U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office located in Silicon Valley (Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.com)

Funding shortfall may force USCIS furloughs

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is facing a funding shortfall that could force the agency to furlough nearly 11,000 employees in July.

Because USCIS relies on fees generated by immigration and naturalization services, which have slowed to a trickle during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency is asking for a supplement of $1.2 billion – $571 million for the remainder of the current fiscal year, plus an additional $650 million for the start of Fiscal Year 2021.   

USCIS “will exhaust its funding this summer, and without congressional intervention, we risk not being able to make payroll and will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency afloat,” Joseph Edlow, the acting head of USCIS, wrote in a mid-May email to employees first reported by BuzzFeed.

"The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our agency's financial outlook," a top USCIS official wrote in the letter to AFGE Council 119 President Danielle Spooner, according to a report by CBS News. "Since the declaration of the national emergency, application and petition receipts dropped to half their previous levels and with them, agency revenue that keeps our doors open."

According to the letter sent to AFGE, USCIS hopes to use the supplemental $571.12 million for payroll, rent, office contracts, fingerprint and background check processing and IT services during the remainder of fiscal year 2020. The rest, about $650 million, would be used to ensure "sufficient resources are available" at the start of fiscal year 2021, CBS News reported.

USCIS estimates a 61% drop in application and petition requests through the end of fiscal 2020. 

In a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in support of supplemental appropriation, AFGE President Everett Kelley said furloughs of this magnitude will undoubtedly cripple the agency’s ability to carry out its mission.  “With a loss of nearly 11,000 employees, work and visitor visa petitions, asylum and citizenship/naturalization applications, green cards, and refugee applications will not be processed,” he wrote. 

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs the House Government Operations subcommittee, said he is “monitoring this situation closely, as some of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies have contributed directly to the agency’s current financial crisis, which COVID-19 has only exacerbated.”

The Office of Management and Budget is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security “to identify mitigation strategies [for the funding shortfall] and supports a 'pay it forward' deficit neutral approach that ensures full cost recovery of any emergency supplemental," an OMB spokesman told CBS News.

Reader comments

Wed, Jul 1, 2020 FL

Approximately 13,400 furlough notices have been distributed to USCIS employees between Saturday and Monday of this week. If Congress does not provide the loan that USCIS is seeking all of those people will be unemployed for months. Immigration as we know it will virtually come to a standstill because just a handful of employees will be left to do all the work. If Congress can bail out private industries that have asked for handouts, they can certainly help out a federal agency that is asking for a loan & plans to pay it back with interest.

Mon, Jun 29, 2020 Ohio

I agree USCIS has mismanaged funding with the waste of money program (ELIS) that still does not work correctly. Management is not great. There is no way they are going to pay back that amount of money in less then even 10 years with how much the applications already cost and now increasing them.

Wed, Jun 24, 2020

The government can bailout many private companies like the airlines. However they are not taking about this??? How can they let this go on, why is the WH not doing anything to help the agency???

Tue, Jun 23, 2020

There is literally no Outreach being done at the moment that would raise receipts. Leadership is not focusing on bringing in more money. Strange times but it definitely seems like the WH would like to see the Naturalization Machine fail. Private organizations are being saved for free and USCIS is asking for a loan that it could eventually pay off but no - the WH doesn't want to bail out public servants. Many of those USCIS employees are Veterans at that!

Fri, Jun 12, 2020 California

USCIS has by far the worst management of all government agencies. They treat all staff like they dont belong and belittle all they do. They should let the ISO's and records clerks stay an adjudicate all cases, while mangement gets to sit at home and see the train moving smoothly without them pestering the whole districts.

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