US immigration agency prepares for massive staff cuts

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could today place approximately 13,400 employees—about 70% of its staff—on administrative furlough, leaving

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Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could today place approximately 13,400 employees—about 70% of its staff—on administrative furlough, leaving behind a skeleton crew to handle operational necessities.

The USCIS, which processes immigration applications and derives its funding from the associated fees, is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The agency has already begun to distribute 30-day notices to a portion of its workforce; the remainder is expected to be notified over the course of today and tomorrow, one month before the agency is projected to exhaust its current funding.

Although a full furlough is imminent without a bailout, the White House is unlikely to lend a helping hand given President Donald Trump’s consistent anti-immigration rhetoric. Last week, Trump issued an executive order that effectively blocked half a million foreign workers—including skilled labourers on H-1B visas—from US employment, prompting backlash from technology and commercial executives. The sweeping order, which also restricts the mobility of American companies with overseas operations, could damage long-term economic recovery and slow job creation in the wake of COVID-19.

Despite prospective assistance, thousands of inevitable departures—coupled with the bleak long-term outlook for USCIS inflows—will likely inflate July unemployment figures as employees seek new lines of work. Expect the furloughs to last longer than 30 days, given the extreme global uncertainty surrounding the projected lifespan of COVID-19.

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