USCIS Halts Furlough of 70% of Workforce; Still Processing Times Likely To Increase
On August 25, 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the anticipated temporary furlough of more than 13,000 employees, scheduled to begin on August 30, has been averted. The agency was able to avoid this due to a steady increase in the day-to-day inflow of revenue and receipts, along with unprecedented spending cuts.
A federal agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS oversees lawful immigration into the United States, providing services that include naturalizing citizens, issuing all types of visas, and processing applications for green cards.
Why the Halt?
The move to halt furlough plans comes as a result of pressure from lawmakers. Had the agency furloughed, a near-total shut down of the legal immigration system would have been the consequence. The agency has adopted aggressive spending reduction measures that are likely to impact all agency operations, including naturalizations. This reduction will also drastically impact agency contracts. Now, with the measures taken, the agency can maintain operations until the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2020). Further, the agency has warned that if Congress fails to take action to stabilize USCIS’s finances, a future furlough could still take place.
USCIS is a unique federal agency that is primarily funded through revenue generated by fees collected for immigration applications. The agency’s budget issues were prevalent even before COVID-19. And agency officials warned lawmakers of imminent furlough in early May, as immigration applications dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic and the immigration restriction issued by the administration.
USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Eldow said, “Our workforce is the backbone of every USCIS accomplishment. Their resilience and strength of character always serve the nation well, but in this year of uncertainty, they remain steadfast in their mission, administering our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and protecting the American people, even as a furlough loomed before them. However, averting this furlough comes at a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs. A return to normal operating procedures requires congressional intervention to sustain the agency through fiscal year 2021.”
The agency’s reduction in the scope of federal contracts is the source of the additional cost savings. These contracts assist USCIS adjudicators to process and prepare case files and perform many other supportive activities. So descoping them can mean increased wait times for pending cases, inquiries with the USCIS contact center, longer processing times, and increased adjudication time for aliens adjusting status or naturalizing. Congress is expected to act on a long-term solution to the agency’s financial difficulties for the coming years.