updated 8:28 PM CEST, Oct 10, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to close all but seven of its overseas offices

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it plans to close all but seven of its 23 overseas offices, including those in London, Frankfurt, Rome and Bangkok.

This represents a change from its earlier plan, announced in March, that it would close all 23 of the outposts.

In a statement, the USCIS said the "organizational changes" would "allow more effective allocation of USCIS resources to support, in part, backlog reduction efforts."

It said the offices it plans to keep open would be those in Beijing and Guangzhou, China; Nairobi, Kenya; New Delhi, India; Guatemala City, Guatamala; Mexico City, Mexico; and San Salvador, El Salvador.

"The first planned closures are the field offices in Monterrey, Mexico, and Seoul, South Korea, at the end of September," the USCIS statement said.

The agency, which is the arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responsible for administering the U.S.'s naturalization and immigration system, said it planed to close the remaining thirteen international field offices and three district offices "between now and August 2020."

Outposts in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Manila, the Philippines; and Moscow, Russia, have already been closed.

The other jurisdictions set to lose their USCIS offices, in addition to London, Frankfurt, Rome and Bangkok, according to The National Law Review, which has been monitoring the situation over the last few months, are Accra, Ghana; Amman, Jordan; Athens, Greece; Johannesburg, South Africa; Lima, Peru; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. 

Functions to be handled 'domestically'
or via temporary overseas assignments

In its statement on the matter, the USCIS said that going forward, many of the functions currently performed at its international offices "will be handled domestically or by USCIS domestic staff on temporary assignments abroad."

"As part of this shift, the Department of State will assume responsibility for certain in-person services that USCIS currently provides at international field offices," it added.

"In addition to issuing visas to foreign nationals who are abroad, the DOS already performs many of these service functions where USCIS does not have an office.

"USCIS is working closely with the DOS to minimize interruptions in immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners."

USCIS's outposts have traditionally been houses in U.S. embassies around the world, and have assisted Americans looking to adopt children overseas; Americans seeking to obtain immigrant visas for their immediate relatives, such as spouses, children and parents; process various travel documents for permanent residents who may have lost their documents, and naturalization applications for  members of the U.S. military stationed abroad, along with providing technical expertise as needed to other U.S. governmental agencies.

The closure of much of the USCIS network comes less than five years after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service closed all of its overseas taxpayer-assistance centers, citing budgetary constraints. The last IRS outposts to close were those located in the London and Paris U.S. embassies, and the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, which were shuttered in 2015. 

Ironically, the closure of these IRS outposts coincided almost perfectly with the introduction of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a tax evasion law that has required non-U.S. financial institutions around the world to report to the U.S. on the accounts of all their American clients, and which has made life extremely complicated and in many cases hugely expensive for U.S. citizens living overseas. 

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