The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has decided to delay its plans to furlough nearly 14,000 employees across the agency, making up about 75 percent of its workforce, until the end of the fiscal year.

The delay, announced July 24 by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., comes less than a week after Leahy and Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., pressed the agency to change its stance after revised revenue estimates revealed that the agency would have a budget surplus, not deficit, at the end of the year.

USCIS is funded primarily by fees collected for processing visas and citizenship applications, and the agency originally planned to furlough employees Aug. 3 due to a projected loss of that revenue from COVID-19. The furloughs are now planned for Aug. 31.

“Furloughing thousands of public servants in the middle of a pandemic and at record unemployment would have upended the lives of the dedicated women and men working at USCIS and impacted thousands who rely on their services, and after new revenue estimates showed the agency ending the fiscal year with a surplus it was completely unjustifiable,” Leahy said in a news release about the delay.

“I’m glad the agency decided to change course for now, but I remain troubled the Trump administration was pushing for these furloughs in the first place.”

The American Federation of Government Employees has pushed for Congress to pass emergency appropriations for the agency, so that employees could remain on the job, and Leahy said that he is committed to passing a budget supplement for the agency to address projected budget shortfalls for 2021.

“The day-to-day mission of the USCIS is too important for mass furloughs to replace prudent planning and collaboration with Congress on the agency’s challenges,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in a statement. “I am encouraged by the USCIS decision to postpone the furloughs it had previously announced and look forward to working with its leaders to establish a viable, long-range strategy to ensure stability for the agency and its workers alike.”

Union representatives at the agency have noted that USCIS faces a double funding challenge, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on operations and Trump administration policies that aim to reduce immigration.

“Many of the employees at USCIS play a vital role in assisting those who seek to live and work in the United States, but this administration has instituted policies that have not only caused serious funding issues for the agency but have also undermined its mission and goals. Today’s announcement will bring relief to many of our constituents, and I’m glad that the administration has postponed its ill-advised and unnecessary furlough plan. In order to protect these jobs in the long-term, I urge USCIS to rescind its harmful policies and work with Congress to improve its fiscal footing,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md, in a statement.

Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.

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