How Would a Government Shutdown Affect Immigration Cases?
There is no simple answer to this question, as some federal government agencies would continue to operate, some would close partially and some would close almost completely. Since the last time this kind of shutdown happened was 15 years ago, there are no clear rules and guidance as to what would remain open and what would close. With respect to immigration, it appears that there would be some disruptions to pending cases and upcoming filings. Generally, the government is likely to stop all non-essential, all non-self-funded and all non-contractually funded services.
Since USCIS is funded primarily through application fees, it is expected that most of its services and centers would operate normally, perhaps with slightly diminished staff. Because USCIS is a government agency which relies on other government agencies to perform its services, there may be certain disruptions; however, overall, case processing at USCIS is expected to resume. Border processing of immigrants and border enforcement activities would continue as they are deemed “essential.”
Department of State – No (or Slow) Visa Applications; Visa Bulletin Uncertain; NVC Processing Could Continue
The Department of State (DOS) is expected to to cease non-emergency visa services and non-US citizen services at U.S. Consular Posts abroad. As a result, no new visas are expected to be issued and visa application interviews are likely to be cancelled (or postponed). U.S. passport applications will not be accepted and processing of submitted applications is likely to be put on hold.
As a comparison, according to data from the Congressional Research Service Report, during the last shutdown in 1995, approximately 20,000 – 30,000 visas went unprocessed each day and 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unprocessed.
While the full extent of the federal government shutdown (if it were to happen over the next WEEKS) is unknown; we can anticipate some disruptions to government services affecting immigrants. Perhaps more severe would be the disruptions to visa applications at U.S. Consular Posts abroad, followed by delays or inability to file H-1B and/or PERM labor certifications. While some of these affected cases would be able to withstand delay, there would be a number of urgent visa or petition cases which would need to be filed or processed. The shutdown would also create a significant increase in the processing time backlogs for almost all immigration cases.
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