Stalled second coronavirus relief package may halt US immigration system

coronavirus, relief package, second, USCIS, US Citizenship and Immigration Services

The absence of a second coronavirus relief package is not just worrying taxpayers waiting for stimulus checks but one federal agency as well. In May, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed Congress that it may be forced to furlough the majority of its workforce due to a budget shortfall. The funds for the federal agency is tied to the coronavirus relief package, which is currently at a standstill.

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USCIS may furlough two-thirds of workforce

The USCIS, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for providing citizenship, immigration benefits and processing visa applications. It told Congress that it may need to furlough two-thirds (about 13,400 employees) of its workforce due to a budget shortfall.

Now with no decision yet on the second coronavirus relief package, the likelihood of funds for the federal agency is also diminishing, notes a report from CNN. The agency asked $1.2 billion.

Republicans’ HEALS Act, which was unveiled a couple of weeks back, carries a provision of a loan of $1.2 billion to the federal agency. Also, the Republicans’ proposal for the second relief package allows the USCIS to add a surcharge to its application fees. The surcharge would allow the agency to pay back the loan to the Treasury Department.

In July, the federal agency said that it would postpone its plan to furlough employees for a month, until August 30. Initially, the agency planned to start furloughs from August 3, but postponed it after assurance from Congress and “an uptick in application and petition receipts.”

With no second coronavirus relief package in sight currently, it remains to be seen if the federal agency would postpone its furlough plan further.

Why does USCIS want second coronavirus relief package?

Over the past three years, the agency has made several changes that made applying for immigration benefits more difficult. Many believe that the administration’s restrictionist policies are partly responsible for the agency’s financial woes.

For example, the agency received about 900,000 fewer applications between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. This drop, according to Sarah Pierce (a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute), could be attributed to the administration’s decision of ending Temporary Protected Status for the citizens of many countries, as well as, reducing the number of refugees into the U.S.

Apart from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Republicans’ proposal for the second coronavirus relief package also allots funds to Customs and Border Protection. The plan sets aside $1.6 billion to Customs and Border Protection “to account for fee shortfalls to continue immigration processing and customs-related activities normally funded by fees.”

There has been a significant drop in international travel and border crossings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration’s border restrictions have also contributed to the drop.

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