'Trump effect' on closure of US immigration international offices
US President Donald Trump delivers a speech during a French-US ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, northwestern France, on June 6, 2019, as part of D-Day commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II Allied landings in Normandy.
AFP/Mandel Ngan
'Trump effect' on closure of US immigration international offices
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - June 7, 2019 - 11:50am

MANILA, Philippines — The closure of international offices of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including Manila, follows the Trump administration's immigration policy.

The USCIS had announced that its field office in Manila would permanently stop its operations on July 5.

US Embassy to assume responsibility of USCIS

The US Embassy in Manila would be taking over limited immigration services that the USCIS provided to individuals living in the Philippines.

"Under an existing inter-agency agreement, the US Embassy in the Philippines will assume responsibility for certain limited immigration services previously provided at this location by USCIS," US Embassy deputy press attaché Trude Raizen said.

Raizen clarified that the closure of the USCIS in Manila would not affect visa processing at the US Embassy in the Philippines.

The US Embassy also disclosed that the shutter of the USCIS in Manila was due to "insufficient workload."

"USCIS is working better to leverage funds to address backlogs in the United States while also leveraging existing Department of State resources at post," Raizen said.

The USCIS in Manila had stopped accepting applications and petitions on May 31. It began redirecting Forms I-130 or the petition for alien relative to its lockbox facility in Chicago on May 14.

Forms I-130 and I-407 or record of abandonment of lawful permanent resident status will be transitioned to domestic and electronic processing, respectively.

The USCIS posted new filing instructions on its website upon announcing the closure of its field office in Manila.

Among the services that may be filed at the US Embassy in the Philippines are Form I-360 or petition for Amerasian, widow(er) or special immigrant and Form I-131A or application for travel document. In rare circumstances, Form I-407 or record of abandonment of lawful permanent resident status may be submitted to the US Embassy.

Form I-730 or refugee/asylee relative petition should be filed with the Nebraska or Texas Service Center while the Filipino World War II Veterans Parile Program petition must be filed with the USCIS lockbox facility in Chicago.

"All other services will be performed domestically in the United States," Raizen said.

USCIS international offices to close by yearend

Aside from the Manila field office, the USCIS will also be closing its office in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on June 30.

The USCIS has entered into discussions to phase out all international offices, the US Embassy said. Operations in more than 20 countries are expected to be shut down by the end of the year, according to a report from The New York Times.

In March, USCIS Director Francis Cissna advised his staff that he is working on transfering the agency's duties to domestic offices and the US Department of State's embassies and consulates, The Washington Post reported.

In an email sent to staff, Cissna said shutting all international offices of the USCIS would address backlogs in the US and leverage existing Department of State resources at post.

"Change can be difficult and can cause consternation. I want to assure you we will work to make this transition as smooth as possible for each of our USCIS staff while also ensuring that those utilizing our services may continue to do so and our agency operations continue undisrupted," Cissna wrote.

The US Department also released a statement, saying it will coordinate with the USCIS should they reach an agreement to take on the roles of the latter.

"Consular Affairs proudly provides services on USCIS' behalf at more than 200 posts worldwide. Should USCIS overseas offices be phased out, we anticipate a smooth transition and continued efficient processing of USCIS-related work at all of our missions overseas," the Department of State said.

Trump's immigration policy

León Rodríguez, USCIS director during the Obama administration, described the closure of USCIS international offices as a "pullback" from the agency's international presence.

"It's in keeping with this isolationist bent that this administration has had more broadly," Rodríguez told The Post.

Immigration attorney and retired US Army Lt. Col. Margaret Stock told The New York Times that this is yet another move of the Trump administration "halting legal immigration by denying people the opportunity to file for immigration benefits in the most expedient manner."

The immigration page of the White House website indicates that the US must adopt an immigration system that "serves the national interest."

"To protect American workers, the President supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system," the White House said.

In July 2018, The Post released a report that the number of immigrant visas issued to people from countries that usually receive the largest figure granted visas from the US dropped.

Including the Philippines, the number of visas granted lowered to 12% in the first two years of the Trump administration.

Data from the US Department of State showed that number of immigrant visas granted to citizens from the Mexico, China, India, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Pakistan and Afghanistan went down. 

The most affected were Muslim-majority countries while legal immigrants from Europe slightly increased.

In January, the US Department of Homeland Security implemented a one-year ban on issuing visa for new Filipino workers due to high overstay rates. Filipinos would no longer be eligible to seek agricultural and non-agricultural jobs in the US until Jan. 18, 2020.

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