Just five days before furloughs were set to begin for more than 13,000 employees of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency announced that it was canceling those plans. USCIS said it now expects to be able to maintain operations through the end of fiscal year 2020 due to a combination of “unprecedented” spending cuts and a “steady increase in daily incoming revenue and receipts.”
USCIS said, however, that averting the furlough will come at a “severe operational cost” that will “increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs.” The agency pled for congressional interventional “to sustain the agency through fiscal year 2021” and return it to normal operating procedures.
Specifically, USCIS said it will achieve additional cost savings through “descoping” federal contracts that assist USCIS adjudicators in processing and preparing case files as well as myriad other support activities. USCIS did not detail what it meant by “descoping,” but often that means reducing the deliverables due without terminating a contract, so the contractor is performing less work and getting paid less. USCIS anticipates that these cost-cutting actions will lead to “increased wait times for pending case inquiries with the USCIS Contact Center, longer case processing times, and increased adjudication time for aliens adjusting status or naturalizing. Naturalization ceremonies will continue.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a related bill, H.R. 8089 (the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act). Among other things, the bill would increase premium processing fees for certain visa applications from $1,440 to $2,550 and extend premium processing service to other visa categories. Consideration or passage of this bill in the Senate is uncertain.