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What Immigrants Need to Know About the Government Shutdown

stop-sign-1334670-m.jpgAs no doubt everyone is aware, the U.S. federal government is currently in “shutdown” – meaning that many of its agencies and offices are closed (or severely understaffed) until further notice. The shutdown occurred because Congress could not agree on a budget necessary to fund all of the government’s services and operations. The government shutdown will remain in effect until Congress passes a budget.

The federal government oversees and processes all types of immigration applications, including green card petitions and requests for visas. The shutdown has greatly affected many immigration applications and services as described below:

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS officers review and process all immigration applications for family-based and employment-based cases that are filed in the United States. In general, Congress does not allocate funds for USCIS operations, as the agency is largely funded by the filing fees it collects from foreign nationals or companies who files immigration applications. Due to this arrangement, USCIS will continue processing applications in largely the same manner as before the government shutdown.

The Department of Labor (DOL)

U.S. employers seeking to temporarily employ foreign workers on H-1B visas must first file a labor condition application (LCA) with the DOL’s website. The DOL must approve the LCA and send the employer the approved LCA before the employer can file the H-1B application. Additionally, all U.S. employers seeking to sponsor a foreign worker for a green card (called the labor certification of PERM process) must also obtain a prevailing wage determination from the DOL and file the PERM application itself with the DOL website.

Unfortunately, due to the government shutdown these processes have grinded to a halt as all of the DOL websites are down and not able to accept LCA submissions, PERM applications, or prevailing wage requests. Moreover, even if an employer filed the LCA, PERM, or prevailing wage request before the shutdown, the employer will not receive any answer since the DOL is suspending its review of all pending applications.

The government shutdown and resulting impact on DOL operations may greatly affect foreign workers who are in the U.S. and must extend the H-1B status in order to remain in the country. Additionally, many foreign nationals must file their PERM applications to be able to extend their H-1B status past the normal six-year cap.

In the past, USCIS has temporarily accepted H-1B petitions without approved LCAs. However, as of October 10, 2013, USCIS has not indicated it will resume this practice at any point in the near future. Due to the critical implications of the DOL’s shutdown, we will be monitoring these developments very closely.

The Department of State (DOS)

The DOS oversees the U.S. embassies around the world and in this capacity its officers are responsible for conducting immigrant and nonimmigrant interviews and issuing U.S. visas to foreign nationals. At the present time, the DOS is able to maintain its operations and intends to continuing scheduling interviews and issuing visas until further notice. However, foreign nationals should be aware that the DOS could alter its shutdown policies so it is highly recommended that visa applicants schedule their appointments as soon as possible.

The Rant

At this point, no one can accurately predict how long the government shutdown will last. It is highly unfortunate that Congress is allowing agencies that perform critical functions such as the DOL to suspend operations, thereby affecting hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals and U.S. companies. Continue to check back with our blog regularly to follow the most recent immigration news and developments on the government shutdown.

Additional Blog Posts

Update: DOMA and Immigration, ImmigRantings, July 10, 2013
More States Expected to Exert Control Regarding Illegal Immigration Problems, ImmigRantings, August 3, 2013