US immigration agency to furlough workers

Offices in Boston and Lawrence impacted

ACROSS THE  NATION, more than two-thirds of the 20,000 employees of a federal immigration services agency have been notified that they are likely to be furloughed for a minimum of 30 consecutive days and as long as three months starting August 3.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has offices in Boston and Lawrence, is charged with processing immigrant visa petitions as well as naturalization, green card, asylum, and refugee applications. The agency also makes adjudicative decisions on those applications and manages immigration benefits, including employment authorizations.

“The agency has been directly impacted by the global coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic,” said Associate Director of Field Operations Daniel Renaud in a Monday internal notice to employees. Renaud said the budget was impacted by fluctuations in revenue from the limited fee-generating services available during the pandemic.

The majority of USCIS funding comes from fees paid by applicants and petitioners – not appropriated or taxpayer funds. USCIS has seen a 50 percent drop in fees since March and estimates that revenue will stay well below budget targets through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. A recent controversial decision by President Trump to not grant many kinds of employment-based visas through the end of the year will also decrease revenues.

On May 15, USCIS notified Congress of a projected budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and requested emergency funding of $1.2 billion, to be repaid with a 10 percent surcharge on applications.

“Though we continue to have productive conversations with Congress, we want employees who may be furloughed to have sufficient time to prepare,” said a USCIS spokesperson. “Further, we are legally required to provide employees with advance written notice at least 30 calendar days prior to the effective date of an expected furlough.”

In an employee email sent Tuesday, Joseph Edlow, the deputy director for policy, wrote, “This is an extremely difficult decision, one that we do not take lightly and is in no way a reflection of your individual work.”

A USCIS manager who spoke on condition of anonymity had concerns over how the furloughs would impact the already struggling immigration system, saying the impact “to immigrants seeking green cards could be significant, if not enormous.”

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Eliana Nader, attorney and head of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, is concerned about the impact the furloughs will have on naturalization and green card cases, saying the furloughs could bring the US immigration system to a “total halt.”

“People won’t become citizens before the election, and people waiting for green cards will have to wait even longer,” she said.