On August 25, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) Deputy Director for Policy, Joseph Edlow, confirmed the agency no longer intends to furlough 13,000 employees at the end of the month. The message, circulating on social media and now posted on the USCIS website notes that while the doors of the agency will remain open through the end of FY 2020, there will be “aggressive spending” reductions impacting services across the board. USCIS is largely funded by filing fees, which support the agency’s operations, but USCIS claims the fees are not sufficient and accordingly announced a fee increase to take effect later this year.

Deputy Director Edlow warns that there will be operational impacts as a result of foregoing the planned furlough, that may include increased processing times for pending case queries, longer case processing times, and increased adjudication times for adjusting status and naturalizing. The message also notes that there is no guarantee that future furloughs can be avoided, leading him to call on Congress to take long-term action.

The furloughs have been considered for months and there have been claims of mismanagement and organizational issues. Director of Government Relations of American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”), Shev Dalal-Dheini testified before Congress and said, “It is within their own power to fix this situation, they need to be held accountable and should be expected to manage their policies and processes more efficiently moving forward.”

On August 18, 2020, Senator Patrick Leahy, urged the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and USCIS to further delay “the unnecessary furloughs” noting that “USCIS could pay all of its staff through the end of the fiscal year, avoid furloughs entirely, and still end the fiscal year with a sizeable carryover balance.”

Last week, the House passed a bill “Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act” (HR 8089) to expand the premium processing program to new visa categories, and increase user fees from $1440 to $2200 in an effort to increase USCIS fee intake. Currently, premium processing fees solely support the premium processing program and limited agency infrastructure improvements. The House bill would broaden the use of premium processing revenue. The Senate is not currently in session and will need to take up this issue in order for Congress to take concrete action.

It is more important than ever to #holdUSCISaccountable and support transparency in their reporting metrics, as well as a reduction in USCIS case processing times. Seyfarth will be monitoring the impact fiscal related issues have on operations as well as any congressional action as things move forward.