- South Asians, and Indians in particular, are likely to be impacted as the Trump Administration seeks to disrupt every aspect of immigration.
The Trump administration and immigration are once again in the news, with potential furlough notices being sent out to the 13, 400 employees that work for the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) today, July 23. Scheduled to go into effect August 3, for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 90, this executive order seems to be the proverbial final nail in the coffin for immigration, as “it could slow down or even halt immigration services,” says Shilpa Jadwani, immigration attorney and managing partner of One Path Legal, Atlanta.
Earlier this year, President Trump temporarily suspended new work visas (H1-B) and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States, part of a broad effort to limit entry of immigrants into the country. This order, specifically targeting H1-B and H-4 visas, saw this country pull the welcome mat out from under the feet of engineers, doctors, tech experts etc.
On the heels of that came the administration’s failed attempt to ban international students from attending American universities and colleges that were going to hold classes virtually in the fall due to the pandemic.
The administration also attempted to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a highlight of the Obama Administration, and which the Supreme Court overruled as being arbitrary and not justified, on June 18, 2020. The DACA program was implemented in 2012 to allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as minors to legally stay to study
The USCIS, formed in 2003 alongside Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Unlike the other two federal agencies, USIS is financed by immigration-related application and petition fees.
So, what could possibly be an outcome of this furlough? “The biggest problem I see is delay in immigration adjudication. Which means that on top of the usual processing time that an immigration officer takes to process the numerous types of applications, when you cut back the work force, you are prolonging this time. For example, a simple work permit application which takes 5 months, will now take god knows how many months … probably a year,” Jadwani says.
COVID and the economy are being stated as reasons for the furlough, and Jadwani finds the rationale ludicrous. “USCIS is one of the only government agencies that is self-funded. So, all of this comes down to the presidential administration in the White House. For them to say we do not have enough funds to pay the employees is ridiculous. The government already charges hundreds of dollars for these applications. Which pays for USCIS. So, there’s no reason that you (the government) should be doing furloughs.”
Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, former USCIS employee for over a decade and director of Government Relations of American Immigrations Lawyers Association (AILA), agrees and says that the pandemic cannot be blamed entirely for the financial hardship or the dwindling applications. Dalal-Dheini adds that “the agency predicted it would have a significant deficit as early as November, prior to Covid-19.”
According to an article by documentedny.com, a bill (HR 7508) has been introduced that would provide $1.2 billion in supplemental funding to the agency. Although, this may bring joy to employees that are grappling with impending loss of pay, the bill also mandates a 10% surcharge on applications, transferring the financial burden onto immigrants, many of whom are already reeling under precarious financial situations.
USCIS is in the process of finalizing a new fee rule as well, that if approved would increase some application and petition fees by more than 80%, in addition to the 10% surcharge.
Congress is scheduled to vote on the bill in the last week of July.
The furlough will add to the already 44 million who have filed for unemployment since March.
Bethesda, Maryland resident and expert on immigration law and process for over 35 years, Prakash Khatri says, “Recent reports indicate that USCIS may be able to stay open since they appear to have generated revenue sufficient to sustain them for the rest of the fiscal year. And still, the administration is continuing with its plan to furlough more than 70% of its workforce. I am concerned that the Trump Administration is using this ‘bogus’ shortfall as an excuse to disrupt every aspect of immigration. South Asians, and Indians in particular, will be impacted both on immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing.”
Khatri, who has a national immigration law practice cites many real life issues that may be a fallout of this furlough. For example, he points out that the permanent residence petitions are subject to annual quotas. If unused in the fiscal year that ends on September 30, they do not carry over to the next year. “For Indian nationals whose employment and family immigrant visas are already backlogged many years, the loss of these visa numbers could further delay their green card prospects.”
According to Jadwani for employment-based applications, the applicants backed, by deep pocketed employers have the option to pay the additional pricey fee ($1,440) to expedite the processing of their application (15 days).
However, says Jadwani, “There is no such option on the family-based side or for domestic violence victims or those seeking asylum, refugees. For example, if you win the diversity visa lottery, you come here because a family member sponsors you and a part of that sponsorship is a promise to take care of the family member financially and to add an extra financial burden that’s difficult. But victims of domestic abuse that file for green cards under Violence against Women Act, or those that file under U-visas as victims of qualifying crimes and assisting law enforcement, they have no one. These victims while they wait don’t get a work permit or legal status. They often suffer from trauma or PTSD. These people are going to be impacted the most.”
Despite recent judicial victories for immigration, the road is still uncertain. Says Khatri, “The Trump administration has until January 20, 2021 to continue to disrupt the legal immigration system that had helped build this nation into what it was until Trump took over. I anticipate that he will use the pandemic to further curtail immigration to the United States.”
And whether this executive order too will be reversed remains to be seen.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her masters and PhD in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.