Five days before it was set to furlough more than 13,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees, officials with the agency said it was changing course.
In an email sent to employees Tuesday morning, USCIS officials abruptly changed course on what was to be the furlough of roughly 13,800 employees by Sunday.
USCIS officials said the change was due to “unprecedented spending cuts” and a “steady increase” in daily revenue. As a result, the agency believes it will be able to maintain operations until the end of the fiscal year in late September.
Although employees will be spared furloughs, USCIS officials made it clear that operations will be impacted.
In what is already a backlogged area, officials said immigration naturalizations will be impacted as well as the use of contractors.
USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow said despite the news, the agency needs congressional help if it expects to avoid the same issues in the coming fiscal year.
“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,” Edlow said in a news release. “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.
Last month, the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus demanded House and Senate leadership put in place a supplemental funding bill before the end of the month to help the USCIS.
U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, signed the letter urging the funding the agency would need to pay its employees.
“A simple review of the data and the Administration’s immigration policies make it clear that much of the agency’s current financial crisis is due to mismanagement and policy choices,” the Hispanic Caucus members wrote. “While we should appropriate any needed emergency funding, it is equally critical that we establish firm parameters and sideboards to ensure the funds are not used to intimidate or discourage immigration and to encourage the agency to develop procedures that will prevent a funding shortfall in the future.”
At the beginning of the month, in an effort to account for the shortfall at the agency, USCIS announced it was raising fees for multiple different forms and services.
In some cases, like that of fees for citizenship applications, fees would increase by more than 80%, according to the federal register. Citizenship applicants would pay higher fees, with the naturalization form increasing by nearly double, from $640 to $1,170, the document stated.
Green card applicants would pay much higher fees than they do now due to work and travel permits now requiring separate fees, from $1,750, to $2,830. Recently married couples would pay an extra $165 to obtain a permanent green card.
According to the USCIS document outlining the new fees, the proposed changes will add more than $1 billion in revenue for the agency which subsists primarily on fees. Some 97% of its budget is derived from fees.
But of the $1 billion in new revenue, USCIS does not state how more than 60% or $649,698,915 would be allocated. Instead, it shows about a third of that money would go to hire new USCIS staff, about $122,750,000, and another $185 million for staff pay raises but no accountability for the more than $649 million.
The new fees will go into effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year, October 2020.