US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is seeking a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress as a result of the loss in revenue due to a decline in immigration cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike other federal agencies, USCIS receives almost no taxpayer dollars and is dependent on fees associated with filing applications for green cards, visas, work permits, US citizenship, and humanitarian benefits such as asylum. The pandemic has already brought on a dramatic decrease in its revenue that is only likely to worsen as applications are estimated to drop by about 61 percent through September.
To mitigate the budget shortfall, USCIS is planning to implement an additional 10 percent surcharge on all applications and sought Congress’s help.
The agency’s depleted funds are the inevitable result of the administration’s policies that decreased the number of petitions, and thus fees received by USCIS. President Trump’s restrictions on immigration, other countries’ restrictions on travel, and the fact that necessary government offices aren’t open to process applications have all contributed to this decline.
The USCIS had already closed operations due to Covid-19 on March 20, 2020, at the consulates abroad, as well as face to face immigration permanent resident interviews, and biometrics appearances. President Trump after the fact imposed a 60-day ban on the issuance of new green cards (keep in mind the US Department of State and the USCIS already had closed the related consulate and local offices governing such cases). Asylum processing at the southern border has also practically stopped, as Trump administration officials implemented a program to rapidly return migrants to Mexico.
USCIS hasn’t released data on how many applications it has received since the pandemic started but has acknowledged applications are on the decline.
Applications dipped in March as compared to the same month last year across several temporary visa categories, including visas for people transferring within a multinational company, those who show extraordinary ability or achievement in particular industries, athletes, entertainers, and religious workers. USCIS’s funding shortfall could be exacerbated as Trump weighs additional restrictions on temporary visa holders.