What Happens to USCIS during a Government Shutdown?

At the end of 2014, Congress passed annual spending bills to keep most of the government running through the end of the 2015 fiscal year, Sept. 30.The exception was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS was funded only through Feb. 27 because of contention over President Obama’s executive action on immigration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that adjudicates naturalization and other immigration-related applications, is a component of DHS.

There is no current agreement on a spending bill for DHS. On Jan. 14, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill, but it contains policy provisions that are objectionable to Democrats in the Senate. Various versions of the bill likely will pass back and forth between the House and Senate until they can reach an agreement. If they cannot do so by Feb. 27, DHS funding will lapse.

What happens if DHS isn’t funded?

During the last government shutdown in 2013, the impact for most customers of USCIS was minimal. Naturalization interviews, citizenship ceremonies and most of the other day-to-day work of the agency continued as normal. That is because USCIS is a fee-based agency. Its funding is not dependent on annual appropriations from Congress. The exception is E-Verify, the component of USCIS that checks the work eligibility of employees being hired by U.S. employers. According to USCIS, more than 500,000 employers currently use the system. E-Verify depends on annual appropriations and therefore would be unable to operate if there were a lapse in funding.

As for the rest of DHS, about 85 percent of employees would continue to work, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Most employees of other immigration-related components of DHS, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are considered “necessary for the preservation of the safety of human life or the protection of property,” as defined by CRS, and would be required to continue working. But employees in these DHS departments would not be paid until the funding dispute is resolved and the president signs a bill.

As the funding deadline approaches, much attention will focus on the possible shutdown of DHS. But for legal permanent residents (LPRs) in the process of becoming citizens, there is no need to worry about delays or canceled appointments. USCIS will be able to continue to operate.

Posted on January 29, 2015

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