800 contracted staff at the National Benefit Center (NBC) would be placed on furlough if a new United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plan is implemented. Currently, the NBC uses 1,300 such contractors, illustrating the magnitude of the furlough.
The NBC processes certain immigration-related applications for the entire nation, regardless of where the paperwork is initially sent or may ultimately end up. Forms handled by the NBC include the I-130 (relative petition), I-485 (adjustment of status or green card application), and N-400 (naturalization). At the NBC, these applications are checked for the required initial evidence, with the USCIS potentially requesting more. The NBC also conducts background checks on applicants and sends notice biometrics appointments where required. While the applications mentioned here are adjudicated at a field office, where interviewing is also conducted, some other types of applications are adjudicated at the NBC itself, adding to its expansive role.
Because the furlough affects a large portion of NBC’s contract staff, and because of the volume of applications that go through the NBC, large delays are expected—though even more drastic layoffs originally threatened will not take place, avoiding further consequences. While USCIS has argued that application rates have slowed due to COVID-19, the pandemic is not as likely to reduce the number of cases for applications by people already residing in the United States as it is to reduce applications to enter the country. Importantly, visa applications are handled by the National Visa Center (NVC), housed at a separate location, and it is unclear whether USCIS is only looking at data for paperwork that passes through the NBC or instead estimating broadly.
Additional furloughs throughout USCIS may still be pending, as well, compounding the effects of the NBC furlough. Likewise, fee increases set to begin in October have been justified by USCIS in response to the same budgetary pressures that have led to the furlough. However, if staff do not return quickly, there is a high risk of service not only costing applicants more, but still being delayed. Equally, a cycle of backlog is possible if applications are filed in high volume this month to beat the fee increase, placing additional strain on the NBC without necessarily raising the revenue to reinstate workers.
While delays (and high fees) cannot be avoided, further lengthening of the process and duplicative filing fees can be by ensuring that initial applications meet all requirements, such as completeness and inclusion of required evidence. Francis Law Center has further information on the affected applications, including the I-130, family-based I-485, employment-based I-485, and N-400.
This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.
Written by Francis Law Center Staff Eric Liberatore