U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives its funding from application fees of those seeking immigration benefits – visas, green cards and citizenship. Because of policies adopted by the Trump administration, the number of such applications has dropped considerably, especially with regard to employment-based visas such as the H-1B and L-1. The decrease was occurring even before the COVID-19 pandemic because USCIS had been denying those applications at a higher rate than under the Obama administration. Faced with the increased probability of a denied application, many businesses simply did not apply.
In early June, USCIS informed approximately 2/3 of its employees that, due to the decrease in revenue, it would no longer be able to pay them starting at the end of July. On the eve of this furlough, and with the assistance of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), USCIS found additional money to keep it going until the end of August. Just last week, as the furlough deadline was again approaching, USCIS rescinded the furlough notices stating that it had enough money to continue operations through the end of the fiscal year. However, the U.S. government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. So, there is still the possibility that USCIS may furlough employees in October.
Further, the notice of the recission of the furloughs contained warnings that, to save money, USCIS was curtailing the use of contractors to perform important services. We have already seen that in delays affecting the production of green cards and employment authorization/travel cards. The notice warned that delays could extend further, making the processing of cases before the issuance of cards take longer.
Finally, USCIS is raising its fees, effective October 2, in an effort to generate more revenue. This will affect nearly all types of cases. We encourage businesses and individuals to file before those increases take effect.