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When a door closes

June 07, 2019

Thousands of Filipinos may have been shocked to read the surprise announcement of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Wednesday that it would close its Manila office next month.

The USCIS handles family visa requests, international adoptions, refugee applications and the naturalization of US military service members who are not yet American citizens. Its Manila office last accepted applications and petitions on May 31, and full closure will happen on July 5.

The US Embassy in a tweet on Monday reiterated that new applications and petitions were no longer being accepted, and directed applicants to the USCIS website for filing instructions and updates.

Naturally, the immediate reaction of Filipinos who read the news and who may have pending applications, or know some people with pending applications for emigration to the US, was that of disappointment, expressed through the social media.

“This is not good. Bad timing for those who have been ‘waiting’ years for their turn,” said a reader of The Manila Times, a Mr. Galang, replying on Facebook.

Another reader, a Ms. Tiamson, tried to pacify the mounting frustration and confusion among fellow readers, and to clarify that Filipino tourists need not be affected. “Please read the article. A certain office within the embassy lang po ang magsasara.”

The USCIS announcement pointed out that “the US embassy has assumed responsibility for certain limited services previously provided by the Manila office to individuals in the Philippines, New Guinea, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Wallis, Futuna, New Caledonia, Pitcairn Island, the overseas French territories of French Polynesia, and most island nations in the Pacific region that were not covered by other Asia-Pacific field offices.

Earlier reports, published after the plan to close down the USCIS’ international division was first announced in March, quoted officials as saying the shutdown would allow the agency to act on a backlog of asylum applications.

In the case of the Philippines, the office’s shutdown would be a practical method of catching up with the volumes of applications that have accumulated over the years.

“… Maybe the backlog will disappear and the office will catch up soon,” Mr. Galang said.

This should help the USCIS focus on the legitimate, more urgent petitions.

Based on the immediately available statistics from the US Department of Homeland Security, which referred to 2017, the US has allowed 46,542 Filipinos to secure lawful permanent resident status in the country, and has admitted 392,876 more as non-immigrants that year.

During that same year, a total of 15,246 non-immigrant Filipinos were employed as temporary workers in the fields of specialty occupation, agriculture, sports, treaty trading and investing, among others.

For 2018, the USCIS reported that it naturalized 756,800 applicants from all over the world, showing a 6-percent increase from 707,300 in 2017.

Given the Trump administration’s inward-looking foreign policy, the closure of the international division of the USCIS should, therefore, not come as a surprise.

The “lack of resources” being cited as a reason for the move sounded like a practical economic reality for the US. As it tries to clear the immigration backlog, priority is given to such long-pending applications as for spouses and parent-to-minor child petitions.

Although the USCIS operations in Manila may have been revenue-generating, other factors such as the voluminous workload of anti-fraud cases could have also burdened the Manila office, giving another good reason to review the internal system that led to the shutdown.

For all these reasons, the US has a totally valid sovereign right to shut its doors to any additional immigrants and put priority on the welfare of its own citizens and dealing with its internal issues, while it goes through the overdue process of clearing its immigration backlogs.

Meanwhile, for Filipinos still dreaming the American dream, the closing of the American gates may be a sign beckoning them to also look inward and maybe see a new vision of themselves lending a hand to their homeland as it tries to rise on its own.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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