USCIS Delays Furlough Plans After Finances Improve

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (July 24, 2020, 2:23 PM EDT) -- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services postponed plans to furlough 70% of its workforce to Aug. 30, saying Friday that an improved financial outlook has allowed it to "responsibly delay" the temporary layoffs.

The agency was originally slated to send 13,400 of its workers home without pay starting Aug. 3 unless Congress granted it the $1.2 billion bailout loan it had requested to alleviate a budget shortfall.

But USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins told Law360 that the plan could now be pushed back to the end of August — days after House and Senate Democrats said the agency's financial situation had reversed and it was now expecting to end the 2020 fiscal year with a surplus.

"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," Collins said.

The delay is intended to provide Congress enough time to address USCIS' funding needs as the agency is still seeking the full $1.2 billion to ensure that agency operations continue uninterrupted, Collins said.

USCIS, which is funded by the fees immigrants and employers pay to file immigration applications, previously reported that a drop in applications, fueled by the ongoing pandemic, was sending it toward a $571 million deficit.

On Tuesday, Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Tester, D-Mont., said new estimates showed that USCIS would be ending the current fiscal year with a surplus and urged the agency to abort its furlough plans.

And on Thursday, the office of Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., also told Law360 that USCIS was projecting a carryover and that the lawmaker was calling on the agency to delay the furloughs.

As of July 10, the alleged surplus stood at $121 million, according to Leahy's press secretary Jay Tilton.

Leahy applauded the agency's decision to postpone the furloughs, saying in a Friday statement that the move affects 1,100 of his constituents.

"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 complete unjustifiable," Leahy said.

The American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing the agency's workers, welcomed the delay, but called for a permanent solution to the agency's financial needs.

"While this delay is a step in the right direction, more must be done to protect the jobs of these essential employees," AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement. "We hope this delay will allow time for Congress to pass emergency funding legislation to prevent these furloughs from ever taking place. Congress and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration must address this issue once and for all so we do not find ourselves in this position again."

In a May letter to Congress, the union said that $571 million of USCIS' request was needed to bring the agency through the end of the 2020 fiscal year and $650 million was needed for the start of the 2021 fiscal year.

--Editing by Jack Karp.

Update: This story has been updated with more information on USCIS' budget request and with a statement from the USCIS workers' union.

Correction: A previous version of this story misrepresented Roybal-Allard's findings. The error has been corrected.

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