As many of our clients and readers are aware, unless Congress decides to act on a long-term federal deficit-reduction plan before March 1, the government will suffer automatic slashes under the looming “sequester” plan passed in 2011. It will cut 8 percent from U.S. military spending and 5 percent from other domestic spending budgets. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), which includes Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) is likely to be affected as well — meaning that cuts to DHS programs and staff are likely.
How Would the Sequester Affect USCIS?
One of the questions we hear most often is whether the upcoming sequestration (which seems very likely to happen, as of the date of this article) is, Would the sequestration affect USCIS operations and processing times?
While it appears that DHS’s budget will be affected as a whole, many agencies within DHS will be impacted more than others. For example, the FEMA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are among the agencies hardest hit. All of this means that there will be less agents, airport screeners and border agents on duty, which would affect waiting and processing times.
While USCIS is also slated to lose funding, most of its budget comes from fees collected for processing various applications and services, so the impact to USCIS should not be as significant compared to ICE or CBP. However, even if USCIS does not suffer directly from the cuts, the magnitude of the cuts and the fact that other related agencies are affected is likely to affect at least somewhat USCIS operations. For example, of CBP has to furlough some of its workforce, it may take longer to cross through certain border posts and it may be more difficult to obtain immigration-related benefits by CBP – such as I-94 processing, corrections, FOIA requests.
We remain hopeful that Congress would reach a compromise over the next week or so and avert the sequestration. However, we have urged our clients who rely on federal agencies to consider that there may be an additional delay in obtaining certain immigration-related services. While we do not expect USCIS to be affected as dramatically as other agencies within DHS, it is still possible for our clients and readers to experience notable delays when dealing with USCIS. Therefore, please plan accordingly.
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