On April 24, USCIS announced that its offices would reopen on or after June 4. Whether USCIS’s office closures lift by June 4, or some time after, it is unlikely that the agency will return to the pre-pandemic normal — at least not any time soon. According to a leaked email to USCIS staff from Deputy Director Joseph Edlow, reported by Buzzfeed News, USCIS “will exhaust its funding this summer, and without congressional intervention, we risk not being able to make payroll and will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency afloat.”
Unlike fellow-DHS agencies CBP and ICE, which are primarily funded by Congress, the USCIS budget comes almost entirely from user fees which are projected to drop by 60% over the next few months. USCIS has asked for a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress.
Already, USCIS has implemented sweeping budget cuts, limiting its spending on all but mission-critical activities. And according to Buzzfeed, sweeping layoffs could follow. USCIS employees told Buzzfeed that they feared for their jobs and also worried that staffing cuts could hurt the agency’s ability to deliver key services. One officer described “significant existing backlogs on nearly every benefit [USCIS] adjudicates,” noting that layoffs within the agency would lead to service delays, affecting families with permanent residence in the U.S., workers with jobs and lives in the U.S. and many others with a stake in legal immigration.
Buzzfeed notes that the White House has yet to back USCIS’s bailout with its own request to Congress, raising the question of whether the funds will be granted. Given the crucial role USCIS plays in the allocation of immigration benefits, this much is clear: if the agency cannot perform its essential duties, the entire system will slow to a near halt.