Reportedly, USCIS will soon announce the temporary furlough of the majority of its employees – 15,000 employees, or three-fourths of its workforce.
The furloughs will begin in August 2020 if the agency does not receive additional fiscal support.
While being called temporary, the head of the American Federation of Government Employees is concerned the reduction-in-force may become permanent and result in a USCIS “brain drain.” In recent months, USCIS has experienced a dramatic decline in revenue because fewer immigrant and non-immigrant petitions are being filed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, related travel restrictions, the uptick in Requests for Evidence (RFEs) on filed petitions, and recent Administration restrictions on legal immigration.
The agency has asked the Administration and Congress for relief: a $1.2 billion loan and an average 21% increase in fees to shore up their budget shortfall. [
As of now, neither has been instituted. USCIS had partly re-instituted premium processing, which collects an additional $1,440 fee per case. However, this apparently will not help enough.
Because USCIS is self-funded, any decrease in filed petitions and applications directly reduces its revenues. In FY 2018, there was a 17% decrease in petitions filed. Despite this, delays and backlogs continue to grow. Much of this is attributed to the same “extreme vetting” that may be continuing to reduce the number of cases filed, including more focus on small technical errors, the complex new public charge rule, and more RFEs. Beyond that, a hiring freeze has been in effect since February 2020 on most positions other than asylum staff, who are there to push cases through the process.