At the AILA Annual Conference this past month, there was talk amongst attorneys of USCIS’s latest plans to “realign” operations to purportedly enhance efficiency by redistributing the workload. This was also confirmed by a USCIS official quite recently, and we have actually seen some parts of it implemented already. Under this new operational protocol, scheduled to go into effect officially this October, the 24 District Offices throughout the United States will be consolidated into 16 Districts. As a consequence, each District Office will serve more states. However, locale and proximity do not apparently figure to be dispositive factors in determining which office serves which states. For example, it seems that the Brooklyn Office will now be subsumed by the Newark District Office. The Boston Office will reportedly merge with the Buffalo Office, and cases originally scheduled for adjudication at the Philadelphia Office will supposedly now go to the Cleveland Field Office.
In practical terms, this move will affect many applicants, particularly those who are summoned for interviews in states far away from their state of residence. Consider, for example, a couple who must appear for a marriage interview in a different state that is considerably distant. A number of factors may come into play that may affect whether one or both parties could appear including childcare; time off from work; whether one has to fly; as well as whether the couple is in a financial position to fly. The applicants and their family members are not the only ones who are impacted. Attorneys may experience difficulties in representing their clients out of state, and in some cases, may not be able to appear somewhere outside their home jurisdiction, further impairing and interfering with the client’s access and right to be represented by counsel of his/her choice.
While in theory, consolidation may reduce workload, the other concern is at what cost? If an already burdened District Office is tasked with adjudicating even more cases, what effect will that have on how much time each officer can allot to reviewing a case? Less individual attention may translate into zero tolerance and diminished consideration of genuine cases that may appear unusual and require explanation.
As a consequence of all these changes, it is especially important for applicants to consider reviewing their cases with an immigration attorney, so that they have a realistic understanding of what is ahead in this unpredictable climate.