Without fanfare and without Congressional approval, the Trump administration is shutting down legal immigration. In one visible move, it plans to shut down U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) abroad. Less visible moves have already dramatically reduced legal immigration: cutting refugee numbers, increasing processing times, and diverting visa application fees from their statutory purpose of paying for USCIS operations to pay for immigration enforcement instead.
Shutting down 24 USCIS field offices abroad will have a dramatic impact not only on immigrants but on U.S. citizens and members of the U.S. military:
“The overseas division provides logistical assistance to American citizens, lawful permanent residents and refugees seeking to bring family members to the United States; people who have been persecuted and wish to resettle in the United States; Americans who adopt children internationally; and members of the military and their families applying for citizenship. It also plays a crucial role in immigration fraud detection.
“It will be a great blow to the quality and integrity of the legal immigration system,” said Barbara Strack, who retired last year as the chief of the Refugee Affairs Division at the agency. “It will throw that system into chaos around the world.“
USCIS is the “helpful” arm of federal immigration offices, charged with processing applications for visas, for naturalization, for adjustment of status, and for green cards. Congress established USCIS back in 2002, giving it this service assignment, while setting up the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies for internal and border policing and enforcement.
Less dramatic than shutting down international offices, but with even greater impact, USCIS processing times have slowed dramatically under the Trump administration. The waiting time for green card applications have increased “from six-and-a-half months in fiscal year (FY) 2015 (October 1 through September 30) to more than a year in the first quarter of FY2019. Wait times are not expected to improve anytime soon.“
Besides delay, USCIS focus has shifted to more denials. WBUR interviewed Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a free market think tank. He told them that fiancée visas are down:
“I think the interesting thing about the fiance visas and the immediate relatives – it means that it’s actually becoming much harder for an American citizen to bring a spouse to the United States. And that, I think, is directly tied to a State Department change in their manual on what’s called public charge grounds. And what that has meant is that Americans are being separated from someone who they really want to spend the rest of their life with.”
Student visas are down, too:
“What has happened is that Indian students have decided that America may not be the best place to make their career. They’ve seen an increase in the number of denials for H-1B visas to work after graduation. And also, there is very long wait times for employment-based green cards for Indians.”