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  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Functions and Funding

    William A. Kandel Analyst in Immigration Policy

    May 15, 2015

    Congressional Research Service

    7-5700 www.crs.gov

    R44038

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Functions and Funding

    Congressional Research Service

    Summary U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), performs multiple functions including the adjudication of immigration and naturalization petitions, consideration of refugee and asylum claims and related humanitarian and international concerns, and a range of immigration-related services, such as issuing employment authorizations and processing nonimmigrant change-of-status petitions. Processing immigrant petitions remains USCISs leading function. In FY2014, it handled roughly 6 million petitions for immigration-related services and benefits.

    USCISs budget relies largely on user fees. The agency and its predecessor, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), have had the legal authority to charge fees for immigration services since before the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA). In 1988, Congress created the Immigration Examinations Fee Account, which made the portion of USCISs budget collected from user fees no longer subject to annual congressional approval.

    Since the President announced the Immigration Accountability Executive Action on November 20, 2014, USCISs budgetary structure has received increased attention. Among other provisions, the executive action included an expansion of the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was initiated in 2012, as well as a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program that grants certain unauthorized aliens protection from removal, and work authorization, for three years. If implemented, these programs would require applicants to submit petitions and pay a user fee to USCIS. The user fees would purportedly pay for the cost of administering the program.

    Some in Congress oppose deferred action programs. However, Congress has limited options for halting the programs using the annual appropriations process. The executive action highlights some challenges Congress faces if it wishes to exert control over an agency whose funding is largely independent of the annual appropriations process. To alter existing statutory provisions governing the collection of user fees in the Immigration Examinations Fee Account, the availability of user fees for expenditure, or their prohibited use for certain purposes would require an enactment of law.

    Congress does appropriate a small portion of the agencys budget each year, primarily to fund E-Verify, a system used to electronically confirm that individuals have proper authorization to work in the United States. Since 2003, such annual direct appropriations have constituted a declining portion of USCISs budget. While some have welcomed this trend for reducing the cost to U.S. taxpayers of running USCIS, others have voiced concerns over the limitations on congressional oversight it reflects. Some contend that such budget independence also makes the agency less responsive to the need for affordable user fees and timely and effective customer service.

    Potential issues that Congress may decide to consider include USCISs accountability to Congress, given that much of its funding does not require annual congressional approval; whether some fees are at levels that inhibit some potential applicants from applying for benefits or inhibit lawful permanent residents from becoming citizens; whether the pace and progress of information technology modernization is sufficient to meet the agencys multiple functions and efficiently serve petitioners; and whether USCISs management of its personnel and resources adequately

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Functions and Funding

    Congressional Research Service

    addresses sudden demands for processing and adjudication of petitions while maintaining processing times and adequate levels of service for all other petitions.

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Functions and Funding

    Congressional Research Service

    Contents Introduction ...................................................................................................................................... 1 USCIS Functions ............................................................................................................................. 2

    Responsibilities.......................................................................................................................... 2 Operations and Processing Workload ........................................................................................ 4

    USCIS Funding ................................................................................................................................ 5 Appropriations ........................................................................................................................... 5 Immigration Examination Fee Account ..................................................................................... 6 H-1B Nonimmigrant Petitioner Fee Account ............................................................................ 7 H-1B and L Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee Account ....................................................... 7 Year-End Cash Reserves Balance .............................................................................................. 8

    USCIS Fees ...................................................................................................................................... 8 Related Issues for Congress ............................................................................................................. 9

    Accountability to Congress ....................................................................................................... 9 Recovering Individual Service Costs versus Full Agency Costs ............................................. 10 Fee Levels and Public Policy................................................................................................... 11 IT Modernization and Client Service ...................................................................................... 12 Processing Times and Backlogs .............................................................................................. 13 Capacity ................................................................................................................................... 14

    Conclusion ..................................................................................................................................... 15

    Figures Figure 1. USCIS Appropriations, FY2002-FY2015* ...................................................................... 6

    Tables Table B-1. Fees, Processing Volumes (FY2013, FY2014), and Projected Volumes

    (FY2015) for Selected Immigration Petitions ............................................................................ 19

    Appendixes Appendix A. History of USCIS Fee Funding ................................................................................ 16 Appendix B. Fee and Processing Volume Statistics....................................................................... 19

    Contacts Author Contact Information............................................................................................................. 1

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Functions and Funding

    Congressional Research Service 1

    Introduction U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), performs multiple functions including the adjudication of immigration and naturalization petitions and refugee and asylum claims, as well as other immigration-related services. USCIS currently funds over 95% of its budget by charging user fees to petitioners for its services. The agency and its predecessor, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), have had the legal authority to do so since at least the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA).1 In 1988, Congress created the Immigration Examinations Fee Account, which made the portion of USCISs budget collected from user fees no longer subject to annual congressional approval.2

    This budgetary structure has attracted congressional attention as the result of President Obamas recent executive action on immigration.3 Among its other provisions, the action would expand the current use of deferred action4 that some estimate could affect up to 5 million unauthorized aliens living in the United States.5 USCIS would process all new deferred action petitions, the cost of which would be paid for through user fees.6 Some Members of Congress oppose the executive action, particularly its expansion of existing deferred action provisions.7 However, because USCISs funding is largely independent of the annual appropriations process, Congress cannot use that process to halt the deferred action programs contained in the Presidents executive action. If Congress wanted to alter existing statutory provisions governing the collection of user fees in

    1 P.L. 82-414, 281. 2 P.L. 100-459, 209. 3 See CRS Report R43852, The Presidents Immigration Accountability Executive Action of November 20, 2014: Overview and Issues , coordinated by William A. Kandel. 4 Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer the removal against an unauthorized alien for a certain peri

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