Faced with $1.2 billion deficit, USCIS may furlough 13,000 staffers, visa fee hike.
Indian professionals upset over President Donald Trump’s suspension of H-1B and other work visas and decades long wait for green cards may have to brace for some more pain.
Faced with a funds squeeze due to the Trump ban and covid-19 induced closures, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sought a $1.2 billion bailout from the US Congress and proposed a 10% visa fee surcharge to repay it.
And unless the divided Congress acts before Aug 3, the immigration agency has warned it may need to furlough over 13,000 staff members further delaying H-1B processing, green card renewals, and work permits.
“But with the deadline a month away, significant obstacles to a bailout deal with Democrats remain,” the Washington Post reported citing unnamed congressional staffers and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials.
In fact USCIS “employees around the country began receiving notices this week telling them to prepare for the unpaid furloughs, which would affect about two-thirds of the agency’s staff,” it said.
In a policy statement on its fiscal outlook, the agency, which processes over eight million applications for various things, said it has seen an “alarming” 50% drop in receipts at the end of March leading to a predicted “crippling budget shortfall.”
“Forecasts predict a crippling budget shortfall that requires assistance from Congress to allow USCIS to maintain current operations,” the agency’s Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow stated.
“Since May, USCIS has worked with Congress to explain the financial situation and educate members and staff on the needs of the agency,” he wrote assuring “any funding provided by Congress will be paid back to the US Treasury.”
“Without congressional action before August 3, USCIS will need to furlough over 13,000 staff members, which will have tremendous negative impacts on our mission administering our nation’s lawful immigration system,” Edlow warned.
Urging Congress to provide the funding to “ensure our operations continue uninterrupted during these unprecedented times,” he noted the “majority of USCIS operations rely on fees paid by applicants and petitioners, not appropriated or taxpayer funds.”
In the past few months, USCIS has taken action to avert a fiscal crisis, including limiting spending to salary and mission-critical activities, Edlow stated.
“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,” he wrote assuring “USCIS would repay these funds by adding a 10% surcharge to applications.”
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the DHS have sent letters in support of USCIS’ proposal, Edlow stated.
But the OMB did not make a formal request itself, the Post said and cited unnamed congressional staffers and DHS officials as saying “they view the lack of direct White House involvement as a sign that Trump administration officials lack a sense of urgency about cutting a deal.”
However, an OMB spokesman cited by the daily disputed claims that the White House has not pressed for a USCIS bailout.
In a report last week, the USCIS estimated there are about 583,420 H-1B visa holders working in the US including thousands of Indian professionals stuck in decades long green card waiting lines due to per country caps.
The agency’s first official estimate of skilled H-1B workers as of Sep 30, 2019 came days after Trump suspended issue of new H-1B and several other work visas until year-end.