The House on Saturday unanimously passed a bill to temporarily prevent major staffing furloughs at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) due to budget shortfalls.
The USCIS, which operates primarily on citizenship, green-card, and visa fees it charges to those who seek to legally enter or stay in the United States, said that it was running out of funds and would have to furlough 13,355, or 67 percent of its 19,881 employees by the end of August.
The bipartisan bill, known as the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act (pdf), did not provide the $1.2 billion in emergency funds the USCIS has requested. Instead, it would temporarily increase the agency’s “premium processing” fees for visa applicants from $1,440 to $2,500, and extend this premium processing service to newer visa categories.
The sponsors of the bill described the bill as a triple win, meaning that the USCIS gets additional revenue that would prevent immediate furloughs, premium processing applicants get expanded and more reliable service, and the fees collected from premium applicants may be used to address backlogs and adjudication delays for other applicants.
“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,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Lofgren, in a written statement. “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.”
Lofgren noted that furloughs at this scale would have a “devastating impact” on the USCIS’s ability to provide immigration and naturalization services to American businesses and families for “many months, if not years, to come.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the bipartisan effort is critical in preventing a potential increase of illegal immigration.
“Without a quick bipartisan effort, an essential federal agency will be demoralized, legal immigration will be backlogged, and illegal immigration will surge,” said Fortenberry.
The USCIS, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, has experienced financial hardship since the global CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak. The agency’s revenue was projected to drop 61 percent this fiscal year.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has seen a dramatic decrease in revenue and is seeking a one-time emergency request for funding to ensure we can carry out our mission of administering our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity, and protecting the American people,” the agency said in June. “Importantly, this funding proposal protects American taxpayers by not adding to the deficit and requiring USCIS to pay the money back to the U.S. Treasury.”