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Impact of the Federal Government Shutdown on Immigration Services

IMG_0737.JPGOn October 1, 2013, parts of the federal government essentially shut down, limiting or cutting off access to programs and services considered “non-essential.” The duration of the shutdown and the extent of its impact on the public remain to be seen. For people who want to apply for immigration benefits and people who are already awaiting action on an application or petition, the reasons for the shutdown are not as immediately important as understanding how it will affect their cases. Most immigration services should continue to operate without a significant disruption, but they may feel peripheral effects from cutbacks in other parts of the government, as the workload for matters related to immigration paperwork, employment verification, and immigration enforcement is shifted around between parts of the government deemed “essential.”

Processing of Immigration Paperwork

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that processes most immigration paperwork, is not expected to be affected by the shutdown. It receives a substantial portion of its funding from filing fees paid by petitioners and applicants. As a result, the agency estimates that ninety-two percent of its staff will be able to continue working throughout the shutdown.

Petitions filed with USCIS that depend on information from other agencies, however, may experience delays. The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State (DOS) are reportedly experiencing greater cutbacks than DHS. Petitions for employment-based visas, such as the H-1B temporary worker visas, require labor certifications from DOL. If DOL cannot keep up with the volume of labor certification requests, processing of visa petitions may be delayed.

Processing of Visas and Passports

DOS processes visa petitions originating in other countries, as well as passport applications. These services, much like USCIS’ services, are funded by fees. As long as they are able to continue collecting fees, those services should be able to remain active. DOS may be cutting back on consular staffs abroad, however, which would slow their ability to process paperwork.

Employment Verification

Verification of an employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S. will be significantly affected by the shutdown, at least for employers that rely on the E-Verify system. The government has been encouraging employers in many states to use this system, which allows employers to search employee information across multiple federal databases. DHS has announced that the service will not be accessible for the duration of the shutdown. Employers must still keep work authorization records with Form I-9.

Immigration Enforcement

The DHS agencies that enforce immigration law, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have been deemed “essential” and should experience minimal impact due to the shutdown. This means that the government may continue to conduct I-9 audits of employers and other enforcement activities. Immigration court proceedings, which are handled by an agency of the Department of Justice, may be delayed due to reduced staff.

Samuel C. Berger is an immigration attorney who represents immigrants living in New York and New Jersey, individuals who wish to immigrate to the United States, family members seeking to bring a loved one here, and employers who want to hire talent from abroad. We advise families and businesses on how to help immigrants come here, and we help immigrants obtain visas and green cards. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Supreme Court’s Ruling Striking Down the Defense of Marriage Act Has Profound Impact on Binational Same-Sex Couples Seeking Immigration Benefits, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, August 9, 2013
Benefits of Immigration Reform to New Jersey’s Economy, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 11, 2013
Immigration Authorities Raid New York Convenience Stores for Alleged Employment Violations, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 27, 2013
Photo credit: pedrojperez from morguefile.com.