The U.S. agency, which oversees key parts of the immigration system, including processing citizenship, green card and asylum applications, canceled their scheduled vacation this week for nearly 70% of its employees. This comes from an internal email sent to employees on Tuesday morning.
The planned vacation of more than 13,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees on Aug. 30 was intended to stall the immigration system, delay green card application processing, and reset citizenship ceremonies.
In a statement, Joseph Edlow, acting head of USCIS, confirmed the decision, but said: “Avoiding this vacation will come with significant operating costs, adding to the backlog and waiting times across the board, with no guarantee that we can avoid future vacation days . “
“A return to normal operations will require intervention by Congress to keep the agency going through fiscal 2021,” he added.
USCIS officials have warned since spring that the agency, which is funded primarily by fees, is running out of money due to a drop in filings during the pandemic and will need a $ 1.2 billion inflow from Congress.
Edlow said in his employee email that while the agency’s financial prospects had “temporarily improved” due to increased sales, they still needed a long-term solution from Congress.
He added that the agency would undertake “significant cost-cutting efforts” that would have an operational impact.
Without “action by Congress,” these cost-cutting measures would lead to problems such as: B. longer turnaround times for cases and potentially longer waiting times for those wishing to become US citizens, he wrote.
“However, I want to make it clear: our problems have not yet been resolved. We still need Congress to respond to the assurances they continue to give, ”he added. “Without action by Congress during this budget cycle, a future vacation scenario is still possible.”
While the reasons for the funding shortage were discussed, agency officials cite a massive drop in immigration claims due to the pandemic, while immigrant advocates and experts argue that Trump administration’s policies played a role in budgetary issues – the impact on the immigration system was not.
The agency’s place in the immigration system is vital: USCIS officials provide work permits, conduct initial asylum reviews to determine whether immigrants can campaign for protection in the United States, and issue green cards and naturalizations, among other things.
However, USCIS has undergone radical change under the Trump administration as its officials were forced to implement policies that restricted asylum on the southern border and made it difficult to apply for certain visas.
In July, USCIS officials announced a definitive policy that would increase fees for those applying for citizenship and other benefits, while also filing asylum applications to raise more money. The government has also enforced policies that allow the government to refuse permanent residence or restrict certain visas to immigrants who officials believe are likely to be in public benefit.
In the run-up to the vacation days, some USCIS employees panicked when they made plans to survive without a paycheck. Some were spared, some were not. Of the 2,200 employees in the department that heads refugee and asylum work, 1,500 received leave notifications. The planned vacation days have hurt the morale of the authorities, and many wondered if this was related to the general intention to reduce immigration.
Despite news of the canceled vacation, some agency staff feared it was just a form of temporary relief.
“Every colleague I contacted in the last hour expressed a mixture of anger, suspicion and exhaustion. There is little relief here. The point is that the guillotine may be delayed, ”said a USCIS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment publicly on the matter.
Others hoped this would lead to policy changes to encourage more uses.
“I am grateful that the agency will continue to apply for the hiring of the dedicated roster of people who work here and that we can continue to provide services to our clients, but I hope this stressful exercise leads to reforms like rolling back unnecessary reviews that cost money and do not raise additional fraud or security concerns, ”said another agency employee.
While Edlow attributed the decision to avoid vacation days to an increase in revenue since the spring’s fall in money and cuts in internal spending, the agency on Capitol Hill faced increased pressure from Republicans and Democrats to avoid the mass vacation.
In a non-partisan letter sent to USCIS last week, members of Congress, including Republican Senator John Cornyn, stated that the agency is expected to carry over more than $ 200 million into the next fiscal year, which begins in October. They asked the USCIS not to take most of their employees off leave.
Then the House passed a bill over the weekend aimed at making up for the lack of USCIS funding. The bill would increase fees for those seeking “premium processing” of immigration applications in order to generate higher revenues for the agency.
“Me and my staff are relieved that we are not on vacation and can continue our good work on immigration. However, the fact that the announcement calls for further cost cuts remains worrying, especially that a vacation scenario is still possible in the future, ”said a USCIS official. “This still seems like a game of politics, which is frustrating.”