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USCIS postpones plans to furlough 13,400 employees, for now

Agency is seeking emergency funding from Congress due to projected budget shortfalls

People are sworn in as new American citizens during a July 2 ceremony at the USCIS field office in New York City.
People are sworn in as new American citizens during a July 2 ceremony at the USCIS field office in New York City. (Byron Smith/Getty Images file photo)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Friday it would postpone for a month its plans to furlough more than 13,000 employees, giving Congress more time to act on the agency’s $1.2 billion emergency funding request. 

“Recent assurances from Congress, and an uptick in application and petition receipts, have allowed USCIS senior leadership the flexibility to responsibly delay the start date of the administrative furlough of approximately 13,400 USCIS employees until Aug. 30,” agency spokeswoman Jessica Collins said.

The fee-funded Homeland Security agency, responsible for allocating immigration benefits and visas, sought emergency funding from Congress in May because of a projected budget shortfall. Without the funds, the agency said, it would need to furlough about two-thirds of its 20,000 employees by Aug. 3.

“USCIS’ funding request of $1.2 billion remains unchanged and the agency is depending on Congress to provide emergency funding to ensure agency operations continue uninterrupted,” Collins said.

Michael Knowles, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, which represents USCIS employees in the nation’s capital, applauded the reprieve but called on Congress to come through with the agency’s funding request.

“A furlough, if implemented, would bring vital USCIS services to a standstill and adversely impact millions of legal immigrants and US citizens and deliver another heavy blow to our economy,” he said in a statement Friday.

The news that USCIS had temporarily called off the furloughs initially came from Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy. The Vermont Democrat said he received assurances the furloughs would be delayed during a phone call Friday morning with Joseph Edlow, USCIS deputy director for policy.

Both Leahy and Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member, had called on the Trump administration to call off its furlough plans after learning that revised estimates from the agency showed it had a surplus at year’s end instead of a multimillion-dollar deficit. 

In an internal staff memo viewed by CQ Roll Call, Edlow said USCIS had recorded a revenue increase within the past few weeks and “could possibly cover its own planned expenses through the end of fiscal 2020,” even if it did not get emergency congressional funding, which would help pay for expenses into the next fiscal year.

“I’m glad the agency decided to change course for now, but I remain troubled the Trump Administration was pushing for these furloughs in the first place,” Leahy said in a statement Friday.  

“Furloughing thousands of public servants in the middle of a pandemic and at record unemployment would have upended the lives of the dedicated women and men working at USCIS and impacted thousands who rely on their services, and after new revenue estimates showed the agency ending the fiscal year with a surplus it was completely unjustifiable,” he said.

Leahy said he was committed to helping USCIS address its projected budget deficit for fiscal 2021 through the next coronavirus relief package.