United States: U.S. Government Shutdown Will Disrupt Many Immigration Processes

Programs at the Departments of State and Labor are likely to be affected more than others if partial government shutdown occurs on October 1.

The potential U.S. government shutdown on October 1 could have immigration-related consequences, especially for those immigration functions performed by the U.S. Department of State (State) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). These possible implications are set out below.

State Department

Although no official announcements have been made concerning which services would be affected by a shutdown, it is likely that State, which issues visas to foreign nationals at U.S. consular posts abroad, would operate on a severely limited basis. State's current policy is for consular operations in the United States and abroad to remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations. Many visa application processes are fee based, so it is possible that some visa issuance could continue based on this separate funding stream. However, a loss of federal funding will likely impact visa processing as fees cover only a portion of the costs associated with visa processing.

In 2011, when there was a similar prospect of a government shutdown, State issued the following advice:

In the consular area, American citizens' services, emergency visa services (e.g., those for life/death or medical emergencies, humanitarian cases involving minor children, and diplomatic travel) would continue. Basic visa issuance would be severely curtailed.

State also provided the following information:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs, as well as other areas in [State], undertake a combination of excepted and non-excepted activities related to consular services. For the most part, visa and passport functions are not excepted activities, nor do fees entirely cover them. Instead, [State] relies on a mix of fee-funded and appropriation-funded employees and is dependent on support services that would be scaled back or eliminated during a shutdown. Therefore, [State] will not operate these non-excepted functions in the absence of appropriated funding.

In addition, the shutdown of ancillary consular operations, including building support and the employment of local personnel, may impact the delivery of visa services, resulting in cancellation of visa appointments or delays in the processing of visa applications. Accordingly, foreign nationals should be prepared for delays in consular visa processing and, where feasible, may want to consider postponing travel outside the United States if a new visa would be required to reenter the United States.

Processing of immigration visa applications at the National Visa Center will likely continue, as those functions are funded by contract and not a direct federal appropriation. Issuance of the November 2013 Visa Bulletin, which is expected in mid-October, is uncertain and would likely be impacted by a shutdown.

Department of Labor

On September 30, DOL made the following announcement:

Office of Foreign Labor Certification [(OFLC)] functions are not "excepted" from a shutdown and its employees would be placed in furlough status should a lapse in appropriated funds occur. Consequently, in the event of a government shutdown, OFLC will neither accept nor process any applications or related materials (such as audit responses) it receives, including Labor Condition Applications, Applications for Prevailing Wage Determination, Applications for Temporary Employment Certification, or Applications for Permanent Employment Certification. OFLC's website, including the iCERT Visa Portal System, would become static and unable to process any requests or allow authorized users to access their online accounts.

PERM applications that need to be filed due to expiring recruitment or the need to preserve H-1B AC21 eligibility could presumably be filed by mail if necessary.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is funded through fee-based petitions and applications and would not likely be affected by the shutdown. In addition, most Customs and Border Protection operations are considered to be essential functions and would not be disrupted. However, if there are staffing cuts, it is possible that there would be some delays in processing applications presented at the U.S. border and at border crossings. There may also be delays in waiver adjudication. We will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates with any new information.

The E-Verify Program, which is run by USCIS, is not expected to be operational if there is a government shutdown. Employers are advised that a shutdown will not relieve them of their responsibilities; however, as stated in the governing Memorandum of Understanding, "[i]f the automated system to be queried is temporarily unavailable, the 3-day time period is extended until it is again operational in order to accommodate the Employer's attempting, in good faith, to make inquiries during the period of unavailability." Should a shutdown occur, the E-Verify public website and the E-Verify log-in page are expected to contain additional guidance for employers.

Copyright 2013. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

This article is provided as a general informational service and it should not be construed as imparting legal advice on any specific matter.

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