U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is threatening to furlough over 13,000 employees – 75% of its workforce – in August 2020, if it doesn’t receive an infusion of $1.2 billion from Congress to make up for a budget shortfall. Unlike most federal agencies funded by Congressional appropriations, USCIS is funded primarily by ever increasing filing fees paid by those seeking residency, citizenship, work permits, nonimmigrant visas and many other applications.
USCIS blames the budget shortfall on a decline in applications filed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the shortfall was first identified in 2019, months before the coronavirus was known to be in the U.S.
And since 2017, changes in administration policies have led both to fewer applications being filed, and to more time being spent, often unnecessarily, on each application. For example, in 2017 USCIS did an about-face and reversed a decades old policy that waived in-person residency interviews in straightforward employment-based residency applications. USCIS also began requesting extensive evidence that they already had on file when employers applied to extend their professional level employees’ visas, even when the extension was for the exact same worker filling the exact same position that had been approved without issue previously. And the administration terminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for about 300,000 individuals who normally file (and pay for) applications to renew their status and work permits every 18 months, but now have their status automatically extended under federal court orders while litigation challenging the TPS terminations is ongoing.
The Migration Policy Institute has taken a closer look in this analysis of how USCIS is functioning, and at the causes of the funding shortfall. This Washington Post op-ed takes a critical look at some of the agency’s actions that have led it to this point.
Congress should demand answers regarding USCIS’s increasing inefficiencies and growing backlogs before it writes the agency a check for $1.2 billion.