The federal agency in charge of managing the United States’ immigration policies is in real financial trouble. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is funded entirely by application fees and other charges, has projected a staggering budget shortfall.
In order to climb out of this hole, the agency will likely have to take one of two paths. Both options could have serious repercussions for individuals pinning their hopes on the U.S. immigration system.
Option 1: Extensive furloughs
In order to balance its budget and reduce expenses, USCIS has outlined drastic, temporary cuts to staffing levels. The agency issued furlough notices to more than 13,000 employees, saying that without additional funding from lawmakers by Aug. 3, 2020, these workers must take a leave of absence.
That means more than 60% of the USCIS workforce would suddenly be out of a job for up to three months. These furloughs would grind the U.S. immigration system “to a near halt,” as one news story put it. Processes that could be impacted include:
- Work visa approvals
- Asylum screenings
- The issuance of green cards
This stagnation would be a significant blow to anyone depending on the immigration system in the near future.
Option 2: More funding – and higher application fees
Instead of cutting jobs, USCIS provided another option: An extra $1.2 billion in funding from Congress, in order to make up the shortfall. If approved, the furloughs would not happen. But even this option comes with ripple effects.
If Congress provides this additional money, USCIS plans to add a 10% surcharge to all applications as a way to repay the extra funding boost. The agency also plans to eliminate fee waivers, and could still institute the huge immigration fee spikes proposed in late 2019.
Neither of the above options is optimal. Many foreign nationals, international workers, loving family members and big-dreaming individuals will face additional hurdles. Fortunately, there is often a way forward. It might just require a bit more patience and creative problem-solving.