More than 13,000 employees at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be receiving furlough notices within the next week, unless it receives emergency funding from Congress, a spokesperson has confirmed.
“On or before July 2, approximately 13,400 USCIS employees will receive notice that if USCIS must proceed with an administrative furlough, they would be furloughed beginning August 3,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Though we continue to have productive conversations with Congress, we want employees who may be furloughed to have sufficient time to prepare. Further, we are legally required to provide employees with advance written notice at least 30 calendar days prior to the effective date of an expected furlough.”
Unlike most other federal agencies, USCIS, which has nearly 20,000 federal employees overall, is largely funded by application fees and not taxpayer funds.
However, the agency, which is in charge of processing immigration applications, said it had been hard hit the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen various travel restrictions put in place and the number of immigrants coming into the United States drastically decline. It noted that the effects of the pandemic are, “long reaching and pervasive, leaving few unscathed in its wake.”
The agency said that it began dealing with an alarming 50 percent drop in applications and incoming fees at the end of March, and estimates that application and petition receipts will stay well below plan through the end of Fiscal Year 2020.
“This dramatic drop in revenue has made it impossible for our agency to operate at full capacity,” the spokesperson said. “Without additional funding from Congress before August 3, USCIS has no choice but to administratively furlough a substantial portion of our workforce.”
In May, USCIS first notified Congress of a projected budget shortfall and asked for $1.2 billion in emergency funding that would stretch into the beginning of the next fiscal year and allow it to continue operating.
USCIS said the funding proposal would protect American taxpayers by requiring the agency to pay the money back to the U.S. Treasury. USCIS would repay these funds by adding a 10 percent surcharge to applications. The agency has already taken action to avert a fiscal crisis, including limiting spending to salary and mission-critical activities.
On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order limiting immigration to the United States for the rest of this year, noting that the “overall unemployment rate in the United States nearly quadrupled between February and May of 2020—producing some of the most extreme unemployment ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
The order bans issuing on several categories of temporary visa holders, including the H-1B visas, which permit employers to hire foreign workers with specialised knowledge. The ban also includes H-2B visas for seasonal non-agricultural workers, L visas for managers and executives in multinational companies, and J visas for students and workers in exchange programs.
It also extends a previous April ban on some green card applicants, all of which the administration said would help open up more jobs for unemployed Americans.