Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch, D — Vt., speaks at Houghton Park in July about efforts to furlough 1,100 Vermonters working for USCIS.

WASHINGTON – Funding for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has been included in a stopgap funding bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Peter Welch announced on Wednesday.

“I am pleased that this bill not only prevents a disastrous government shutdown, but also includes measures to prevent the unnecessary furlough of Vermont workers,” said Welch. “Over 1,100 USCIS workers in Franklin County do important work every day to help immigrants and new Americans as they go through the naturalization, asylum or visa process. This provision gives USCIS the funds that it needs to prevent any furloughs and ensures that these Vermonters can continue to do their work.”

What the bill includes

The bill is the result of an agreement between Democrats in the House and the White House, and is intended to avoid a government shutdown by funding the government through Dec. 11, 2020.

Included in that bill is a provision allowing USCIS to charge $1,500 to $2,000 for premium services often used by companies seeking to bring skilled workers to the U.S. The additional cost guarantees the applicants at least an initial review of their visa application and response within two weeks.

Funds from the boosted fees will be used to avert layoffs at the agency which employs roughly 19,000 people nationwide, with 2,500 working at the Vermont Service Center based in St. Albans with satellite offices in Essex.

In August, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill to increase the premium service fee and expand the number of visa programs which could offer premium services, with the funding to go to addressing the backlog of unprocessed visa and citizenship applications.

Why USCIS needs a boost

USCIS is a self-funded agency, paying for its operations with the fees it charges to process citizenship and visa applications.

In May, the agency indicated it’s revenues for fiscal year 2020 were falling far short of what was projected.

What followed was a back and forth between the agency and members of Congress, with Vermont’s delegation at the forefront, as the agency threatened to lay off thousands of people, including 1,100 at the Vermont Service Center.

Under Congressional pressure, USCIS twice postponed the layoffs before announcing in August that it would not layoff anyone during the 2020 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. One of those postponements came after Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others identified an unspent budget surplus at the agency sufficient to pay all staff through the end of fiscal year 2020.

What’s next

The Senate is expected to approve the stopgap funding bill, after which President Donald Trump will sign it.

The bill also includes provisions extending increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the end of the year, which will allow Vermont to provide additional 3SquaresVT assistance to families with children eligible for free or reduced school lunches.

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