As the possibility of a government shutdown looms, it's crucial to understand its potential impact on immigration-related agencies and processes. A government shutdown could significantly affect various agencies that handle immigration matters, resulting in delays or temporary halts in services.
USCIS Operations During a Shutdown
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), unlike most federal agencies, is primarily fee funded. This means that, generally, USCIS continues to operate during a government shutdown. However, certain programs, such as E-Verify, EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, Conrad 30 J-1 doctors and non-minister religious workers, and the Optional Alternative Remote Verification Process, which are not entirely fee-funded, may cease operations during a shutdown.
USCIS has confirmed that employers may continue to use the new alternate document review process for remote Form I-9 document verification if E-Verify is temporarily unavailable due to a government shutdown.
Impact on Department of Labor
In the event of a shutdown, the Department of Labor (DOL) would suspend operations. This halt would affect the Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) and Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) systems. Consequently, some deadlines would be suspended, potentially delaying labor certifications and other immigration-related processes handled by DOL.
Department of State Operations
While the Department of State (DOS) can continue visa and passport operations using fees collected, a prolonged shutdown may affect consular operations if these fees are insufficient. This situation could lead to delayed visa processing and other consular services if there are insufficient fees to support operations at a particular post, resulting in the handling of only diplomatic visas and "life or death" emergencies. While a shutdown may not stop visa processing, it could slow down operations significantly.
Customs and Border Protection During a Shutdown
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates the country's ports of entry and is expected to continue operations during a shutdown. However, the processing of applications related to immigration, such as those for Global Entry, could be affected.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would continue its enforcement and removal operations during a government shutdown. Additionally, the ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which monitors nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors, is expected to continue operations.
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)
Immigration court cases on the detained docket will proceed during a lapse in congressional appropriations while non-detained docket cases will be reset for a later date when funding resumes. Courts with only non-detained dockets will not be open and will not accept filings.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman
The Department of Homeland Security Office of the USCIS Ombudsman will close and will not accept any inquiries through its online case intake system. This will shut down reviews of problem cases not processing as normally as they should and will result in slower work in the Department.
Congressional Constituent Services
Some congressional offices have indicated they may be closed during the government shutdown. This could result in a slowdown in the processing of cases as federal employees still working adjust to the lack of support normally given to them because of furloughs of non-essential federal employees.
It is important to note that while there are potential outcomes based on previous shutdowns, each shutdown is unique and may have different impacts. Those affected by immigration processes should be prepared for potential delays and disruptions.
If you or a loved one are currently working with immigration officials for change of status, visa approval, citizenship, or other matters you must contact our experienced attorneys at Smith Law Offices, LLC. Our firm can provide support and guidance through the process.