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What Would a Government Shutdown Mean for Immigration?

Last Updated on September 21, 2023

A government shutdown typically occurs if Congress does not reach a long-term funding agreement. As of Sept. 21, 2023, multiple media outlets indicate the odds of a government shutdown starting Oct. 1, 2023, are more than likely.

Previous shutdowns can provide insights into the government shutdown’s effects on immigration.

Here’s how stakeholders may prepare for delays to immigration processing if there is a shutdown.

Government Shutdown Effects on Immigration

In the past, government shutdowns typically have had a minor impact on the operations of agencies that are fee-funded, such as U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State. The government considered U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) essential. As such, they continued operating during prior government shutdowns.

It’s important to note that although these agencies continued to operate during past government shutdowns, there were still delays to some immigration-related functions. The 2018-2019 shutdown had a minimal impact on immigration because most pertinent agencies were able to maintain operations. However, the 2013 shutdown caused significant disruptions to employment-based immigration processing after the Department of Labor suspended operations.

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Does a Government Shutdown Affect Immigration Agencies?

Although fee-based government agencies like USCIS have been largely unimpacted by government shutdowns, a government shutdown has and would impact others, most notably the Department of Labor (DOL).

The DOL processes several types of applications required for certain filings with USCIS, including:

  • Prevailing wage determinations to support PERM (green card).
  • Labor Condition Applications (LCA): You must include a certified LCA with H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 petitions.
  • ETA 9089 (PERM), application for permanent labor certification.

If the DOL suspends operations during a government shutdown, they cannot process LCAs. Therefore, you can’t file H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 petitions with USCIS. Consular Posts abroad would also be unable to process those petitions. This may result in lapses in status for foreign nationals nearing the expiration of their work authorization or delays for employers hiring new employees in H or E  status.

Additionally, a pause in the processing of ETA 9089 applications at the DOL will delay green card processes. This may result in some foreign nationals having a gap in their U.S. status and work authorization. In some cases, employers may need to redo the recruitment processes if they cannot file an ETA 9089 within the required time frame.

While these delays remain a risk in the event of a government shutdown, the government may provide some mediation for employers and foreign nationals. For example, in 2013, USCIS announced that it would forgive certain late filings in the aftermath of a government shutdown.

Immigration and How to Prepare for a Government Shutdown

To mitigate the impact of a government shutdown, employers may want to consider coordinating with their immigration counsel to prepare for scenarios that may impact their organization. In addition, employers can prepare for a shutdown by considering the following best practices:

  • Communicate with stakeholders in your organization about expected delays in processing for impacted case types. A tool like Envoy’s Communications Center helps keep all stakeholders updated.
  • Start dates for newly hired H-1B employees may need to be postponed if certification of an LCA will be delayed.
  • Identifying foreign national employees with upcoming expiration dates that may face gaps in status and work authorization.
  • Prepare for the possibility of incurring additional expenses to redo processes if filing windows are missed (primarily ETA 9089).
  • Contact Congressional representatives to convey the shutdown’s negative impact on your organization.

Learn more about Envoy Global’s immigration services and how our team can help you navigate immigration shutdowns.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Frank J. Fogelbach, who is a Supervising Attorney at Corporate Immigration Partners, 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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