U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced that the agency will avert a much anticipated furlough of more than 13,000 employees through September 30, the end of FY 2020. The furlough had been scheduled to begin on August 30. According to the agency, spending cuts coupled with a steady increase in revenue from new filings should allow USCIS to maintain operations through the end of the fiscal year. However, increased case processing backlogs and wait times are expected as a result, and future employee furloughs still cannot be ruled out.
According to the agency, employers and foreign nationals can expect increased wait times for pending case inquiries with the USCIS Contact Center, longer case processing times in general, and increased adjudication time for adjustment of status and naturalization applications. The agency also states that a return to normal operating procedures will require congressional intervention to sustain the agency through FY 2021.
This weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed an emergency stopgap bill that would expand the USCIS premium processing program in order to prevent agency employees from being furloughed. If the bill passes the full Congress and is signed into law by the president, it would increase agency revenue from the premium processing program and permit USCIS to use premium processing funds for normal agency operations.
The House bill would provide an alternative response to USCIS’s recent Congressional request for $1.2 billion in appropriations, which the agency claims is necessary to continue normal operations. Prospects for the bill’s passage remain unknown.
What this means for employers and foreign nationals
Employers and foreign nationals should expect increased processing times and adjudication backlogs, as stated by USCIS. Employers should continue to timely submit petitions, applications, and responses to requests for evidence (RFEs).
By September 30, Congress must pass an appropriations package or stopgap measure to fund the federal government for FY 2021, which could include additional funds for USCIS, depending on where agency funding and operations stand at that time.