The federal government has entered its fourth week of a partial shutdown since December 22, 2018 because of a budget impasse between Congress and the White House.  This shutdown is the longest since 1995-1996, when the federal government was closed for 21 days, and now represents the longest lapse in federal funding in recent history.

Many agencies and departments continue operations through this shutdown because of previously approved funding bills or the essential nature of their personnel.  The information below summarizes the operating status of agencies responsible for immigration-related activities most relevant to employers.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services

The shutdown does not affect the fee-funded activities of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes most employer-based filings for employee immigration benefits.  Offices remain open, and USCIS has instructed individuals to attend interviews and appointments as scheduled.  USCIS has announced that it will continue to accept petitions and applications for benefit requests, with a few exceptions:

E-Verify – The web-based system that allows employers to confirm the work authorization of their employees is not available.

Conrad 30 Waiver Program – This program allows J-1 doctors to apply for a waiver of the two-year residence requirement after completing the J-1 exchange visitor program.  Authorization for this program lapsed with the last continuing resolution.  The expiration of this program only affects the date by which the J-1 doctor must have entered the US; it is not a shutdown of the Conrad 30 program entirely.

US Customs and Border Protection

The majority of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees are designated as essential personnel exempt from furlough.  CBP will need to continue to manage port admissions of travelers seeking admission to the United States.  However, the CBP website is not actively managed during the shutdown, and was last updated on December 21, 2018.  CBP provided the following advice concerning the October 2013 shutdown:

  1. All ports of entry are open.  There is no change in using overtime to handle flight arrivals, and CBP continues to accept requests from airlines for new service.  The Border Patrol and the Office of Air and Marine are also continuing operations.
  2. The Admissibility Review Office (ARO) is open and continues to function.
  3. All global entry enrollment centers are open, interviews are continuing, and all Trusted Traveler programs continue to function as usual.
  4. The CBP website is not maintained during the lapse in appropriations.
  5. Approximately 6,000 CBP positions, primarily held by technicians and support staff, are impacted by the lapse in appropriations.

US Department of State

Similar to most USCIS operations, visa operations of the Department of State (DOS), which among other activities processes visa applications at the US embassies and consulates abroad, are fee-funded activities and should not be immediately affected by the shutdown.  DOS provided the following information in connection with the October 2013 shutdown:

“The Department will continue as many normal operations as possible; operating status and available funding will need to be monitored continuously and closely, and planning for a lapse in appropriations must be continued.  DOS will continue passport and visa operations as well as provide critical services to US citizens overseas as these activities are fee-funded and not affected by the lapse in appropriations.”

US Department of Labor

The Department of Labor, which processes certain employment-based immigration applications, remains operational due to previously approved funding.