U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be putting 13,400 employees on indefinite furlough this summer. Employees will receive a 30-day “reduction-in-force” (RIF) notice by July 2 for the furlough to begin August 3, but the the USCIS will likely extend the furlough in 30-day increments until Congress approves a $1.2 billion cash injection. As of last week, the Trump administration has made no request for USCIS funds.
The reason for the furlough is reportedly a budget shortfall caused by COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has apparently caused a serious reduction in applications. As a fee-funded agency, the USCIS relies on application fees to make payroll. With fewer applicants, the agency claims they’ll need Congress to provide more than a billion dollars to make payroll, which would be paid for with a 10% fee increase.
Is the Pandemic to Blame for the Furlough?
While the reason for the budget shortfall is ostensibly the coronavirus pandemic, some government employees are notably skeptical. Michael Knowles, head of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees and an asylum officer, believes that the furlough may be a way to permanently shut down more than half of the USCIS.
“Why do we think it all resumes when the president is doing everything he can to shut down legal immigration?” Knowles said. Our own law firm has often reported on the Trump administration’s efforts to shift the USCIS from a service agency to a law enforcement agency, to do nothing to solve the massive backlog in USCIS cases, and to raise USCIS fees to reduce applicants even further. All of this has created an “invisible wall” that makes it harder for people to apply for visas and residency, reducing the documented immigration rate.
As for Mr. Knowles’ skepticism about the furloughs causes, there’s good reason for it. In December, before the pandemic was even widely reported, the USCIS announced a hiring freeze for all immigration service positions due to 2020 budgetary constraints. This followed a hiring push to increase the number of asylum officers. The acting USCIS director last year promised to increase the asylum workforce by 50%.
In other words, fee revenues started dropping well before the pandemic began, and that may have been by design. With the entire agency operating at 25% efficiency, the record backlogs and delays at USCIS will continue to skyrocket, contributing to lowered morale, exhaustion, and employee turnover. Knowles acknowledged that the furlough would cause many employees to look for work elsewhere, as few people can afford to go through a 30-day unpaid furlough in the current crisis.
Is This Furlough a Permanent Cut to the USCIS?
It may be possible that this “temporary” furlough to lead to a permanent reduction in funding and manpower to the USCIS—the only agency that directly services immigrants to the United States. The impact felt on the immigrant community will be enormous if this furlough takes place. People who have waited years for their day in court will wait years longer. Applications will continue to drop, and the manpower needed to handle the incredible number of cases will shrink.
What’s worse, but cases at the USCIS will not receive the time or attention they need. With so many cases that need handling, USCIS employees will be overworked and unable to give each case their full and undivided attention. It’s that lack of attention that could eventually lead to numerous cases getting denied or mishandled, creating further inefficiencies in the immigration system.
Your Case Needs an Advocate
Immigrants can no longer trust that a USCIS employee will be able to fairly evaluate their cases. Your case needs an advocate, someone who will devote the time and energy needed to getting what you need. The beleaguered employees at the USCIS simply won’t have the time or energy. What you need is a lawyer.
The New Jersey immigration attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd E. Bennett Esq., P.C. provide our clients with proven immigration representation. We’re able to use our knowledge of the system to guide you through the immigration process, whether you need a work visa, asylum, or a green card. Speak with us today in a free consultation to learn your options.
Call (800) 909-8129 for a confidential consultation today. Se Habla Español.