Closing of USCIS International Offices Could Create Backlog
By Reuben Seguritan
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will close all of its international field offices by March 10, 2020. It has not given a definite timeline as to which offices will close on which date. But it has closed the UCSIC Ciudad Juarez Field Office in Mexico last June 30 and the Manila Field Office in the Philippines last July 5. It was not clear why the Manila and Ciudad Juarez offices were the first to go.
US officials have stated that the closure of the USCIS international field offices will save the government millions of dollars. But critics are concerned that the move will create backlog of cases.
Ciudad Juarez stopped accepting applications and petitions on May 30, 2019. The USCIS Manila field office stopped accepting petitions and applications on May 31, 2019. Examples of these applications and petitions are Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-131 Application for Travel Document, and Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (for military personnel and staff abroad).
For I-130 Petitions, the USCIS international offices were important because they processed two types of I-130 petitions. The first are the petitions filed by US citizens who were residents of a country in which a USCIS international office was located. The US citizen could file the I-130 petition with the USCIS international office in the country where he resides and not have to submit the application in the United States. Second, if there were no USCIS international offices where the US citizen resided, the US citizen may file the I-130 petition directly with a US Embassy or Consulate if there is evidence of exceptional circumstances and provided that the USCIS international field office determined that the US Embassy or consulate may accept and adjudicate the case. These services were greatly utilized by US citizens who adopted orphans and needed to bring them to America and American military members and their families to enter the US.
The international offices were also important because they played a vital role in processing refugee status applications and reuniting families in the US. However, due to the closure of the USCIS international field offices, the refugee status applications have been greatly curtailed and families are finding it very difficult to be reunited in America. Furthermore, it is now very difficult to keep families together. The US citizens residing in the Philippines and Mexico must now submit their applications and petitions to the USCIS Chicago Lockbox, or under exceptional circumstances with a US Embassy or consulate because of the closures of the international offices.
The USCIS and Department of State have not given rules or announced a new procedure on how immigration-related applications, petitions, and forms will be submitted, handled and processed with a US Embassy or consulate under exceptional circumstances because of the closure of the USCIS international field office in a particular country. USCIS and the Department of State have announced that they will ensure that the closures of the international field offices would not negatively impact services for applicants and that the work will be conducted electronically or done by consular staff. As for the exceptional circumstances cases, they will determine whether a case involves exceptional circumstances and, if so, will permit overseas adjudication.
It is important to note that the USCIS and the Department of State have not explained or given a set of rules for current filing procedures or timeframes for all countries in the future because of the closure of all USCIS international field offices.
Critics of the closures of all of the USCIS international field offices have been vocal of their opposition to the plan. 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 US. 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.” Furthermore, petitioners and applicants may experience delays due to the closure of the USCIS international field offices. Clearly, the closure of the international offices will greatly harm US citizens, immigrants and those seeking refuge in the United States.