What the Federal Shutdown Means for Immigration Agencies

Here’s what the federal shutdown means for the Department of Homeland Security.

The nation has been abuzz over what might happen as a result of the federal government shutdown on October 1, 2013. With Congress having failed to pass necessary appropriations bills to fund federal government agencies, there will be what is known as a “partial shutdown” and many non-essential government employees will be “furloughed” (or sent home) and federal buildings and landmarks closed. The Washington Post has an excellent breakdown of which agencies will be most affected by the federal government shutdown.

However, this does NOT mean that everything stopped at the stroke of midnight. Certain agencies are required by law to operate with a number of unsalaried employees, including those with national security and foreign relations missions, such as the Department of Homeland Security. So Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will still monitor the U.S. border and entry points and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be largely operational as well.

In addition, because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is largely funded by application fees, the agency will continue to accept applications and petitions in the event of a government shutdown. There will still be processing delays due to the loss of the assistance of other agencies and some USCIS staff. However, because 97% of USCIS staff is designated as essential, most family-based petitions and applications will be processed in a close to normal timeframe. USCIS appointments are, as of October 1, going ahead as planned -- see the USCIS website for updates.

But the picture isn’t completely rosy for all immigration agencies. Employment-based visa processing will be delayed because the Department of Labor will no longer process labor certifications, wage determinations, and labor condition applications during a shutdown. E-Verify, the electronic system that U.S. employers use to check employees’ employment eligibility will be offline. Consular visa processing will halt to a near standstill once fees are no longer sufficient to support operations, and only emergency applications will be processed during this time.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) (which directs the immigration courts) will most likely focus their resources on hearings for detainees if the shutdown lasts more than a week or so. Check the "EOIR Shutdown Information" page of its website for details on your local immigration court.

Stay tuned for more information on the impact on immigration agencies if the 2013 federal shutdown becomes a reality.