For the umpteenth time in the past several years, Congress is once again on the brink of a threatened shutdown due to a budget standoff. When I was an attorney at the Social Security Administration, we went through this fire drill several times. What often gets lost in these battles is that agencies are already having to put contingency plans in place and taking time and personnel away from their regular missions.
If, as in September/October 2013, Congress does not reach a budget deal by September 30 at midnight when the 2016 fiscal year begins, employers who rely on immigration functions may experience delays in onboarding employees and processing applications and petitions, as well as delays at other agencies.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
In 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) continued processing applications and petitions, and would likely continue to do so if the government shut down next week. USCIS funds this portion of its operations through fees that it collects from employers.
However, not all of USCIS is fee-funded. E-Verify and the USCIS website, which allows employers and beneficiaries to check the status of their cases, will both go dark in the event of a shutdown. The unavailability of E-Verify does not mean that employers are relieved of their I-9 obligations. In 2013, USCIS made special provisions for E-Verify users to process new employers after the shutdown ended, so monitor guidance on the USCIS website.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is an essential service and will continue to inspect and admit international travelers at the U.S. ports of entry.
U.S. Department of Labor
The DOL would essentially suspend operations in the event of a shutdown. Investigations, administrative actions, and enforcement activity would stop temporarily, but so would the Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s (OFLC) ability to process Labor Condition Application (LCA) and PERM applications. OFLC’s web site, including the iCERT Portal and PERM Online System would shut down and would not process any requests or allow authorized users to access their online accounts. DOL would not process paper applications or audit responses, either.
U.S. Department of State
Since they are largely fee-based, the State Department should continue issuing visas and condcuting consular operations as long as fee revenue holds out. Like other agencies, State is subject to GSA’s ability to operate shared facilities. If a passport office is located in a shared government building that shuts down, State likely will not continue to operate at that particular site.
National Labor Relations Board
The NLRB would essentially suspend operations in the event of a shutdown, too. I’m relatively certain that employers see few downsides here.
If you have questions about the impact of a shutdown, and in particular obtaining and maintaining status for your employees, feel free to send me an e-mail or call to discuss your situation and options. Otherwise, keep your fingers crossed that Congress and the White House can make a deal in the next few days to keep the doors open.