Furlough Notices Issued to 13,700 USCIS Employees
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued furlough notices to 13,700 of its 20,000 employees, potentially putting as much as 73% of USCIS staff our of work temporarily. The furlough will go into effect on August 3, 2020 unless Congress and the President take action to provide emergency funding for USCIS to continue operations at its present level. If it takes effect, the furlough will last at least 30 days, possibly 90 days or more.
Why were the furlough notices issued?
- USCIS receives 95% of its funding comes from filing fees paid by applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits. USCIS operations have gone from a yearly surplus to a massive deficit: the agency had a total carryover balance of over $1.26 billion at the end of FY 2019. It is now requesting $1.2 billion
- USCIS asserts that the budget shortfall is due to COVID-19 and the decrease in petitions/applications being filed. However, many reason that the shortfall occurred due to a focus on increasing fraud detection operations and several policy changes which significantly increased the already high percentage of issuance of post-filing Requests for Additional Evidence, and consequently increased overall processing times.
- In May USCIS asked Congress for $1.2 billion to support operations while charging a 10% surcharge on future filing fees to reimburse the Treasury. This surcharge would be in addition to an average 21% fee increase that USCIS proposed in December 2019 and is close to finalizing by regulation.
- Basd on an internal USCIS document, the $1.2 billion request breaks down into $571.2 million to support operations in fiscal 2020, which ends Sept. 30, 2020 and $650 million in carryover funds to ensure that sufficient resources are available at the start of the next fiscal year. Of the $571.2 million in fiscal 2020 aid, $373.4 million would be used for payroll and $197.8 million for other expenses including rent, FBI name checks and fingerprinting, and information technology contracts.
- To date Congress has not acted on USCIS’ request for emergency funding. Therefore USCIS announced furloughs 30 days in advance of when they would go into effect, as required by their union collective bargaining agreements.
What it the impact of the furloughs?
- First, it is important to note that the furlough may not go into effect. Congress may choose to provide USCIS with bridge funding; members of both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working with USCIS on the request. It is possible that funding for USCIS may be provided as part of a “Phase 4” COVID relief bill, or as a separate appropriation.
- The furlough may impact some types of applications/petitions more than others. Applications which require an in-person interview, such as adjustment of status (I-485) and naturalization (N-400) require more staff than transactional adjudications such as H-1B, L-1, O-1, etc. petitions. Therefore, the furloughs may impact local USCIS District Offices where in-person adjudications are done more than the regional USCIS Service Centers which handle most employment-based adjudications. However,the Deputy Director for Policy at USCIS has stated “There is not one directorate, one operational directorate, that is taking a larger hit than another” and that “Every directorate, every office is going to be affected by this.”
- The furlough should not impact the ability to file applications and petitions with USCIS, meaning employees can obtain protection based upon timely-filed extensions.
- Furloughs will likely impact processing times, resulting in an applications and petitions taking much longer to be adjudicated.
- The furlough may affect the Premium Processing service, which USCIS recently reinstated in phases beginning June 1, 2020. However, USCIS may decide to retain the service due to the extra revenue it brings.
We will continue to provide updates on this issue as information becomes available.