Around the world, nations have been blocking entry from visitors from other countries as the COVID-19 pandemic shows few signs of decline. The U.S. has been no different and has been forced into scaling back not only vacation visits from foreign travelers but longer-term temporary and permanent visa immigration as well.
The recent economic slowdown has left numerous businesses and government entities in peril. Among these is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS, responsible for the country’s entire immigration system, is facing an unprecedented budget crunch, which has closed offices or reduced on-site personnel. USCIS’ Seattle office, for example, recently reported a four-month wait to get an office appointment.
USCIS feared that it would have to furlough nearly 70% of its workforce. At the end of August 2020, USCIS rolled back its plans for a furlough—but future budget problems and employee furloughs remain a possibility.
Budgetary constraints, but no furloughs
USCIS differs from other federal agencies because the majority of its funding comes from the fees collected for green cards, visas, and other petitions. However, with fewer people immigrating to the U.S. because of travel restrictions, USCIS’ budget has decreased dramatically. Top officials feared that the agency would need to furlough more than 13,000 employees.
Fortunately, an influx of federal funding in combination with cost-cutting measures will prevent the furlough. The USCIS still predicts a budgetary deficit. The agency will likely seek additional Congressional funding in early Fiscal Year 2021.
What does this mean for immigration?
Individuals and employers no doubt have numerous questions about the future of the USCIS and what to expect regarding their petitions for permanent residency. No one can provide definite answers. The only certainty is that petitioners can expect even longer wait times. Unfortunately, the limbo of waiting for an immigration decision will likely stretch onward for a very long time.
USCIS update: Rules for reopened offices
The USCIS recently announced that it has reopened offices for in-person appointments. Posted on their official website are the following requirements for people entering their office locations. Rules include:
- No undiagnosed or diagnosed symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or breathing trouble
- No close contact with persons known to have tested positive or who have been in contact with a person tested positive for two weeks
- Have not been directed to self-quarantine by a health care professional
In addition, these general rules apply:
- Enter the building no more than 15 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment time
- Masks that cover the mouth and nose must be worn the entire period you are in the building
- Bring your own black or blue ballpoint pens
There will also be social distancing markings and physical barriers set up throughout the building, which will be strongly enforced.
If you have further questions about USCIS regulations or need to discuss your reason for wanting an appointment, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.