A Close Look at the Looming USCIS Furloughs and What’s Being Done to Prevent It
By: Rachel Horner
A new emergency bill was created and passed over the weekend in an attempt to halt the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) furloughs set to happen August 30 (originally August 3). Of the nearly 20,000 employees, 13,400 are to be possibly furloughed at the end of the month.
What brought all of this on? Like the U.S. Post Office, USCIS is not funded by taxes. Its funding is generated through the fees it charges to applicants seeking U.S. citizenship or Visas to visit the country. A decrease in number of petitions points to one of the main reasons behind the proposed furloughs. As the Trump Administration enacted more restrictive policies, such as ending Temporary Protected Status for multiple nationalities, the number of applications dropped. It has been reported that between the fiscal years of 2017 and 2019, the number of applications went down by 900,000. The damages brought on by the coronavirus are also to blame. For example, on March 20, 2020, as the coronavirus surged in the U.S., the Department of State suspended “routine visa services” at all embassies and consulates worldwide, cancelling all “immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments.” USCIS turned to the government for a stimulus package and asked for $1.2 billion, but the governmental stall on the coronavirus relief bill, which would carry the funding, left USCIS with their pockets empty.
As a result of all of this, USCIS planned to begin furloughing its employees on August 3rd in an attempt to conserve money. However, after assurances from Congress that a bill was coming, as well as an increase in applications, the date was pushed to August 30. The delay also came after significant pushback from Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman, Patrick Leahy, who pointed out that USCIS had enough money to end the fiscal year in a surplus, not a deficit.
Senators are worried about a potential chain reaction that will be set off if these furloughs occur. For one, the over 13,000 employees being furloughed mean there will be that many more people trying to figure out how to survive during this tough economic time. Danielle Spooner, President of AFGE CIS Council 119, pointed out the unavoidable impact of the furloughs on other businesses in the area of the USCIS offices. Employees are grabbing lunch and coffee in local restaurants and shopping in local stores, all of which—she noted – are still reopening.
The furloughs will also drastically affect the services USCIS provides. An article reported by Government Executive stated that agency employees from USCIS are concerned about how fraud detection and background checks will be greatly impacted, in-person interviews with immigrants will be curtailed, and already record-high backlogs will continue to grow.
However, the communities that rely on USCIS will arguably be hurt the most. The most poignant impact would be in many of the nation’s vegetable and fruit growers who are entering harvest season. Without the seasonal labor they require, business will take a huge hit. “Americans don’t want to do that [work], and they don’t apply for it,” Spooner said.
Big businesses, especially technology companies in Silicon Valley that are staffed with roughly 50% of their employees on some sort of work visa, will also struggle. VSC (Vermont Service Center) processes visa applications for the skilled workers these businesses rely on, as well as premium applications, which cost significantly more to file. In fact, each year, USCIS processes over 160,000 employer sponsorships of green cards, over 230,000 applications to extend or change temporary immigration status (i.e., an international student shifting over to a high-skill work visa), and over 550,000 employer sponsorships of temporary workers. Without a system to process this high number of visa work orders and green cards, businesses will be at a risk of losing a significant portion of their employees.
There will also be a number of humanitarian-related consequences. In a piece by Forbes, it was estimated there are around 156,000 married couples who need a final interview to secure permanent status, as well as 400,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) renewal requests each year.
Despite their essential functions, USCIS plans to begin furloughs if they do not receive some form of funding from Congress. This led to the creation, and ultimate passing, of The Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act on August 22nd, 2020. The bill will increase revenue for USCIS through an immediate increase in premium processing fees. More importantly, if passed through the Senate and accepted by USCIS, it will hopefully keep USCIS employees, and the infrastructure that relies upon the continual function of them, working through the current global crisis.
As an operations analyst and proofreader at Park Evaluations, Rachel Horner reviews and edits evaluations for consistency and coherency, and ensures quality content is produced for the clients. During her free time, she likes to ride her bike and spend time with her shih-tzu, Callie.