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Without Fees Paid by Immigrants, U.S. Immigration Agency Faces Layoffs

Already facing a budget crisis, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expects application and petition receipts to drop by approximately 61% through the end of fiscal year 2020. (Caniceus/Pixabay)
Already facing a budget crisis, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expects application and petition receipts to drop by approximately 61% through the end of fiscal year 2020. (Caniceus/Pixabay)
May 28, 2020

LAS VEGAS -- Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has continued to push for greater restrictions on immigration, and now the key processing agency says without an influx of cash, it may need to furlough staff this summer.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency that processes visa and asylum applications. Its federal funding is fee-based and the administration's restrictive immigration policies combined with closures due to the pandemic have reduced application fees.

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, says it's unclear if the administration is concerned about a possible staff cut.

"Looking at the data, we see that under the Trump administration, USCIS has received over a million less petitions between the end of fiscal years 2017 and 2018," she points out.

Pierce says there was no significant recovery in 2019.

The federal agency, which has 19,000 government employees and contractors, closed all in-person services at immigration offices due to the health crisis. It has requested slightly more than $1 billion from Congress to meet budget shortfall projections, but right now there's no mechanism for lawmakers to fund the request.

Most recently, the issuance of new green cards was halted for two months. The administration argued its necessity based on national security grounds related to the virus, and that immigrants could take away jobs from U.S. workers during a recession.

The Trump administration is the first in modern times to advocate for both decreased unauthorized immigration and decreased legal immigration along with greater scrutiny of applicants.

Pierce says it's unclear how that approach will affect the economic recovery.

"When you look at very established economic research, immigrant workers tend to complement U.S. workers rather than replace them," she points out.

The USCIS announced the possible furloughs even as it prepares to resume in-office operations and open to the public. A spokesman said the agency needs to prepare for the suspension of operations, while also waiting to hear from Congress about funding.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NV