldwide operations to the State Department. They also consider parole requests from people outside the US for urgent humanitarian reasons and process naturalization documents for military members who marry foreign nationals, among other responsibilities.

But Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute argued the plan will likely exacerbate a processing bottleneck of refugee applications that has led to fewer opportunities for people to seek asylum in the U.S. She noted the Trump administration slashed the ceiling on the number of allowable refugees from 45,000 in fiscal year 2018 to 30,000 in 2019 due to "a massive backlog of outstanding asylum cases". That might slow down the work of processing family visa applications, foreign adoptions, and citizenship petitions from members of the military, the Washington Post reports.

"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". Department of Homeland Security officials say it is part of an overall effort to streamline USA immigration operations.

The USCIS International Operations Division, under the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate, has about 240 employees in the United States and in two dozen field offices in 21 countries, and is "charged with advancing the USCIS mission in the international arena", according to materials on the agency's website.

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.

In places where USCIS does not have overseas posts, the State Department already carries out some of its duties, such as replacing green cards for American permanent residents who have lost theirs.

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International USCIS staff provide support to US officials who travel overseas to interview refugee applicants.

Mark Hetfield, president of refugee assistance organization HIAS, told Reuters that closing the USCIS overseas offices is "another example of the administration pulling up the drawbridge" and would create more barriers for applicants who are trying to become us residents the legal way. "It is not consistent with what President Trump said in the State of the Union, which is that he wants immigrants to come here, that he wants them to come here legally".

"The goal of any such shift would be to maximize USCIS resources that could then be reallocated, in part, to backlog reduction" at the agency, Collins told NPR in an emailed statement. "USCIS will work closely with the Department of Homeland Security and with the Department of State to coordinate interagency agreements to ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners".

One of the responsibilities of the overseas offices is to help process refugee applications.

More than half of the overseas USCIS staff members are foreign nationals, and the local contract employees who perform numerous applicant screenings are likely to continue doing so under State Department supervision, a DHS officials said.

USCIS has in the past made a decision to close individual offices based on demand for its services. The agency previously announced that its Moscow field office will permanently close at the end of this month, citing a "significant decrease in workload".

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