U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office located in Silicon Valley BY Sundry Photography Shutterstock ID: 1590456970

WORKFORCE

USCIS calls off furloughs of 13,000 workers

The planned furloughs of more than 13,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees set for Aug. 30 have been called off, the agency announced today.

The agency, which is funded by fees, had been facing financial shortfalls because of the economic crash during the pandemic. In May, USCIS asked Congress for $1.2 billion in emergency appropriations, but negotiations over agency funding appeared to founder amid the collapsed talks over a second round of pandemic relief.

Increasing fee collection and spending reductions helped USCIS avoid the furloughs, the agency said in a statement. In particular, the agency was able to cut spending on contracts for work assisting USCIS employees on case processing.

USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow, who is performing the function of agency head, said that by avoiding the furlough, USCIS will incur "a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs." Edlow added that "a return to normal operating procedures requires congressional intervention to sustain the agency through fiscal year 2021."

The move comes just days ahead of the planned furlough and as Congress passed an emergency bill to raise USCIS fees over the weekend. The bipartisan Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), passed without objection on Aug. 22, in a little noticed sidelight to the much-heralded debate about the future of the U.S. Postal Service.

"This bill is not a complete solution to USCIS's current fiscal challenges. But it will provide the agency with quick access to additional revenue that will eliminate the need for immediate furloughs," Lofgren said. "At a time of record unemployment and with increasing delays in immigration adjudications, we must do everything we can to ensure that USCIS can sustain its current workforce and keep operating at full capacity."

Many lawmakers have been pressing USCIS in recent weeks to cancel the furloughs, citing the agency's improved financial outlook, including revised estimates that showed USCIS would close out fiscal year 2020 with $230 million left unspent.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had hoped to include a solution to the USCIS funding problem in a second round of pandemic relief, and had sent several letters to the agency pressing for a solution. Leahy greeted the news but took aim at the Trump administration for creating the problem.

"It is welcome news that these women and men will be able to continue to assist the thousands of United States Citizens, employers, and students in Vermont and around the country who rely on the work of USCIS and would have been impacted by the loss of services," Leahy said in a statement. "But the emotional strain placed on these members of our communities who did not know when their next paycheck would come was a completely needless crisis imposed by the Trump administration. I look forward to continuing to work on a long term solution to ensure the solvency of this vital agency into the future.”

“We are grateful to members of Congress for their bipartisan support of these workers and their mission,” American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said. “While the immediate threat of furloughs has passed, we still need Congress to act to prevent similar funding challenges and ensure that the agency is able to operate without further threats to workers and their jobs,” he said.

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