The US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) plan to furlough two-third of its 20,000 employees from August 30 is expected to impact Indian techies planning to go to the US.

This could dramatically increase the waiting time for people with pending immigration petitions and applications and is expected to delay work visas by over a year, accordng to reports.

The USCIS is the agency is tasked with providing citizenship, visas and greencards and is struggling to keep its operations running due to lack of budgets.

“Potential furloughs in the US could dramatically increase wait times for people with pending immigration petitions and applications,” said Sophie Alcorn, Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law, State of California Board of Legal Specialization, Alcorn Immigration Law.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “For each month the USCIS furlough lasts, 75,000 applications for various immigration benefits will not be processed.”

US President Donald Trump had signed two proclamations in April and June that suspended green card processing and banned the entry of non-immigrant workers such as H-1B visa holders into the US.

His decision was based on the need to create jobs for Americans, many of whom have been laid off and replaced by H1-B visa holders.

However, even before the pandemic, the USCIS had a sizeable backlog. Currently, there is a backlog of almost 10 lakh foreign nationals and accompanying family members lawfully residing in the US. “Responses could take several months or even more than a year,” pointed out Alcorn.

In this backdrop, furloughs will significantly delay the process. “It is taking 8-12 months for them to process some H-1B cases, and if the processing times increase, the position could no longer be available,” said Prashanthi Reddy, immigration lawyer from New York-based Law Offices of Prashanthi Reddy.

The US government is trying to address the issue. On August 14, it reopened the H-1B filing window and petitions can be filed from August 17 till November 16. Additionally, the usual March-end filing for a total of another 85,000 visas.

Hike in visa fees

The US administration hiked visa fees for H-1 and L1 visa categories by 21 per cent and 75 per cent respectively, which could act as deterrents too. “Remote working is the new norm and feet on the ground can be minimised considerably in comparison to the past,” said a CFO of a mid-sized firm.

However, the Trump administration last week made certain exemptions for categories such as healthcare. It also allowed resuming of ongoing employment in the US in the same position with the same employer, along with their spouses and children.