Some 70% of the 20,000 employees of US Citizenship & Immigration Services, the agency within Homeland Security that adjudicates visa-related benefits for all foreign workers, could face furloughs starting as early as August 3, 2020, unless Congress provides $1.2 billion in emergency funding. This budget shortfall was caused by a dramatic decrease in the number of petitions filed with the agency due to the pandemic.  USCIS depends on filing fee revenues to fund its operations.

During the last week of June, USCIS provided notice to AFGE, the union representing the agency’s employees, of the critical impact of the revenue gap the self-funded agency.  While the House Appropriations Committee has expressed its support for including some level of funding in the next phase of coronavirus response legislation, the Senate so far has declined to begin those negotiations. If a substantial portion of the $1.2 billion requested is not appropriated before the end of the month of July, some 13,400 fee-based employees will be furloughed, which will significantly impact adjudications, with the possible exception of emergency cases, such as those where children may “age-out” of a particular immigration benefit as a minor child.

Substantial delays in the processing of visa petitions and applications for naturalization will – inevitably – result. This will include delays in the processing of requests for extension of stay and change of status. Notably, we understand that the agency likely will continue to permit the premium processing of nonimmigrant petitions, including H-1Bs and L-1s, for example, as the additional $1,440 fee that the agency receives for those expedited cases is a large source of revenue for the agency.

If major regulatory changes occur, the dramatically reduced agency staff would face further challenges as training and oversight requirements would rise.  As reported in our June 23 blog post, the Trump administration’s recent proclamation freezing issuance of new H-1B, L-1, H-2B, J-1, and accompanying dependent visas also includes mandates for new rules in these and other categories, a rulemaking that is anticipated to occur shortly through immediately-effective Interim Final Rules.