Furlough canceled for 13,000 immigration services workers

The financially strained U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said Tuesday it would cancel the planned furlough of 13,000 workers scheduled for Sunday after sustained bipartisan pressure from Congress.

“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,” USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow said.

“A return to normal operating procedures requires congressional intervention to sustain the agency through fiscal year 2021,” he added.

The Homeland Security agency, which processes applications for visas, asylum and citizenship, had announced potential furloughs in May after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States.

The agency, which gets a considerable portion of its funding from fees, was projected to have a $571 million deficit as the country went into lockdown, and announced furloughs for late July.

But a combination of cost-cutting measures and an increase in fee revenue have improved its financial situation, leading to a delay and ultimately the cancelation of the furloughs.

A recent estimate found that USCIS would finish the year with a surplus of $230 million and remain solvent at least through November, by which point new funding should be in place.

The spending cuts, however, mean the agency will operate less efficiently, and it anticipates longer wait times for processing cases and inquiries.

Bipartisan members of Congress, including the top Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security in both chambers, had called on USCIS to refrain from furloughing workers.

“The USCIS financial situation has improved considerably since the agency first made Congress aware of a potential need for emergency appropriated funds,” they wrote in a joint letter earlier this week.

“USCIS’s improved financial position and the continued efforts by Congress to ensure the agency’s operational continuity warrant a further delay in furloughs and contract reductions,” they added.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the top Democratic appropriator in the Senate, had been pushing on the issue for months.

“It is welcome news that these women and men will be able to continue to assist the thousands of United States Citizens, employers, and students in Vermont and around the country who rely on the work of USCIS and would have been impacted by the loss of services,” he said.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R), who is up for reelection in November, said the cuts would have crippled the immigration system and left many in limbo.

“The coronavirus pandemic already leaves us with so much uncertainty for the future, and I’m glad USCIS will continue to help families achieve the American Dream,” he said.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Immigration John Cornyn Naturalization Patrick Leahy USCIS
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