– Update January 22, 2 pm ET –
The government reached an agreement to fund through February 8. Even though the government shutdown was resolved today, the following information is relevant given that there may be another shutdown in the near future.
Original article below as published on January 22, 8 am
While a government shutdown is bound to cause serious disruption across many federal agencies, the family-based immigration system carries on more or less as usual. That’s because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and most other immigration agencies are funded directly by user fees, and don’t depend on Congress (or taxpayers) for their budget.
Here’s a quick rundown of common immigration transactions that, for the most part, shouldn’t be seriously affected by a government shutdown:
USCIS has made it clear in an official statement: “The current [government shutdown] does not affect USCIS’ fee-funded activities. Our offices will remain open, and all applicants should attend interviews and appointments as scheduled.”
Common forms will continue to be processed by USCIS adjudicators (who won’t be furloughed like government employees in many other federal agencies). For example, if you have already filed one of the following forms, or if you plan on filing soon, you shouldn’t expect any extra delays on account of the shutdown:
This is only a small sample of USCIS forms, of course, and it’s worth noting that some delays appear to be on the rise for long-term reasons that have nothing to do with the shutdown.
The State Department also collects user fees to fund its visa operations, so in a relatively brief shutdown, embassies and consulates are expected to conduct business as usual. In the past, however, long shutdowns (approaching one month) have sapped resources from the State Department as a whole, and led consulates to restrict visa processing activity to only emergency situations.
Likewise, while the State Department is still accepting green card applications (Form DS-260) through its online system, it’s possible that a very long shutdown could impede the agency’s ability to keep that website running.
That’s the upshot of the State Department’s official guidance: “Consular operations domestically and abroad will remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations. However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, the facility may become unsupported.”
For the most part, officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are designated “essential” government personnel who do not get furloughed during a shutdown. Border crossings and ports of entry stay open, and CPB officers continue to inspect visa holders as they enter the United States.
Student Visa System
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), a part of the U.S Department of Homeland Security that handles most student visas, is also funded by user fees and relatively untouched by a government shutdown.
Employment-Based Visa System
Unlike the family-based immigration system, many employment-based visa processes (e.g. H-1B visas) can get delayed during a government shutdown, because they depend on labor certifications from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Employees of DOL are not designated “essential,” nor are they funded by user fees, so they will be furloughed and cannot do any work during a shutdown.
Of course, shutdown or no shutdown, there are still significant changes on the horizon for the legal immigration system. Boundless has prepared a detailed summary of what changes are already underway, and what to expect in the year ahead.