Nearly 100 people become U.S. Citizens during a Naturalization Ceremony at Glen Echo Park, Maryland, Oct. 3, 2015. (Official DHS photo by Jetta Disco)

USCIS Calls Off Furloughs While Warning of ‘Aggressive’ Hit to Agency Contracts

Five days ahead of a planned furlough that would have hit 13,400 employees out of work for 30 to 90 days, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today that it should be able to maintain operations for the rest of the fiscal year.

While furloughs won’t happen Aug. 30, the agency did say that “aggressive” spending cuts “will drastically impact agency contracts” and impact “all agency operations, including naturalizations.”

“Our workforce is the backbone of every USCIS accomplishment. Their resilience and strength of character always serves the nation well, but in this year of uncertainty, they remain steadfast in their mission administering our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and protecting the American people, even as a furlough loomed before them,” said USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow. “However, 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. A return to normal operating procedures requires congressional intervention to sustain the agency through fiscal year 2021.”

The agency suspended in-person services on March 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with asylum offices rescheduling interviews and naturalization ceremonies postponed. The issuance of green cards has also been impacted by restrictions put in place by the administration.

Thousands of staffers were notified in July that decreased revenue from the COVID-19 office closures would mean furloughs on Aug. 3. That date was later pushed to the end of the month.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 14,500 USCIS employees and launched a national #SAVEUSCIS campaign, called the announcement a “major win.”

“Since these furloughs were announced, we have worked around the clock to stop them for the sake of our members and our legal immigration system,” said Danielle Spooner, president of AFGE CIS Council 119, which represents USCIS employees. “It took a village to secure this victory. This was never just about saving jobs; we avoided major blows to our economy, our military, and the sanctity of the immigration processes our country was founded upon. Those are things all Americans can agree on.”

USCIS said today that the agency is seeing “a steady increase in daily incoming revenue and receipts,” but cost savings to avert furloughs “come through the descoping of federal contracts that assist USCIS adjudicators in processing and preparing case files as well as a myriad of other support activities.”

“Anticipated operational impacts include increased wait times for pending case inquiries with the USCIS Contact Center, longer case processing times, and increased adjudication time for aliens adjusting status or naturalizing. Naturalization ceremonies will continue,” the agency said. “Previously, members of Congress requested that agency leadership avoid operational cuts of this magnitude. However, Congress must still act on a long-term solution that will provide USCIS with the necessary financial assistance to sustain the agency throughout FY 2021 and beyond.”

USCIS notified Congress of its shortfall on May 15 and requested $1.2 billion in emergency funding, including $571.2 million to support operations for fiscal 2020, to be paid back over about three years with a 10 percent surcharge added to applications.

On July 31, USCIS announced it would be hiking fees by an average of 20 percent effective Oct. 2 to help cover payroll and operations costs. Fees were last increased in December 2016. The new rule also includes a $10 discount for people who file online.

USCIS told contractors at the beginning of June that the agency was “reviewing its entire contract portfolio and future requirements to prioritize those that provide the most critical mission essential services.”

“USCIS must ensure mission critical operations continue and funds are prioritized for our employee payroll,” the agency said in a notice posted on beta.sam.gov.

The notice to contractors said leadership has been “exploring all possible opportunities to curtail spending where necessary,” and “as decisions are made on contract actions, USCIS’ Contracting Officers will be coordinating with the affected contractors.”

“These are trying and unprecedented times for USCIS,” the agency said. “We certainly appreciate your collaboration and understanding as we partner to overcome our fiscal challenges and continue to delivery on USCIS’ mission. We will keep you abreast of any new developments and, as always, are fully committed to timely, honest, and transparent communications with our valued industry partners.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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