Decreased Immigration Means a Decreased Budget for the USCIS
With the number of its cases decreasing by almost 60%, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) is threatening to lay off 80% of its nearly 19,000 employees. This could result in substantial delays and a reduction in available services for both immigrants and non-immigrants.
New Rules and New Responses
The Trump Administration’s new rules and executive orders regarding immigration, combined with worries about COVID-19, have resulted in a dramatic reduction in immigration to the U.S. ICE, for example, has recently announced that international students studying exclusively online at a U.S. institution must leave the country. Several institutions, including Harvard, are currently challenging ICE’s move in court.
The new immigration rules announced by the Trump administration also include the suspension of immigrant and non-immigrant visas including H-1B, L-1, H2-B and J-1 and accompanying family members. There are a few notable exceptions for health care and farm workers but essentially, the administration has blocked many legal paths to enter the U.S. due to fears about the economic impact of Covid-19.
This substantial reduction of immigration to the U.S. has resulted in an equally significant decrease in the money that USCIS can collect.
Self-Funding and Budget Short Falls
Unlike many government agencies, the USCIS is self-funded meaning that its budget is dependent on the fees it charges for its services. This includes fees for green cards, citizenship and other immigration services. The suspension of in-person services in March combined with virtually no worldwide travel, resulted in a dramatic reduction in the volume of both immigration petitions and the fees that accompany them. The Trump Administration’s restrictions on immigration have further exacerbated the shortfall.
Even though most local USCIS offices will resume services in June. Application levels have been reduced by up to 61% according to the USCIS. As a result of this decrease, the agency recently announced a budget shortfall of $1.2 billion. So far, the government has not stepped in with additional funding. On July 2, 13,400 USCIS employees received their furlough notices for a potential August furlough.
While these planned furloughs could bring significant delays to immigration cases, the news isn’t all bad. The USCIS has announced several measures which could ease the application and appeal process for specific individuals.
Premium Processing to Continue
After suspending premium processing in March, USCIS reinstated it in June. Premium processing is a tremendous revenue boost for the organization. So the USCIS is very likely to continue it for the processing of non-immigrant petitions, including H-1Bs and L-1s.
These potential furloughs at the USCIS will likely cause delays in processing both currently pending cases and new cases. However, it will also provide a bit of a boon for immigrants and foreigners who are dealing with requests for additional information. The USCIS recently extended its offer of more flexibility in deadlines. For people who are responding to these requests for information by extending the deadline date by 60 days. This flexibility extends to requests, notices and decisions issued between March 1 and September 11. It includes Requests for Evidence (RFE), Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID) and Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR).
Avoid Further Delays
The situation continues to be volatile, and with almost inevitable delays at the administration level, and potentially additional bars to immigration visas. It is vitally important to finalize and submit any pending cases as quickly as possible.