Thousands of staffers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who were facing furloughs Aug. 3 at the cash-strapped agency have been given nearly a monthlong reprieve.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said USCIS Deputy Director of Policy Joseph Edlow told him by phone today that furloughs would be postponed until Aug. 31. Some employees also reported receiving notices from Edlow announcing the delay but stressing that Congress still needs to act to help the agency’s shortfall.
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. This has cut deeply into the agency’s fees-based operating structure.
USCIS notified Congress of the 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.
The furloughs are expected to leave 13,400 employees out of work for 30 to 90 days unless Congress comes through with a bailout. “We hope that this delay will allow enough time for Congress to provide the funding that USCIS needs to cancel the administrative furlough altogether,” Edlow said, promising further guidance on what to expect in the coming days.
“Furloughing thousands of public servants in the middle of a pandemic and at record unemployment would have upended the lives of the dedicated women and men working at USCIS and impacted thousands who rely on their services, and after new revenue estimates showed the agency ending the fiscal year with a surplus it was completely unjustifiable,” Leahy said today. “I’m glad the agency decided to change course for now, but I remain troubled the Trump administration was pushing for these furloughs in the first place.”
Earlier this week, Leahy and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Edlow highlighting revised revenue estimates that show the agency will end the fiscal year with a surplus and not the once-projected $571 million deficit.
“With regard to your projected deficit for FY 2021, we are committed to addressing this issue in the next coronavirus supplemental so that USCIS can continue accomplishing its missions without a furlough,” the senators wrote. “Now that USCIS is no longer projecting a deficit for FY 2020, you must not sit by as thousands of American jobs are on the line, particularly during a time of unprecedented unemployment.”
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 14,500 USCIS employees, said the delay is a “positive step” but not a fix for the budget problems at the agency.
“While this delay is a step in the right direction, more must be done to protect the jobs of these essential employees,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “We hope this delay will allow time for Congress to pass emergency funding legislation to prevent these furloughs from ever taking place. Congress and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration must address this issue once and for all so we do not find ourselves in this position again.”