USCIS Furloughs Postponed and Possibly Avoided

In June 2020, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) served notice on The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union representing the agency’s 13,400 fee-based employees, that absent approval by Congress of $1.2 billion requested as part of the pending stimulus bill to make up for a precipitous drop in filings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency would commence administrative furloughs as early as August 3, 2020, which, as reported in our July 9 post, was predicted to augment already significant delays in USCIS processing.  On Friday, July 24, 2020, the USCIS announced a one-month delay in the planned furloughs. The furloughs are now planned for August 31.

USCIS is funded primarily by fees collected for processing visas and citizenship applications, and the agency originally planned to furlough employees August 3 due to a projected loss of that revenue during COVID-19.   “Recent assurances from Congress, and an uptick in application and petition receipts, have allowed USCIS senior leadership the flexibility to responsibly delay the start date of the administrative furlough of approximately 13,400 USCIS employees until Aug. 30,” agency spokeswoman Jessica Collins said.

Fee Increase Approved by OMB

The fiscal situation for the benefit agency is likely to be helped as well by an expected increase in the fees USCIS collects for the petitions and applications it processes.   On November 14, 2019, the USCIS published in the Federal Register a proposal to adjust application fees to ensure all of its operational costs are covered. “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis. This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimize subsidies from an already over-extended system,” said Ken Cuccinelli, director of USCIS. In January of this year the proposal was reopened and the comment period extended to February 10, 2020. On May 27, 2020, the USCIS Fee Rule went to the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  OIRA completed its review on July 22, 2020, and a final rule, to be effective 60 days thereafter, is expected to be published soon.