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Impending USCIS Furloughs Will Contribute to a Historic Drop in U.S. Immigration Levels: MPI

July 29, 2020 (2 min read)

Muzaffar Chishti, Sarah Pierce, and Kira Olsen-Medina, MPI, July 28, 2020

"In one of the largest ever furloughs by a single government agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) leadership has announced its intent to temporarily lay off 70 percent of the agency’s staff beginning August 30, citing budget issues. The move would dramatically slow the adjudication of a long list of immigration processes, ranging from naturalization to the grant of green cards, nonimmigrant visas, and work permits, among others. Coming on the heels of a series of immigration-related pauses and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will mark a precipitous—and likely historic—decline in the flow of new arrivals. ... 

... The combined effect of the furloughs, the suspension of visa processing, and the president’s proclamations leading to the sharp drop in permanent and temporary immigration will have both short- and long-term consequences.

The furloughs will have the most direct effect on foreign nationals already in the United States. Reduced USCIS staffing will obviously delay—perhaps for long periods—immigrants’ ability to obtain work authorization, gain permanent residence, or finally attain citizenship. Those with temporary (nonimmigrant) visas may not be able to extend or change their lawful stay, thus falling out of status and becoming vulnerable to deportation. Some may not be able to pursue employment for which they have been approved.

The exclusion of categories of immigrants has an adverse effect on U.S. families and U.S. employers. For U.S. citizens and LPRs, it prevents reunification with family members they may have sponsored and waited on for years. U.S. employers, unable to gain access to new temporary employees or frustrated that their sponsored workers cannot join them after being on prolonged waiting lines, may shift their work abroad.

Deep cuts to immigration also have a real impact on the larger economy. With declining fertility and increasing retirement of baby boomers, the U.S. labor force has been experiencing slow growth for some time, contributing to decreased growth in gross domestic product. Immigration, according to many labor economists, is critical to addressing that deceleration.

Finally, sharp decline in immigration this year will have long-term effects on the growth of the foreign-born population. Today’s immigrants—both naturalized citizens and legal permanent residents—sponsor future arrivals. With a contracted base, future immigration will be correspondingly reduced. That will inevitably reduce the foreign-born share of the U.S. population. After trending upwards at a sustained rate since 1970, the U.S. foreign-born population in 2017 and 2018 registered the smallest growth since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008-09. The big dip in immigration in 2020 will not only sharpen that trend but could even mark a historic reversal."