The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it is in “preliminary discussions” to close its international field offices and delegate their work to the State Department or U.S.-based USCIS personnel.

The agency has 23 field offices in 20 countries around the globe. They help with:

  • Family reunification visas
  • Foreign adoptions
  • Refugee applications
  • Humanitarian parole requests from people outside the U.S.
  • Naturalization requests from foreign spouses of U.S. military service members
  • A variety of other matters

In addition to handling such requests, USCIS field offices “provide technical expertise on immigration-related matters to U.S. government agencies abroad, including other Department of Homeland Security components, the Department of State and the Department of Defense.”

A cost analysis indicated that closing the field offices would save millions each year. However, it’s unclear if that analysis considered that the cost of performing the field offices’ duties might be picked up by the State Department or another subdivision of the USCIS. In other words, it is unclear if closing the field offices would merely shift the cost elsewhere rather than eliminating it.

“The goal of any such shift would be to maximize USCIS resources that could then be reallocated, in part, to backlog reduction,” a USCIS spokesperson said in an emailed statement to reporters.

As we’ve discussed before, the USCIS and the immigration courts are both experiencing heavy backlogs. Changes to the nation’s signature H-1B visa program are already creating backlogs and uncertainty. There are over 800,000 cases awaiting hearings before immigration judges. There are also massive backlogs in the asylum and refugee programs.

The USCIS spokesperson provided assurances that the agency would work with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security “to ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners.”

She also said that refugee processing would not be slowed because it would be shifted to U.S.-based personnel who will travel abroad to interview applicants for refugee status.

That said, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute told NPR that the change would likely exacerbate the very backlogs the agency is trying to address.

“It’s yet another step that USCIS has taken that slows the processing of refugee applications and will slow customer service in general,” she said.

If you are interested in coming to the U.S., call the Yew Immigration Law Group. We can’t get rid of the backlog, but we can help ensure that your visa or other application is submitted properly with all the required documentation. That can make a big difference when your application is considered.