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2018 Government Shutdown – How Will it Affect the Agencies that Handle Immigration Cases?

On January 19, 2018, Congress failed to pass a funding bill.  The government shutdown has begun.

Many in the immigration community are wondering how the closing of various government agencies will affect the immigration process and our nation’s already backlogged immigration courts.

We will continue to monitor the situation and update you with the latest news.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a fee-based agency.  That means that most of its budget comes from the filing fees that people pay when they apply for an immigration benefit.

We expect that USCIS will continue to process applications and petitions for immigration benefits during the shutdown.

Processing delays are likely, though, because certain USCIS employees will be furloughed (told to stay home).

For now, we believe that immigration interviews that have already been scheduled will continue to take place.  That may change over time if the shutdown drags on and on.

For any immigration cases that depend on the involvement of other agencies, such as the Department of Labor, it is expected that slowdowns at those agencies may impact the processing of these types of immigration matters.

This is especially relevant because the H-1B season is fast approaching and employers need to obtain Labor Condition Application approvals from the DOL in order to apply for an H-1B.

It is unclear whether the USCIS asylum offices will continue processing cases as there are no filing fees associated with a new asylum applications.  Historically, the asylum cases have been delayed during government shutdowns.

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor (DOL) will stop processing all immigration-related functions during the shutdown.  This means that any PERM Labor Certifications and Labor Condition Applications will be put on hold.

The DOL will stop processing the cases that they already have and will stop accepting new cases filed through their online portal.

Department of State

The Department of State (DOS) is expected to continue processing visa applications, but it is unclear how long that will continue.  Expect slowdowns at the National Visa Center in New Hampshire, where most immigrant and non-immigrant visas are processed before they get to the consulate.

Once funding dries up, it is expected that the consulates themselves will stop processing visas at this time and previously-scheduled appointments will be postponed or cancelled.

Immigration Courts

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is the formal name given to our nation’s deportation courts.  The EOIR handles all of the deportation and removal cases across the country.  The shutdown is expected to have a serious effect on deportation cases as many office and courtroom staff are sent home.

You can expect the cancellation of hearings for non-detained cases (that is people who are not sitting in immigration jail waiting to have their cases heard).  Some lawyers and court personnel will continue working to allow processing of detained immigrants to continue.  Even those cases are expected to be delayed.

Customs and Border Protection

Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Homeland Security (DHS), which are involved in protecting the country are pretty much exempt from the government shutdown.

This includes Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  CBP employees are expected to continue working on the borders and all of our ports of entry.  This would include the processing of TN and L-1 visas at the border.

If you are on one of these visas and were thinking of renewing with USCIS, you may decide to process your case at the border.

Passport Office

The Bureau of Consular Affairs is a fee-based agency; therefore, the Passport Office should continue to operate normally during a shutdown. However, some those passport offices that are located in federal buildings, which themselves may have to shut down, restricting access to those passport offices.

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