US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will close thirteen international field offices and three district offices between now and August 2020, according to an announcement on August 9, 2019. While eliminating these thirteen international offices, USCIS also announced plans to maintain operations at international field offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and New Delhi, India, as well as Guatemala City, Guatemala; Mexico City, Mexico; and San Salvador, El Salvador, “as part of a whole-of-government approach to address the crisis at the southern border.”
Over the last year, USCIS has undergone deep scrutiny as backlogs and delays of various types of visa applications have skyrocketed, according to a number of sources. Indeed, USCIS data revealed recently that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the agency’s overall volume of delayed application and petitions, or “gross backlog”, reached 5,691,836 cases—a figure which marks a twenty-nine percent increase since FY 2016 and sixty-nine percent since FY 2014. According to the USCIS announcement on August 9, 2019, these moves to close international field offices will “allow more effective allocation of USCIS resources to support, in part, backlog reduction efforts.” Already, USCIS has shut down offices in Moscow, Russia; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; and Manila, Philippines. According to the USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS will continue to close other international offices on a staggered schedule, with international field offices in Monterrey, Mexico, and Seoul, South Korea expected among the first to close at the end of September 2019. He also added that USCIS staff on “temporary assignments abroad” and at domestic immigration offices will handle many functions currently performed at international offices.
Reportedly, the Department of State (DOS) will take on responsibilities for certain in-person services that USCIS currently provides at international field offices. Furthermore, USCIS plans to work closely with DOS to minimize interruptions in immigration services. In an analysis of this announcement, legal firm Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP said in a statement: “Applicants should expect services to be limited,” since U.S. Consulates and USCIS offices within the U.S. will share the “workload for USCIS offices abroad that shut their doors.”