The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) provided formal recommendations last week on how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should address its chronic underfunding.

USCIS is almost exclusively funded by service fees, a model that leaves the agency “consistently under-resourced.” according to the Ombudsman.  The funding problems make it “nearly impossible (for USCIS) to meet obligations and (inhibits) its ability to quickly address new and emerging circumstances”, the Ombudsman said. The Ombudsman said USCIS should seek legislative or regulatory actions to:

  • Change the agency’s biennial fee review process. The Ombudsman said this was particularly important as it relates to staffing allocation projections to make sure USCIS has enough personnel to meet processing time goals.
  • Cover the cost of delivering humanitarian-based immigration benefits through congressional appropriations. The programs covered by this type of funding would include, but not be limited to, USCIS’ refugee and asylum programs.
  • Authorize and establish a financing mechanism through the Department of the Treasury. Under this recommendation, USCIS would be able draw upon this funding source to address unexpected revenue shortfalls and unfunded policy shifts and to maintain staffing to meet performance obligations to customers and Congress.
  • Obtain annual appropriations specifically dedicated to eliminating backlogs.   
  • Resume exercising its existing authority to adjust fees annually based on the salary/inflation factor calculated by the Office of Management and Budget under Circular A-76. 

Background: USCIS has long faced funding challenges that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem has exacerbated processing delays across many visa categories. A federal appropriations bill in March provided $275 million in funding for USCIS to address processing backlogs and delays. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also working to publish a proposed rule to “establish new USCIS fees to recover USCIS operating costs.” While USCIS is not likely to adopt all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations, it is required to respond to the recommendations within three months. BAL will continue following USCIS’ efforts to address its funding and processing challenges and will provide updates as information becomes available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact

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