The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been on a hiring freeze since February of 2020. The agency is anticipating that it will still be under a hiring freeze during the opening months of President-Elect, Joe Biden’s leadership. USCIS is one agency being managed by the Department of Homeland Security and they are blaming the hiring freeze on ongoing budget shortfalls. The agency is operating on guidance from President Trump’s administration, but the way USCIS operates could change once President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.
President Trump’s administration has mentioned that the need for the freeze was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a loss of revenue for the agency. USCIS is fee-funded and the loss of revenue threatened termination for 13,000 of its employees. President Trump’s administration claim that $1.2 billion was necessary from Congress to avoid furloughs. However, this amount is disputed- a number Congressional offices calculated that USCIS had a budget surplus. USCIS claimed that it was not able to obtain the necessary money to avoid laying off people even after increasing their fees for premium services. The agency laid off some contract workers while continuing their hiring freeze. Joseph Edlow, head of USCIS stated that even with the increase in premium services, the financial situation of the agency did not improve. This required the agency to limit spending, which reduced contractor operations and cut overtime hours for employees. USCIS blames the increase in processing times on these spending limits.
USCIS workers were interviewed by the Government Executive last year and they mentioned that they feared that President Trump’s administration was disrupting the agency, even though USCIS still blames the pandemic for their budget shortfall. USCIS employees believe that the ongoing freeze will only limit their abilities to get promoted due to the search for new employment. USCIS admits that the decision to lay off employees leads to growing backlogs and increases the wait time for immigrants on their applications. USCIS had many vacant positions before the pandemic and thousands of unresolved cases that were already backlogged.
President-Elect, Joe Biden, has promised to change the executive orders that were implemented by President Trump. Biden has promised to change the restrictions on asylum, creating a naturalization pathway for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), increase the refugee intake, and many more policies that President Trump targeted while in office. Biden promises to work towards a more humane immigration policy but says that it will take a long time to undo all the damage done. Immigrants should expect increased processing times on all USCIS applications due to the hiring freeze. If you have any questions regarding how this may impact your case, please call Pikes Peak Immigration to schedule a consultation or meeting.