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How Does the Government Shutdown Affect Immigration Applicants?

Our government’s fiscal year ended yesterday, and no last-minute budget deal was agreed upon. As a result, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million federal employees will be furloughed and government offices are now closed.  News as to how each immigration-related government agency will react and prioritize its resources is emerging, but based on the information released thus far (and what we learned during the last shutdown in 1996), this is how immigration services applicants will be affected.

Department of Homeland Security

All United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices worldwide are open and immigration applicants should report to interviews and appointments as scheduled.  USCIS will continue to accept and process immigration petitions and other applications. However, there are likely to be delays in processing, as it is likely that support staff and contractors will be furloughed.

E-Verify will be shut down. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “citizens and U.S. businesses will not be able to access E-Verify, the Internet based system that allows employers to voluntarily determine the eligibility of prospective employees to work in the United States.”

Essential services, including security and enforcement sub-agencies such as border security (CBP) and customs (ICE), will continue operations near normal capacity. ICE detention and enforcement operations will continue.

Executive Office for Immigration Review

The Immigration Courts have suspended the processing of cases other than those in which the respondent is currently detained. If you have a hearing scheduled in the near future, be sure that your attorney is aware of any suspension in case processing.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is processing emergency stay requests as well as cases where the immigrant is detained, including case appeals, motions, federal court remands, and bonds. The stay line is open (for emergency stay calls only), but all other telephone lines have been switched to closed status. The Executive Office has released a statement indicating that the BIA Clerk’s Office staff is accepting all filings and will be open Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Department of State

Consular operations in the U.S. and at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad will remain operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations. However, this is only expected to last for a few days, after which consular posts will likely focus solely on diplomatic services and emergency services for American citizens.

Khurgel Immigration Law Firm expects delays in processing visas, and if there is a prolonged shut down, some Posts may completely cease adjudicating visa requests. During the last government shutdown in 1996, approximately 25,000 visa requests went unprocessed for each day offices were closed and 200,000 applications for passports of U.S. citizens stalled. As it did in 1996, the Department of State has confirmed that visa processing will continue only for emergencies.  In 1996 qualifying “emergency” visa applications did not include those filed for business reasons.

Department of Labor

DOL has already indicated that it will cease processing permanent labor certifications. New applications are unlikely to be accepted during the shutdown through the online system. In addition, the filing of Labor Condition Applications related to H-1B petitions will be affected.

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We expect the backlogs within the Departments of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to grow with each day of the government shutdown.  Cases pending in the Immigration Courts will also be delayed. The silver lining in the cloud for some applicants is that the longer an application is pending, the stronger their case becomes.  For example, in those cases where an individual is seeking to establish hardship in a waiver case or run time on the asylum “clock” for purposes of a work permit, time running may be helpful. Overall, however, delays in immigration processing harm immigration applicants and cause troublesome backlogs. Let’s hope for an amicable and speedy solution.

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