Need a visa to visit the U.S.? Expect much longer wait times, officials warn

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FILE PHOTO: People stand on the steps of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York, August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

(Reuters) – The U.S. agency in charge of processing immigration applications said on Tuesday that it had avoided a planned furlough of 70% of its staff but warned that it still faced financial hardship that could result in some applicants experiencing longer wait times.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency in charge of processing work permits, so-called green cards and other visas, said that it had avoided furloughs planned for Aug. 30. But aggressive spending cuts the agency planned to put in place would impact all operations, including naturalizations, it said in a statement.

USCIS is dependent on fees from new immigration applications. The agency reported a 50% drop in fees in June due to less immigration during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But immigration experts and former officials say even before the onset of the pandemic, the agency had seen revenues fall sharply as a result of slowdowns in processing and other limits placed on immigration applications.

Republican President Donald Trump has made curbing immigration a priority during his nearly 3-1/2 years in office.

USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow warned in the statement there was no guarantee the agency can avoid future furloughs and called on the U.S. Congress to ensure that the agency had sufficient funding for fiscal year 2021, which starts in October.

USCIS had asked for a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress in May to avoid the projected furloughs, but lawmakers pushed back, arguing that the agency had the funding it needed to continue operations through the fiscal year.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles; Editing by Ross Colvin and Lisa Shumaker)

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