Since May, USCIS has been threatening furloughs of three-quarters of its workforce in August if it does not receive a $1.2 billion loan and an average 21% increase in fees to take care of its budget shortfall. Reportedly, more than 13,000 of the 20,000 USCIS employees who work on citizenship and visa processes will receive furlough notices if emergency funding is not forthcoming. Further, some notices may have already been received for a late-July furlough.
Apparently, USCIS sent formal notification to the union representing USCIS employees that up to 70 percent of the agency’s employees could be furloughed as of August 3, 2020. Furloughs that are expected to last more than 30 days require this sort of formal notice. Therefore, the projected furloughs will not be short term. The president of the union that represents 2,500 USCIS employees in Washington, D.C. stated the obvious:
It is not in the best interest of the American people to allow such a failure – which would have a substantial impact on millions of legal immigrants, permanent residents and US citizens and would be detrimental to American businesses, educational institutions, the economy and our law enforcement and health care systems ….
USCIS has been told that any additional funds should not burden U.S. taxpayers. The agency recognizes that any loan would have to be repaid. In other words, to make up the shortfall, the funding will have to come from increased fees, pushing the entire burden onto immigrants, employers, and those seeking naturalization. If the increased fees do not discourage immigration, the even longer delays that will result from the furloughs certainly will. An estimated 860,000 individuals were scheduled to naturalize this year – but, through the combined impact of the pandemic and the proposed furloughs, those individuals may not become citizens before the November election.
The funding problem at USCIS is not simply due to COVID-19. Although the decrease in filings associated with the pandemic may have been the final straw. Budget problems at USCIS have persisted for several years. Unfortunately, the needed funding appears to have become yet another political battleground. Adding another 13,000 employees to the ranks of the unemployed is not likely to help the U.S. economy.