U.S. agency prepares for massive staff cuts in blow to legal immigration system

By Mica Rosenberg and Mimi Dwyer
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. agency responsible for processing immigration applications announced on Wednesday that it was preparing to take nearly 70% of its staff on leave unless it received new funds.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) relies on fees from new immigration applications for its operations and faces a historic budget deficit.
Republican President Donald Trump has made cutting legal and illegal immigration a key part of his 2020 re-election campaign. New regulations and a number of executive measures as well as travel restrictions introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic have drastically reduced the number of immigrants entering the United States.
A USCIS spokesman said in a statement that the agency had seen a 50% drop in fees since March, when most travel and immigration ceased when countries controlled the spread of the corona virus. USCIS has requested a $ 1.2 billion bailout from Congress to avoid the planned downsizing.
"On or before July 2, approximately 13,400 USCIS employees will be informed that USCIS will need to take leave from August 3 if they need to take an administrative vacation," the USCIS spokesman said.
If the vacation days are implemented, "they will surely cause noticeable delays immediately," said a USCIS employee who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the file. "There are already so many backlogs that need to be processed. It's crazy to think about how bad it will be."
USCIS Refugee, Asylum and International Operations staff were informed in an email from Reuters that notices were being sent to approximately 1,500 of the 2,200 staff in the department on July 24 and 25. Those who continued to be employed would be a "skeleton crew" to "keep the lights on," the email said.
On Monday, Trump signed a presidential proclamation prohibiting entry for multiple categories of temporary visa holders and extended the ban on some green card applicants, which the government would help create more jobs for unemployed Americans. Critics say the measures will harm the economy.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Mimi Dwyer in New York; editing by Ross Colvin and Tom Brown)

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