The Deputy Director for Policy at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued a statement on June 25, 2020 indicating that if USCIS does not receive additional funding from Congress by Aug. 3, it will need to furlough over 13,000 staff members. According to USCIS’ website, the agency currently employs 20,000 individuals; furloughing 13,000 individuals would thus result in a 65 percent reduction in overall staffing.
USCIS has long been a self-funded agency, relying solely on filing fees for benefits applications to fund operations. The Director of Policy’s statement cites a decrease in benefits applications beginning in March, due to the global pandemic, as the reason for the budget shortfall.
However, there may be other contributing factors. In 2019, USCIS sought to transfer over $200 million into ICE for immigration enforcement purposes. Those fees are intended to be used to support adjudication of benefits applications. However, in its 2019 budget justification submitted to Congress, the agency requested to transfer $207.6 million of these funds to support ICE hiring initiatives and other immigration enforcement efforts.
Due to the budget shortfall, USCIS requested $1.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress in May, with the promise that it would repay taxpayers for this funding by charging a surcharge in fees.
The Federal News Network reported that furlough notices have gone out to the potentially affected USCIS employees, warning them of the potential furlough if Congress does not provide the requested funding.
If USCIS does furlough 65 percent of its workforce, it will cause substantial delays in adjudication of benefits applications. However, it is difficult to predict whether the furloughs will actually happen, and if they do, what impact they may have on processing times.
The furloughs come on the heels of a new Presidential Executive Order. Read our legal alert on that topic here.
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