ACROSS THE NATION, more than two-thirds of the 20,000 employees of a federal immigration services agency have been notified that they are likely to be furloughed for a minimum of 30 consecutive days and as long as three months starting August 3.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has offices in Boston and Lawrence, is charged with processing immigrant visa petitions as well as naturalization, green card, asylum, and refugee applications. The agency also makes adjudicative decisions on those applications and manages immigration benefits, including employment authorizations.
“The agency has been directly impacted by the global coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic,” said Associate Director of Field Operations Daniel Renaud in a Monday internal notice to employees. Renaud said the budget was impacted by fluctuations in revenue from the limited fee-generating services available during the pandemic.
The majority of USCIS funding comes from fees paid by applicants and petitioners – not appropriated or taxpayer funds. USCIS has seen a 50 percent drop in fees since March and estimates that revenue will stay well below budget targets through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. A recent controversial decision by President Trump to not grant many kinds of employment-based visas through the end of the year will also decrease revenues.
On May 15, USCIS notified Congress of a projected budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and requested emergency funding of $1.2 billion, to be repaid with a 10 percent surcharge on applications.
“Though we continue to have productive conversations with Congress, we want employees who may be furloughed to have sufficient time to prepare,” said a USCIS spokesperson. “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.”
In an employee email sent Tuesday, Joseph Edlow, the deputy director for policy, wrote, “This is an extremely difficult decision, one that we do not take lightly and is in no way a reflection of your individual work.”
A USCIS manager who spoke on condition of anonymity had concerns over how the furloughs would impact the already struggling immigration system, saying the impact “to immigrants seeking green cards could be significant, if not enormous.”
Eliana Nader, attorney and head of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, is concerned about the impact the furloughs will have on naturalization and green card cases, saying the furloughs could bring the US immigration system to a “total halt.”
“People won’t become citizens before the election, and people waiting for green cards will have to wait even longer,” she said.