By Dev Banad Viswanath, Esq.
The US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is the department within the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with administering and processing immigration benefits and petitions in all Immigrant, Non-Immigrant, and US Citizenship matters. It is also the agency that processes affirmative applications for asylum. Similar to the US Postal Service, USCIS is charged with reining its own funds to run the agency, which it earns through charging filing fees. Administration policy decisions as well as the Coronavirus (Covid 19) pandemic have very badly affected the USCIS’s ability to maintain enough funding to maintain the agency for the foreseeable future. Therefore, USCIS has asked that Congress create a $1.2 Billion bailout package to help keep the agency afloat and maintain its employees.
This week the agency initially stated that if the injection of funds did not come from Congress soon, the USCIS could not continue to run properly, as early as the end of the summer. However, even more recently, the Agency announced the position that if Congress did not provide the $1.2 billion needed to keep the USCIS afloat, it would take the drastic measure of furloughing thousands of its employees.
Back in March, the agency suspended functions at the District, Field, and Biometrics offices, effectively ending Citizenship Interviews, Asylum interviews, Green Card Interviews and Biometrics/Fingerprinting. Then, last week the agency announced that a few offices, including the district office in Boston, which had jurisdiction over New England, would reopen on June 4. Question is, whether this latest announcement of a possible furlough will impede the agency’s plans for reopening offices. It almost makes no sense to open the offices for a few weeks, only to close them again, when there is so much extra money and resources that will need to be spent on keeping the offices clean and safe for workers and visitors seeking benefits.
The agency employs approximately 19,000 federal workers and additional 2,000 contract workers. A spokesman for the USCIS said that without congressional assistance, the agency would furlough some of its employees on or about July 20. The exact number has not been announced, but it is pretty firmly believed that the number would be several thousand workers. There is an estimate that USCIS funds will drop by 61% for this fiscal year. Moreover, approximately 900,000 less petitions were filed between 2017 and 2019 because of administrative policies aimed at curbing or impeding Immigration such as ending Temporary Protected status for people of some countries, and higher denial rates for H1B and L1 visas, which caused employers to slow down or halt filing applications. And, of course, there was the push back on DACA applicants. Then finally we got hit with the Covid 19 pandemic, which hit even harder.
Congress is in the process of coming up with another Pandemic relief bill and many believe that funds to help USCIS will be included in that package. The question at this stage is whether the bill will be able to get passed. Many in Congress, largely along political lines, are fighting over what the shape of the bill will look like. And there are certainly enough members of Congress, largely in the House, but also in the Senate, who are against US Immigration and would like to see it curbed or halted. The next few weeks will be crucial to understanding what the future holds for the agency and moreover for our clients and intending seekers of benefits. If you or a loved one are in need of advice or assistance, please contact an experienced Immigration attorney.