USCIS announced that its planning to furlough of 70% of its employees on August 31 unless Congress acts on the agency’s $1.2 billion emergency funding request. Since March, USCIS has seen a 50% drop in receipts and incoming fees and estimates that application and petition receipts will drop about 60% through the end of fiscal year 2020.
USCIS is a for profit agency that uses application fees to fund the agency and its employees. At the current moment, there are approximately 20,000 USCIS officers that process and review visa and immigration applications. If 70% are furloughed, less than 6,600 agents will remain working at the agency.
What Will Happen if USCIS Furloughs 70% of their Staff?
In short, every aspect of U.S. immigration will grind to a halt.
Slow Down in Adjudication
It is expected that there will be a major slow down in nonimmigrant and immigrant application adjudication. USCIS has an average time of adjudication for all applications. These average times can change depending on workload and staffing. For example, quick EAD applications can take between 1 to 3 months while slow EAD applications can take anywhere between 5 to 7 months. With less staff, applicants should except much longer wait times for applications to be processed. This will impact all applications from asylum to fiancée visas to work permit applications.
Currently, there is already a huge backlog in card production. In June 2020, USCIS ended an outside contract with a company that produced secure cards such as green cards and employment authorization cards. USCIS has moved this service to its internal employees. However, given the reduced number of workers due to the Coronavirus, there is now a huge backlog of cards to be produced. According to USCIS, its internal employees are producing 10,000 cards a day, which is barely making a dent on the backlog of 115,000 green cards and work authorization cards they have. For more information, please click here.
USCIS has already announced that work permit approval receipts can be used as evidence of I-9 eligibility. Through December 1, 2020, employers may accept from employees a Form I-797, Notice of Action, dated on or after December 1, 2019 and through and including August 20, 2020 and indicating that their EAD application has been approved, as a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, List C #7 document establishing employment authorization. For more information, please click here.
Around a million people apply for citizenship each year. The slow down and COVID related shutdowns this year means that there are around 300,000 individuals otherwise eligible for citizenship that will not be able to receive their citizenship in time for the November elections.
Impact on Businesses
Nearly 3 million people applying for temporary work permits each year, plus over 550,000 employers sponsor temporary workers each year. The Trump administration has already made several steps to limit H-1B and L visas. U.S. businesses will have a much harder time petitioning for qualified employees.
Congress is unlikely to pass a standalone USCIS bailout package, it is more likely that USCIS bailout will be included in the second COVID-19 package. However, according to news reports, it’s unlikely that the second COVID package will pass before September. It is possible that USCIS will delay the furlough until congress is able to pass the COVID package. It is not guaranteed that the USCIS bailout will be a part of the package.
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