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A Lawyer’s Take on USCIS’ Funding Crisis

Allison Lukanich

It has been reported for the past few weeks that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service or USCIS is critically short of funds needed to continue operations at their current staffing levels.  The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is requesting $1.2 billion in funding for Congress, or else it claims it will have to furlough staff starting July 20.  You can read a recent article about the funding shortage. 

USCIS has always been a self-funded agency that does not rely on taxpayers’ dollars to operate.  That means they are funded primarily by the fees charged for their applications.  These fees are paid by applicants for green cards, citizenship, family and employment petitions and a plethora of other visa types and applications pay when requesting the benefit sought.  Many immigrants can request fee waiver of certain petition types when they are unable to pay, although the Trump administration has cracked down on granting those waivers in the last few years and it is almost impossible to get one approved these days.  All that means is a higher percentage of applicants for benefits before USCIS are paying these fees to keep the agency funded.

It is unknown what will happen if USCIS does not receive Congressional funding and must furlough employees.  Logic says that processing times for pending cases or those yet-to-be-filed will continue to drag out longer and longer.  In a statement from a USCIS spokesperson in the article above, the agency places blame on the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic decline in revenue.  This is a strong misstatement of fact.  COVID-19 has very little to do with USCIS’ funding shortage, specifically as the pandemic has only be going on for the past few months.

The true reason that USCIS is currently experiencing a funding crisis is nothing other than the anti-immigrant policies the Trump administration has been slowly enacting the past 3.5 years.  The article states that for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, USCIS has received 900,000 fewer applications than in previous years.  This is exactly why a “self-funded” agency is running out of funds.  They rely on revenue from these applications to pay their employees, maintain their buildings, and keep the agency operating.

So why then are almost a million less cases being filed?  The Trump administration.  Over the past few years the administration is constantly changing their own rules.  There have been no immigration reforms or changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the bill passed by Congress setting out our immigration laws.  However, the administration is quietly reinterpreting regulations, reanalyzing discretion and changing the rules to the game with little to no notice or explanation.  The administration has found and exploited everything it can to deny benefits to the country’s most vulnerable, and has created this funding crisis as a result.  As a federal agency, USCIS has no one to blame but the federal government who make the policies and overly strict interpretation of the laws in place.

That is not to say there is no hope.  Every day I am proud to continue to work to advocate for my clients and utilize the system, as it was designed, to obtain the benefits and statuses of which they are entitled and qualified for.  Now more than ever it is crucial to not be afraid and turn away, but to work with an experienced attorney who will fight for you in this system every step of the way.

Bashyam Shah has been in business for more than two decades and has continued to navigate administration changes over the years, gaining invaluable knowledge and experience along the way.  

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