Navy Tells Sailors to Plan Ahead as Overseas Immigration Offices Close

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A group photo shows USS Blue Ridge Sailors who participated in a naturalization ceremony at the Chapel of Hope in Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Timothy D. Hale)
A group photo shows USS Blue Ridge Sailors who participated in a naturalization ceremony at the Chapel of Hope in Yokosuka, Japan. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Timothy D. Hale)

As U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services prepares to close 19 international offices by next year, the Navy is telling service members to plan ahead and instructing its commanding officers to offer the "maximum support practicable" to meet immigration appointments.

The branch's guidance, released Thursday, also advises noncitizen service members to work with the Navy Regional Legal Service Offices and follow USCIS procedures. The immigration agency announced in September it plans to close all but four of its 23 overseas offices by August 2020; four offices are closed already and 17 offices will be closed by July 31.

"These closures directly impact Sailors and their non-US citizen family members requiring USCIS assistance outside the continental U.S," the NAVADMIN said. "This issue impacts military readiness."

The four remaining USCIS hubs will be at Camp Humphreys, South Korea; Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan; U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, Germany; and Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. They will be open for one week in each quarter of the year, and noncitizen service members stationed abroad and their eligible family members will have to make their own appointments and travel arrangements.

Related: The Naturalization Process Just Got Harder for Noncitizen Troops Stationed Overseas

But for noncitizen sailors, the guidance instructs commanding officers to offer the "maximum command support practicable to ensure their presence at required in-person visits to USCIS designated on-site locations."

USCIS has already begun its quarterly visits to Camp Humphreys and Yokosuka in the first quarter of fiscal 2020, and the visits to Stuttgart and Naples will be held sometime in the second quarter of the year.

Sailors who gain noncitizen dependents through marriage, birth or adoption during an overseas tour are advised to work with the local RLSO and start filing immigration paperwork early, before a permanent change of station move to the U.S. Those sailors, according to Navy guidance, should also enroll the dependent into Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and file a Form I-130, which is used for lawful U.S. permanent residents to establish a relationship to a noncitizen who's applying to immigrate to the U.S.

The guidance also encourages noncitizen sailors to begin the naturalization process as soon as possible before leaving for an overseas assignment or deployment. They can expedite the process with a cover page that states "I am deploying overseas."

Meanwhile, sailors with non-citizen family members who haven't completed USCIS requirements may not be able to travel with the service member overseas.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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