Major delay in processing of cases possible due to furlough of USCIS employees

USCIS is the federal agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. It consists of 20,000 government employees and contractors working at more than 200 offices across the world. Approximately 97% of USCIS’s budget comes from immigration fees paid by applicants and petitioners requesting immigration or naturalization benefits.

USCIS plans to furlough (non-duty and non-pay status) approximately 13,400 of its employees (about 73% of its entire workforce) beginning August 3, 2020 as it is running short of funds. The agency has already issued 30 days advance notices to these employees.

This week USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow issued the following statement on the agency’s fiscal outlook due to the COVID-19 pandemic1:

“The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are long reaching and pervasive, leaving few unscathed in its wake. USCIS is still experiencing those very effects, which began with an alarming drop in applications at the end of March. Forecasts predict a crippling budget shortfall that requires assistance from Congress to allow USCIS to maintain current operations”.

Why Furlough?

USCIS has seen a 50% drop in receipts and incoming fees starting in March and estimates that application and petition receipts will stay well below plan through the end of Fiscal Year 2020. USCIS relies on fees to run the agency, so the drop in applications and receipts has resulted in a drop in revenue, according to the USCIS spokesperson.

Possible Resolution

On May 15, USCIS informed Congress of a projected budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and requested emergency funding of $1.2 billion. If Congress does not allot emergency funding to the agency, it is likely that work and visitor visa petitions, Green Card applications, citizenship/naturalization applications will not be processed. Hence, congressional intervention is the possible resolution.

Impact of Furlough

Though the case intake may not actually cease, the concern is that with the imminent decrease in USCIS’ workforce, petitions that have already experienced significant delay due to changes in processing times will continue to be delayed. The current processing time is already extensive in many of the applications filed. These suspensions in adjudication of petitions will influence the employers’ ability to hire temporary workers. It will also have an adverse effect on international students who need work authorization (EAD cards) or adjusting status within the United States2.


At this time, it is uncertain how long these employees could be furloughed, but it is expected to last longer than 30 days.

Let us hope that USCIS and Congress will reach a funding agreement and the furlough plans get cancelled. Otherwise, it will certainly increase the case processing timelines impacting millions of legal immigrants, Green Card holders, and US citizens and would be negatively impacting American businesses, educational institutions, and off course the US economy3.

We will continue to keep an eye out for updates on this situation and update our readers as when information becomes available.