Due to “a dramatic decrease in revenue” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (and falling revenue over the last 3+ years because of mismanagement), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), which is a fee funded agency, considered a potential furlough for a large portion of its workforce in July. Initially, the furlough was anticipated to begin on July 20; however, USCIS now anticipates that the furlough would begin on August 3. The agency estimated that it needs $1.2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year and for the start of Fiscal Year 2021 which it requested from Congress mid-May due to a projected 61% drop in applications and petitions. In its request to Congress, USCIS also sought a 10% increase in its fees to reimburse the appropriation. If USCIS does not receive the requested funds, approximately 13,400 USCIS employees, or about 70% of the agency’s workforce according to the union representing USCIS workers, are expected to be furloughed so that USCIS can continue to operate at minimum capacity.
By law, federal agencies must give their employees 30 days of advance notice before issuing a furlough. As a result, if additional funding is not received from Congress, the agency expects to send notices to its employees on or before July 2.
The impact of a furlough would be devastating to the U.S. immigration system and would have immediate consequences for employers and their foreign workers – significant delays in receipt notice generation and immigration adjudication are expected due to the substantially reduced workforce.
Our firm continues to work with employers and their foreign employees to submit petitions as expeditiously as possible to minimize any impact of a potential agency furlough. Where an immigration process is time sensitive, we are encouraging premium processing upgrades. Please contact a member of our team if you have any questions regarding if premium processing ought to be utilized to avoid any delays caused by a potential furlough. We will continue to provide updates as USCIS announces them.
Beginning on June 4, certain USCIS field offices and asylum offices have resumed non-emergency face-to-face services to the public. The agency has announced specific COVID-19 precautions for reopened facilities. These precautions include not entering a facility more than 15 minutes prior to an appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies), wearing a mask, completing health screening questions before entering a facility, and individuals are encouraged to bring their own writing instruments. As a reminder, USCIS offices currently only accept appointments and walk-in visits are not allowed. Application support centers remain closed until further notice preventing the fingerprinting of applicants applying for various benefits.
According to an online news reports, USCIS has internally communicated to its employees that there is a “general “hold” for processing permanent residency applications filed by immigrants within the United States. Exemptions to the hold include applications by medical providers or applications identified as “emergent or sensitive in nature” by immigration officers. The agency has stated that the hold on processing green card applications from the US is due to the temporary suspension of in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not known when the hold was first implemented. It apparently only applies to the final stage of processing, when an individual is pending on an adjustment of status application.
In recent weeks, there have been increasing reports that the Trump administration is likely to issue an executive order implementing additional restrictions for foreign nationals entering the U.S. on non-immigrant visas. Specifically, the anticipated executive order may temporarily bar entry into the U.S. for H, L, and J nonimmigrant visa holders. Individuals who got accepted into the H-1B cap for FY2021, and who are expected to utilize consular processing to activate their H-1B, may also be impacted. Though exceptions will likely be created for individuals entering for COVID-19 related activities, such as medical professionals, the anticipated breadth of the suspension of entry for certain nonimmigrant visa holders requires immediate attention for foreign nonimmigrant visas holders currently abroad. Given that executive order is expected by the end of the month, if you are currently outside of the U.S., please immediately contact a member of our legal team to coordinate a best course of action.
In addition to banning the entry of certain nonimmigrant visa holders, the administration is expected to take additional action to restrict work authorization and substantially increase filing fees for foreign nationals in the U.S. It is not clear whether these additional actions would be implemented within the anticipated executive order or will go through regulatory rulemaking to be implemented at a future time.
Since declaring the COVID-19 national emergency in March, the Trump administration has issued at least 46 policy changes to the immigration system. Of the policy changes, some were proportional responses while others were likely agenda-driven and not necessitated by COVID-19. In response to the anticipated additional restrictions, already, organizations such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association are preparing to litigate in the event that any newly announced restrictions are unduly broad, too restrictive, or unlawful.
We will continue to closely follow any additional restrictions and provide timely updates. We also expect to host a webinar within a week of the signing to ensure we are providing real-time information to our clients. Please contact a member of our legal team if you have any questions.
The July 2020 visa bulletin made significant progress in some categories, while others made limited progress, compared to June 2020 in terms of Final Action Dates for employment-based visa applications. EB-1 Worldwide remains current. EB-1 China has advanced to August 22, 2017; EB-1 India has advanced to May 08, 2017, and EB-1 Philippines remains current. EB-2 Worldwide remains current. EB-2 China has advanced to November 08, 2015 while India has advanced to July 08, 2009; EB-2 Philippines remains current. EB-3 Worldwide has advanced to April 15, 2018. EB-3 China has advanced to June 22, 2016. EB-3 India has advanced to June 01, 2009, and EB-3 Philippines has advanced to April 15, 2018. As a reminder, after each Visa Bulletin is published you should check with USCIS to see which chart they are accepting for that specific month.
We have continually addressed many of the most important recent issues through our comprehensive webinars hosted by Managing Partner David Brown. For a look back and to access this important information related to compliance related to Work from Home, Reductions in Force, or navigating the current immigration bureaucracy visit our recorded sessions HERE (under Previous Webinars) from earlier this year at your convenience.
The Team at Brown Immigration Law
** This newsletter/memo is provided for informational and discussion purposes only. It does not act as a substitute for direct legal contact on an individual basis **