US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is asking Congress for a $ 1.2 billion bailout. The agency claims that it will run out of money without help due to a decline in immigration due to the coronavirus pandemic by the end of the summer.
Unlike other federal agencies, USCIS receives almost no taxpayers’ money and is subject to green card filing fees, visas, work permits, U.S. citizenship, and humanitarian benefits such as asylum. The pandemic has already caused a “dramatic drop” in revenue that is likely to worsen, as applications will drop by about 61 percent through September, an agency spokesperson said. President Donald Trump’s restrictions on immigration, the travel restrictions of other countries, and the fact that necessary government offices are not open to processing applications have all contributed to this decline.
To limit the budget deficit, USCIS plans to apply an additional 10 percent surcharge to all applications and sought help from Congress on Friday, Buzzfeed’s Hamed Aleaziz first reported. The agency has also limited spending to salary and mission-critical activities, but “without congressional intervention, USCIS will have to take drastic measures to keep the agency afloat,” said the spokesperson.
Why USCIS has a funding gap
Immigration has virtually come to a halt in the past two months. The Trump administration has closed USCIS offices, closed consulates abroad, closed borders with Canada and Mexico, and imposed a 60-day ban on the issuance of new green cards. Asylum processing at the southern border has also practically stopped, like the Trump administration officials have implemented a program to quickly return migrants to Mexico without a health exam.
Although caused by the pandemic, this is the kind of decrease in legal immigration that Trump has been looking for for a long time. He is opposed to what he calls “chain migration,” referring to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who sponsor their immigrant relatives for visas and green cards. And he has tried to keep poor immigrants at bay by proposing to reject those who do not have health insurance or who could benefit from government benefits in the future. (Courts have provisionally blocked restrictions on immigrants without health insurance, but policies affecting immigrants who may receive benefits came into effect in February.)
USCIS has not released data on the number of applications it has received since the pandemic started, but has acknowledged that the number of applications is decreasing. The most recent comprehensive data, from October 2019 to December 2019, peaked in applications – more than 1.9 million, compared to 1.7 million in the previous three months.
Applications submerged in March compared to the same month last year for several temporary visa categories, including visas for people transferring within a multinational, those showing extraordinary ability or performance in certain industries, athletes, entertainers and religious workers. Applications are likely to have fallen further in April as the U.S. imposed immigration restrictions and those who stayed at home and economic opportunities dried up.
The USCIS funding gap could be compounded as Trump weighs additional restrictions on temporary visa holders in the coming weeks. The New York Times reported that he is considering blocking the issuance of new employment visas, such as H-1B visas for skilled workers and H-2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal workers, as well as ending a program that allows foreign students in the US to work for up to three years after graduation.