Opinions and Legal Insights

Immigration Agency Avoiding Mass Furloughs

The agency that runs the legal immigration system no longer will need to furlough 70 percent of its workforce, after warning for months that 13,000 of its employees would be sent home if lawmakers didn’t provide a $1.2 billion bailout, reports the Washington Post. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is funded via fees it collects from immigrants seeking green cards, citizenship and other benefits. A drop in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic left the agency facing a budget shortfall. Several service centers have temporarily closed to the public or scaled down their operations. The agency asked Congress for an emergency loan they said they would need to prevent mass furloughs and a sharper slowdown in the agency’s processing capacity.

Top agency official Joseph Edlow said USCIS now has enough money to get through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, using “aggressive spending reduction measures.” He added that “averting this furlough comes at a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs.” A slowdown or reduction in the pace of citizenship naturalization ceremonies will leave fewer eligible voters ahead of the November election, potentially hurting Democrats, who surveys indicate hold a general advantage among naturalized voters. USCIS officials acknowledged that their initial projected shortfalls were incorrect and that the agency has hundreds of millions of dollars more in its accounts than it expected it would have. Critics blamed the financial problems on mismanagement, including Trump-era policy changes that have created more paperwork for staffers and applicants.