Impact of Government Shutdown on USCIS and Other Immigration Agencies

It is official: The United States government is shutting down. Last-minute negotiation, or the lack of it, wasn’t able to bring the two parties together and as a result, about 800,000 government workers will be sent home without pay tomorrow. Although it sounds ridiculous to a lot of people around the world, a government shutdown is actually not that uncommon in the US: This is only the 18th time!

During the shutdown, essential government functions will continue as usual, such as homeland security, law enforcement and air-traffic control. Non-essential activities will be greatly reduced. The impact on immigration agencies will vary. We have listed below some contingency plans issued by the government and will continue to update this post as we learn more, or until the fiasco is over:

1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
USCIS is primarily funded by application fees, so its operation doesn’t depend on the Annual Appropriated Funds. The government shutdown therefore has minimal impact on USCIS. According to the DHS contingency plan, 12,205 of USCIS’ 12,558 employees (97%) will be retained during the federal funding hiatus. It is expected that green card petitions and visa applications will continue to be accepted and processed as usual. However, since immigration processes may involve several different agencies and some of them may be affected by the shutdown, it is possible that there will be further delays.

All USCIS local offices remain open.

E-Verify has been taken offline and is currently unavailable. To minimize the impact on both employers and employees who need the E-Verify service, temporary policies have been put in place during the shutdown.

2. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
CBP is slightly more affected by the shutdown as compared to USCIS, with 6,888 employees (out of 59,561 or roughly 12%) being sent home. Border inspection at ports of entry are expected to operate normally.

3. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
According to DHS, 4,016 ICE employees (out of 19,810 or 20%) will be affected by the government shutdown. Essential law enforcement activities will continue without interruption.

4. Office of Foreign Labor Certification (Department of Labor)
According to the OFLC contingency plan, the labor certification process is practically suspended. This is going to have the biggest impact on the legal immigration process:

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 web site, including the iCERT Visa Portal System, would become static and unable to process any requests or allow authorized users to access their online accounts.

5. Visa Issuance at Embassies and Consulates (Department of State)
The Department of State will continue passport and visa operations as well as provide critical services to U.S. citizens overseas.

6. Diversity Visa – Green Card Lottery (Department of State)
DV-2015 started on October 1st, 2013 and so far appears to running as planned.

7. Visa Office (Department of State)
November 2013 visa bulletin was released on schedule and it is likely that future visa bulletins will too.

8. Passport Services (Department of State)
The Department of State will continue passport and visa operations as well as provide critical services to U.S. citizens overseas. Processing time for passport applications remain at four weeks or less for routine service and two weeks door-to-door for expedited service.

9. Immigration Courts (Department of Justice)
Immigration courts nationwide are continuing to adjudicate detained cases. Court functions that support the detained caseload will continue, but other functions are suspended. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is processing emergency stay requests as well as cases where the alien is detained, including case appeals, motions, federal court remands, and bonds. The stay line is open (for emergency stay calls only), but all other telephone lines have been switched to closed status. The BIA Clerk’s Office staff is accepting all filings and will be open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

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