U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans to close all its international field offices, according to three people familiar with the decision.
The offices — which are located in embassies and consulates around the world — handle everything from immigration applications and fraud detection. In addition, the offices provide expertise to other U.S. government agencies and partner with foreign governments.
While President Donald Trump frequently highlights his opposition to illegal immigration, his administration also has taken steps to make the legal immigration process more difficult. The latest move could affect everyone from members of the U.S. military applying for citizenship to foreigners seeking to join their relatives in the U.S., according to those familiar with the plan.
USCIS Director Francis Cissna said in an email to staff that the agency was in preliminary discussions to transfer the international workload to domestic offices and the State Department. He said the shift in resources would allow USCIS to focus on clearing immigration backlogs in the U.S.
The naturalization application backlog stood at 738,148 cases on September 30, a 16 percent increase over the level just before Trump took office.
USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins said in a written statement that the agency would work closely with the State Department and the Homeland Security Department “to ensure no interruption … to affected applicants and petitioners.”
USCIS currently maintains 23 field offices in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia, according to an official website. The agency already has closed its field office in Cuba and previously planned to close an office in Moscow on March 29.
The agency said Tuesday that roughly 70 USCIS employees work in the offices abroad. If the plans to shutter them are finalized, the employees will return to the United States.
The agency noted that the State Department leads processing for visa applications by foreigners in foreign countries. But the webpage for the USCIS International Operations division states that its officers “are responsible for adjudicating a wide variety of petitions and applications filed internationally, providing information services, and issuing travel documents to people in a wide variety of circumstances.“
These duties include assisting U.S. citizens who wish to bring relatives to the United States, handling cases of people who claim a fear of persecution in their home countries, and aiding U.S. citizens who seek to adopt a child internationally.