Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What to Expect During the Federal Shutdown: Information for Foreign Nationals

The U.S. Congress was not able to come to consensus on the federal budget by the October 1 deadline. As a result, many U.S. government operations – including some key immigration functions – will be suspended until an agreement is reached.

The duration of the shutdown cannot be predicted. It could last for several days or weeks, though Congress could pass a temporary measure to fund the government while debate over the budget continues.

The following are some frequently asked questions about the impact of the shutdown on foreign nationals. If your immigration case is delayed by the shutdown, keep in close contact with your employing department and your designated Faculty & Researcher Immigration Specialist in Global Human Resources. We will be closely monitoring the government’s immigration operations and will provide updates on this blog. 

1. I need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. Will the U.S. consulate be able to process my application and issue my visa during the shutdown? 
Yes, but you should file quickly and be prepared for possible delays.

U.S. consulates plan to remain open and process visa applications for as long as the funding the State Department receives from application fees remains available. (Visa operations are partly funded by application fees paid by foreign nationals and partly by U.S. government appropriations. Only the government appropriations funding is affected by the shutdown.)

But it is important to file as soon as possible in the event the shutdown lasts for more than a few days. If funds from application fees are depleted, the State Department could suspend visa processing or limit it to urgent medical or humanitarian cases only. 

2. My nonimmigrant visa application is pending and I have a visa appointment in the very near future. Will the U.S. consulate be able to process my visa? What if my case is undergoing a security clearance?
As noted above, U.S. consulates will be open during the shutdown and will continue to process visas and conduct visa interviews as long as State Department funds remain available. However, if the shutdown lasts for more than a few days and funding is depleted, your case could be delayed.

If your application is subject to a security clearance, you could experience a delay during the shutdown. Many government agencies take part in security clearances in addition to the State Department, and some may be affected in the event of a shutdown. 

3. Will Canadian nationals be able to submit applications for TN or L-1 status at the U.S. border or port of entry? 
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which adjudicates border applications for TN and L-1 status, has not yet announced whether they will continue to process these applications, but this function may not be affected by the shutdown. If you are a Canadian national planning to apply at the border while the shutdown is ongoing, please contact your designated Faculty & Researcher Immigration Specialist in Global Human Resources to coordinate your application.

4. My department is planning to file a PERM application on my behalf. Will the Labor Department process my application during the shutdown? 
No. All of DOL’s immigration-related functions, including labor certification operations, will be suspended during the shutdown. The online system used to file PERM applications will not be able to accept new cases. PERM applications already on file with DOL will not be processed. Processing will resume only after the shutdown is over. 

5. My department is filing an immigration petition with USCIS on my behalf. Will the USCIS be able to process it during the shutdown?
Yes, USCIS will continue to process applications and petitions for immigration benefits during the shutdown. This includes petitions for immigrant and nonimmigrant workers and applications for adjustment of status. However, processing delays are possible if adjudication of your case is dependent on support from government functions that are suspended during the shutdown – for example, if your case requires a certification from the Department of Labor or a security clearance from an agency that is affected by the shutdown. 

6. I am an H-1B employee and my status is expiring soon. My department is planning to file for an extension for me. Will my extension be affected by the shutdown? 
Possibly. Though USCIS will continue to process extensions during the shutdown, your case could be delayed by the suspension of labor condition application (LCA) processing at the Department of Labor. A valid LCA certified by DOL is an essential part of any extension of H-1B nonimmigrant status, but DOL’s LCA operations will be suspended during the shutdown.

If we do not have a valid, certified LCA in place for your position and work location, your extension could be delayed. 

7. I am a new nonimmigrant employee and I need to apply for a U.S. Social Security number. Will I be able to apply during the shutdown?
No. Though the Social Security Administration will remain open during the shutdown, it will not be accepting or processing applications for Social Security numbers (SSNs) or replacement Social Security cards.

You do not need an SSN to start work, but lack of an SSN could affect your ability to obtain a U.S. driver’s license, open a bank account and obtain other benefits. 

8. Will a nonimmigrant be able to apply for a driver’s license or non-driver ID during the shutdown? What about renewing a license or state ID?
Even though driver’s licenses and non-driver IDs are the responsibility of state governments, your application for a new or renewed license could be delayed during the shutdown. Your state Department of Motor Vehicles must use a federal database to verify your immigration status before it will issue you a license or ID card. This database, known as SAVE, could be suspended.  

9. How quickly will immigration operations return to normal after the shutdown is over?
Once the budget impasse is resolved, you should expect some processing delays while affected agencies get back up to speed. Backlogs are likely to build up during the shutdown and it could take several days or weeks for agencies to work through them.