The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency may furlough nearly two-thirds of its workforce unless Congress can approve much-needed budgetary relief. The agency employs nearly 20,000 workers and could furlough as many as 13,400 workers if this issue is not addressed by August 30, 2020. Considering Congress is currently in its August recess, the odds of the USCIS receiving this relief appear to be slim.
USCIS notified Congress in May of this year that it had projected a massive budget shortfall, requesting a $1.2 billion stimulus. The most likely vehicle for such a stimulus would be the next coronavirus relief package, but the negotiations on that latest bill have reached a complete standstill. President Trump claims he will take executive actions to deliver aid to Americans, but USCIS doesn’t appear to be in those plans either. Absent a last-second compromise in Congress on a coronavirus relief package, furloughs could be coming to USCIS in a matter of weeks.
If the furloughs do happen, the impact could be devastating. Experts and former USCIS employees believe such a massive furlough could hurt not only legal immigrants, lawful permanent residents, and potential immigrants, but businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and even churches.
A furlough of this magnitude could create much longer processing times or even essentially shut down USCIS due to a depleted workforce. If such a shutdown did occur, those in the process of becoming naturalized citizens may not be able to complete the process in time to register to vote or receive other benefits, DACA recipients may not be able to renew their benefits, and businesses may struggle to hire or retain immigrant employees. The Migration Policy Institute forecasted that 75,000 applications will not be processed for each month the USCIS is furloughed. That would be potentially 300,000 unprocessed applications if the furloughs hit in September and stay through the end of the year.
Again, these furloughs haven’t happened yet, but time is running out. Those concerned can call their members of Congress to pressure them to reach a deal soon. We will continue to track this story and provide updates as they become available.