WASHINGTON — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency responsible for approving citizenship, work visas and other benefits for legal immigrants, has begun notifying 13,400 of its 20,000 employees that they will be furloughed beginning Aug. 3 unless Congress approves more funding for the agency, a spokesperson for the agency told NBC News.
The agency runs largely on fees paid by applicants, which have been down by 50 percent under the COVID-19 pandemic and are estimated to be down by over 60 percent by the end of the fiscal year, the spokesperson said.
“This dramatic drop in revenue has made it impossible for our agency to operate at full capacity. Without additional funding from Congress before August 3, USCIS has no choice but to administratively furlough a substantial portion of our workforce,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Beginning in April, the Trump administration postponed asylum hearings for immigrants and froze the issuance of a broad range of visas, citing the need to protect American jobs. Trump signed an executive order on Monday extending and expanding his original proclamation through Dec. 31.
But there are other categories of visa applicants, including healthcare workers responding to COVID-19 and food processing workers, who are still allowed into the U.S. and whose applications may be slowed by the reduction in staff.
Would-be citizens have already had their naturalization ceremonies delayed and face long backlogs, according to recent reports.
Without the help of Congress, the agency’s solvency could be in question, two USCIS officials told NBC News. During the pandemic, USCIS has continued to process some applications that did not require in-person interviews, but a furlough could end even that work, one of the officials said.