Government Shutdown Looms; Immigration Processes May Be Affected

September 28, 2021 Ian Love

government shutdown looms and immigration-related services may be affected. A stopgap measure or FY2022 spending legislation must pass by Oct. 1, 2021 to avoid the shutdown.  

Overview  

If the government shuts down, immigration-related agencies will face varying degrees of impact. There will likely be staff shortages and reduced or suspended operations, and some immigration-related processes will be halted. The extent of the impact will vary based on the agency and department.  

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department   

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department, which use fee-based processing, would be able to continue their operations, although existing application processing delays and backlogs, which are already lengthy, would likely increase even more. Additionally, cases that require support from other government services that are suspended, such as security clearances, will face the biggest delays. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the CIS Ombudsman would close in a government shutdown. Its online case intake system would also close until the shutdown ends. 

The Department of State would be able to continue processing visas and U.S. citizenship documents if fees remain available for consular operations. However, passport services may be affected due to federal building closures at specific posts. If a consular post technically shuts down, it will only be able to handle emergencies and diplomatic visas.  

Department of Labor 

While USCIS and the Department of State would be able to carry out operations, albeit with some limitations, the Department of Labor (DOL) would face greater impacts, as its operations are considered non-essential functions. If the government shuts down, DOL would cease processing for PERM applications, prevailing wage determinations (PWDs), labor condition applications (LCAs) and applications for temporary labor certification. DOL would not accept submissions by mail or online while the shutdown remains in effect. These processing suspensions would have ripple effects on some USCIS filings, especially H-1B, which require obtaining a certified LCA prior to filing with USCIS. 

Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement 

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has “essential” services and personnel, including inspection services and law enforcement personnel. Therefore, it will continue to process incoming passengers. Ports of entry will remain open if the shutdown happens, but application processing at the border may be affected.  

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will continue its removal and enforcement operations if the government shuts down. The agency’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will not be affected by a shutdown since it is a fee-funded program.  

Looking Ahead  

Government shutdowns have happened in the past, including the most recent 2018-2019 shutdown that lasted 35 days and impacted many government services.  

A shutdown this year would have a different impact on immigration services, primarily at the Department of Labor.  During the 2018-2019 shutdown, DOL had already received funding allowing it to continue operating. Now, however, DOL does not have funding for operations beyond Sept. 30, 2021, which will impact critical immigration processing services more acutely than in the past. 

Presently, government funding is scheduled to expire by midnight on Sept. 30, 2021, without a resolution, which would trigger a shutdown of government services starting on Oct. 1, 2021. 

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Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Ian Love, who is a Partner at Global Immigration Associates (GIA), one of the two independent U.S. law firms Envoy exclusively works with on the Envoy Platform (the "U.S. Law Firms").      

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.  

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