The Federal Government Shutdown Continues
As of January 09, 2019, a partial federal government shutdown that began at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, December 22, 2018 continues; however most immigration services continue to operate. The immigration-related agencies that are impacted by the shutdown include the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice (EOIR), and the Department of State. Please find below a Summary of how each agency is being affected:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS is a fee-funded agency and all USCIS offices remain open. The Agency has stated that all applicants should attend their interviews and appointments as scheduled. In addition, the partial government shutdown does not affect Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification requirements. Employers must still complete Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay, and comply with all other I-9 requirements.
Certain programs such as EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, Conrad-30 J-1 Doctors, Non-Minister religious workers and E-Verify impacted have been either suspended or impacted.
USCIS has confirmed that E-Verify is unavailable, which means that employers will not be able to access their E-Verify accounts and Customer Service is closed. USCIS has implemented temporary policies during the shutdown, including suspending the “three-day rule,” extending the time in which employees may resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs), and confirming that employers should not take adverse action against employees due to an interim case status during this time.
Department of Labor (DOL): DOL will not be impacted by the government shutdown. On September 28, 2018, President Trump signed a minibus appropriations bill funding DOL through the end of September 30, 2019.
Department of State (DOS): All visa and passport operations are fee-funded and should not be impacted by the shutdown, however operating status and funding will be monitored closely. If visa operations are affected due to lack of funding, consular posts will generally only handle diplomatic visas and “life or death” emergencies.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP): CBP personnel are considered “essential”, thus are not impacted by the government shutdown. All ports of entry will remain open; however, processing of applications filed at the border may be backlogged.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE enforcement and removal operations will continue, and ICE attorneys will typically focus on the detained docket during a shutdown. The ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) offices are unaffected as SEVP is funded by fees.
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR): Immigration court cases on the detained docket will proceed during the lapse in congressional appropriations while non-detained docket cases will be reset for a later date when funding resumes. Courts with detained dockets will receive all filings but will only process those involving detained dockets. Courts with only non-detained dockets will not be open and will not accept filings.
USCIS Announces Updates to Civics Test Answers
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced updates to the acceptable answers to four questions on the U.S. history and government (civics) test for individuals seeking naturalization (N-400) as U.S. citizens. The revised answers to the questions are effective immediately. Please review carefully the acceptable answers prior to any testing or interview appointments.
USCIS Discontinues Case-Specific Assistance Via Service Center Email
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is discontinuing use of USCIS service center email boxes for case-specific questions as of January 21, 2019. Instead, USCIS is directing people to its online self-help tools and the USCIS Contact Center. USCIS is making changes as part of their overall modernization efforts to provide a more efficient and effective user experience
Mission India Confirms Plans to Increase Capacity at Several Consular Posts
The Department of State recently confirmed that it is in the process of increasing capacity at several consular posts in India, including Hyderabad, New Delhi, and Chennai. The Department of State hopes that this expansion (and the associated increase in personnel) will allow Mission India to better handle a heavy volume of cases.
While the Department of State declined to provide statistics, visa refusals under 221(g) continue to be a major issue for foreign nationals and their employers and have added to the heavy volume of cases currently being handled by Mission India. Employees should take the following steps to reduce the likelihood of a refusal under 221(g):
1. Applicants should be prepared to discuss the job offered and the specific skill set required to perform the job.
2. Applicants should prepare a concise “elevator speech” in advance of the interview that clearly and succinctly describes their work, the importance of that work, and any special skills/qualifications that enable them to perform that work.
3. Applicants should be able to explain how their employment furthers the government’s new goal of awarding H-1B visas to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.
4. Applicants should update their resumes to ensure that they reflect all current and prior positions, degrees, skills, accomplishments, etc.
5. Applicants who perform work at third-party locations should be able to present a work itinerary and other documents that show that a valid employer-employer relationship exists. They should also be prepared explain the itinerary, parties involved, and the supervision received from the petitioning employer.