The federal agency charged with granting immigration benefits, processing visa applications and approving citizenship is preparing to furlough more than half of its workforce unless Congress provides additional funding, according to a spokesperson.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services notified Congress of its projected budget shortfall last month. While conversations with the Hill are ongoing, according to the agency’s statement, preparation is underway for furloughs.
Approximately 13,400 employees will be notified whether they’ll be furloughed beginning August 3, an agency spokesperson said. The agency has nearly 20,000 employees.
USCIS is primarily fee-funded and typically continues most operations during lapses in funding, such as last year’s government shutdown. But during the pandemic, the agency suspended its in-person services, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies.
“This dramatic drop in revenue has made it impossible for our agency to operate at full capacity,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Without additional funding from Congress before August 3, USCIS has no choice but to administratively furlough a substantial portion of our workforce.”
The immigration agency is at the center of a series of administration policies aimed at curtailing asylum and slashing legal immigration to the US.
This week, the White House released an executive order that places new restrictions on employment-based visas and shuts out thousands of immigrants from coming to the US. The administration also is seeking to ban asylum seekers who illegally cross the border from obtaining work authorization, with some exception, and delay when permits can be granted.
The agency’s depleted funds appear to be the result of the administration’s policies that decreased the number of petitions – and thus fees – received by USCIS, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute. As fees dropped off, costs went up for vetting and fraud detection, according to Pierce.