Administration puts ‘hold’ on green card requests from US

Pandemic-related reduction in staff led to the temporary halt, USCIS says

Immigration officials say the hold on processing green cards stems from a pandemic-related shortage of manpower. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Immigration officials say the hold on processing green cards stems from a pandemic-related shortage of manpower. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 12, 2020 at 4:42pm

After suspending approval of green card requests to immigrants abroad seeking U.S. residency, the Trump administration has also halted processing requests from green card applicants already living in the country. 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told employees this week that a “general hold” on permanent residency applications filed from immigrants within the United States would remain in place. But it updated a list of exemptions to the hold in a Wednesday email and other internal communication seen by CQ Roll Call. It was not clear when the hold was originally implemented.

Exemptions to the hold include applications of medical providers. The USCIS also allows immigration officers to submit applications that concern an “emergent or sensitive matter” outside these exemptions to their supervisors for consideration. 

The USCIS said the hold on processing green card applications from current U.S. residents stems from the temporary suspension of in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency said its current priority was to resume naturalization ceremonies, which have also been interrupted because of the pandemic.

“We’re conducting emergent adjustment of status interviews and cases related to fighting COVID-19 and will begin to resume other in-person services in the future,” the agency said in a statement.

Buzzfeed News reported Thursday that USCIS employees had also received additional guidance about the hold, saying it was tied to President Donald Trump’s executive order in April that suspended the entry of most immigrants from overseas. That proclamation had exempted green card applicants who already lived in the United States.

The USCIS acknowledged it posted that material on “an internal webpage used by headquarters staff to maintain records of guidance“ but said it contained “incorrect information“ and has since been taken down.

“The dates in the post and the reference to the executive order were incorrect,” the agency said. “This post has been removed and does not reflect current adjudication guidance.” 

Loading the player...

The USCIS, which is entirely funded by application fees, has sought $1.2 billion in emergency funding from Congress because of a shortfall it said was caused by a drop in applications processed amid the pandemic.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, the union representing USCIS workers, 70 percent of the agency’s workforce is expected to be furloughed if Congress fails to replenish the agency’s coffers. Furlough notices may go out as early as next week. 

A USCIS employee who processes applications for U.S. residency said the majority of agency staff has been teleworking and available to work on matters other than naturalization.

“For an agency in fiscal crisis, I have been assigned a shockingly low amount of applications that we can collect fees from,” said the USCIS employee, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.