USCIS Averts Furloughs, but Processing Backlogs Will Worsen

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on August 25, 2020 that it would not follow through for the remainder of 2020 on its threat to furlough over 13,000 staff, accounting for nearly 70% of its workforce.

Instead, it says it will implement cost-cutting measures that will impact all aspects of its operations, increasing “backlogs and wait times across the board.”

This will translate into longer waits to receive decisions in cases of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions filed by employers for  foreign workers, or  residency applications for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and applications for work permits,  asylum, and naturalization for U.S. citizenship.

A report analyzing USCIS data found that since 2016, processing times for naturalization had already increased from under 6 months in FY2016 to an average of 10 months, even before COVID-19 caused all USCIS offices to curtail in-person interviews and naturalization ceremonies from March until June 2020.  In Maine, the report shows that the average naturalization application backlog was 9.6 months, and that over 1800 individuals were already stuck in the backlog as of May 2020.  Increased wait times will mean that nationwide, hundreds of thousands of individuals who hoped to naturalize will be unable to do so in time to vote in the November 2020 elections.

While processing of immigration applications may not come to as much of a halt as would have been the case had 70% of USCIS’s staff been furloughed, the predicted backlogs will nonetheless continue the administration’s steady pattern of reducing legal immigration to the U.S.