U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – which administers America’s naturalization and immigration system — is losing more than $3 million a day, and cutting corners on security.
Unlike most federal agencies, USCIS is almost entirely funded through user fees. And like many businesses, it was hit hard by a drop in paying customers during COVID-19. But a new report by the USCIS ombudsman confirms that long before coronavirus arrived, the agency’s fiscal condition was deteriorating due to a chronic failure to update fees and recoup of the costs of adjudication.
By law, USCIS is supposed to recalibrate its fee schedule every two years to recover administrative expenses. “The agency has never met that congressional mandate and … essentially offers immigration benefits today at yesterday’s lower cost,” notes the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). “Combined with the Obama administration’s generous use of fee waivers and exemptions, the agency was forgoing $1.5 billion a year in potential revenue.”
The Trump administration tried to stop the bleeding with updated user fees, but a federal judge blocked that move on questionable procedural grounds. Ur Jaddou, Joe Biden’s director of USCIS, supports continued granting of expansive fee waivers, inviting more departmental deficits.
The agency’s ombudsman foreshadowed how Biden’s team is now bankrupting USCIS. Looking back, USCIS expected fees to generate $3.41 billion in average annual revenue in FY 2019 and FY 2020. “For the same period, the average annual cost of processing those immigration benefit requests and providing biometric services is $4.67 billion,” the ombudsman reported.
As antiquated fee schedules fail to keep pace with actual costs, the agency is digging itself a deeper hole. “Letting policy preferences instead of fiscal considerations influence the fees charged leads to tricky math and an increased likelihood that USCIS will continue to operate at a loss for the foreseeable future,” says Rob Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at CIS.
Meantime, in a further unwinding of national security under Biden’s team, USCIS plans to drop FBI name vetting of citizenship applications. Exposing the country to more immigration fraud and exploitation, the agency has already killed a biometrics rule that was set to replace old screening protocols.
Between its new security shortcuts and its ongoing fiscal irresponsibility, USCIS epitomizes this administration’s immigration agenda, bringing the worst of both worlds to America.