13,400 US immigration agency furloughs delayed until August

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President Donald Trump commerates 200 Miles of Border Wall Constructed 23 June 2020

CBP photo by Jerry Glaser / US Government

Comments by Sanwar Ali

If there is a reduction in staff and further disruption to services provided by USCIS this will no doubt cause even more problems for migrants.  In the US there seems to be frequent arguments over funding.  The arguments continue each time until the US Congress can agree funding.  Even though the “US visa ban” may mean less work for USCIS in some respects, in reality due to the backlog of work due to coronavirus COVID-19 there is probably plenty of work for USCIS to do. 

Also, you can still file US visa petitions at USCIS.  The visa ban means that you cannot in many cases obtain a visa based on the approved visa petitions at an US Embassy or Consulate, very likely not until near the beginning of 2021.  Some US visa categories such as the E2 visa and O1 visa can still be approved for entry to the US.

Perhaps in reality there will be an increase in funding for USCIS.  Trump and many Republicans want to keep USCIS staff so that they can spend time making life more difficult for US employers and migrants.  The Democrats are probably worried that reduced staffing will cause further delays for US visa applicants.  So for different reasons an agreement should be reached.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has delayed furloughing 13,400 staff until August. Workpermit.com recently reported that the agency is faced with financial issues as US visa and immigration applications dried up and sought a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress.

Without Congressional intervention, senior officials at USCIS feared having to start furloughing staff on July 20. However, the agency resumed some of its services from June 4 and is now waiting on a decision from Congress to secure the $1.2 billion it needs to stay afloat.

The date for furloughing has been pushed back by two weeks to August 3. In a statement to Fox News, USCIS said: “Without congressional intervention, USCIS will need to administratively furlough approximately 13,400 employees. We previously anticipated that the furlough would begin on July 20.”

“However, we have received additional revenue and have identified cost savings to extend the potential furlough date to August 3 in the event Congress does not provide emergency funding. We continue to work with Congress to provide the necessary funding to avert this unfortunate consequence.”

30-day notice required for USCIS to furlough staff

In order to furlough staff, USCIS is required to give 30-days’ notice. Deputy director for policy at USCIS, Joseph Edlow, told employees: “Notices are being issued in preparation for August 3 furloughs.”

Citing economic reasons caused by the coronavirus pandemic, in a notice issued on June 23, Edlow said: “I regret to inform you that offices will begin the process of distributing furlough notices to employees who will be impacted should an administrative furlough be required to start on August 3.”

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the US, USCIS has seen a huge slump in US visa and immigration applications, which has devastated the agency’s revenue streams. With petitions and applications expected to drop by as much as 61% by the end of the 2020 fiscal year, the agency says it will have exhausted its funds by the summer.

Consequently, USCIS will be unable to make payroll and is now seeking a $1.2 billion cash injection from Congress to survive.

USCIS a fee-based agency depends on revenue from applicants

Unlike other US government agencies, USCIS is funded by the revenue it generates from immigrants who must pay fees to have their US visa and immigration applications processed.

After months of closure to stop the spread of coronavirus, USCIS recently resumed some services for non-emergency face-to-face appointments, opening certain field offices and asylum offices. Despite resuming these services, USCIS is struggling with a severe cash shortfall.

USCIS staff and Congress were alerted to the agency’s financial woes in May. USCIS is now urging Congress to sanction a one-time $1.2 billion bailout so that it can make payroll. The agency has promised to pay back borrowed funds to the US Treasury.

However, the cost burden will be carried by US visa applicants, with a 10 percent surcharge likely to be added to all immigration applications.

Funding not forthcoming for USCIS

Despite the perilous position of USCIS, the House Appropriations Committee has been unable to sanction funding because the Trump Administration has not yet submitted a request.

A Democratic aide said: “The Administration has still not sent a request for supplemental funding.”

USCIS has been in financial difficulty before but insisted that its latest cash worries were something different.

An agency spokesperson said: “The precipitous decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19 began in March. Despite USCIS efforts, curtailing contracts and reducing travel etc., new forecasts predicted a $1.2 billion budget shortfall for this fiscal year due to this decline.”

Trump work visa suspension will make matters worse

Amid a slump in US visa applications because of coronavirus, USCIS was dealt a further financial blow with the news that Trump has suspended work visa programs until the end of 2020, cutting a large chunk of the agency’s revenue stream for at least six months.

Coronavirus, combined with Trump’s latest executive order, means USCIS faces a very uncertain future unless Congress acts, according to sources close to the situation.

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