What Happens if the Government Shuts Down?

The question prompted in this article is on the minds of many individuals. For those who are interested in immigration services, it is hard to fathom that the U.S. Government could shut down and no longer provide any immigration services for those who want to get visas to come to the U.S., those who have visas that need renewing, or others who have different immigration matters to address. Well rest assured that the government “shutting down” does not mean that all of its services will cease functioning while the U.S. Congress resolves its budget. In fact, many agencies and government functions are exempt from a shutdown. All government agencies that are not funded through annual congressional appropriations will not be affected. In addition, there are certain functions deemed “excepted” by the federal government that may continue in an absence of appropriations. Such functions include those necessary for emergencies involving “the safety of human life or the protection of property,” and those necessary for activities essential to national security, including the conduct of foreign affairs essential to national security.

Now if you are wondering what will be affected by the government shut down the most, these agencies, groups, services are affected the most:
1. Washington, D.C. – The city of Washington, D.C. will face limited sanitation services while the government resolves its budget issues. In addition, all Department of Motor Vehicles locations would be closed as well as all of the city’s public libraries. Washington’s Department of Transportation “will be operating with a skeletal crew, so routine maintenance and repairs will cease.” Other departments, including police, fire and public schools, will remain open.

2. The E.P.A. - The Environmental Protection Agency would effectively shut down if the federal government shuts down. The agency won’t be able to pay employees.Only a core group of people will remain on duty in case the EPA has to respond to a ‘significant emergency.’ The vast majority of employees will stay home. That means that most of EPA’s functions, like drafting regulations and enforcing laws to protect the environment, will likely remain stalled until government operations fully resume.

3. Access Denied to United States’ Landmarks – A statement released on the National Park Service page cautions visitors of the potential effects a government shutdown would have on national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. In the event of a government shutdown, “the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management will close and secure park, refuge and visitor facilities on public lands.” That means that access to popular United States’ landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Independence Hall, Alcatraz, and the Washington Monument will be denied to all visitors. In addition, many administrative offices will be minimally staffed, and many will be entirely closed. Overall, “ordinary business of these bureaus will be extremely curtailed,” if a government shutdown takes place.

4. Pay Difficulties at the DOD – Military and civilian employees’ pay could be delayed. But, as long as a DOD appropriations bill is passed, military employees will be paid retroactively. Second, civilian employees who are “excepted” from the shutdown, like military employees, will also qualify for retroactive pay. But, the last group of DOD employees, civilian employees not designated as “excepted” will be furloughed and not qualify for retroactive pay. This means about 50 percnet of DOD employees will fall into the “excepted” category, leaving the other half of employees falling into the furloughed, unpaid category.

5. Passport Offices Closed – According to the State Department ‘Guidance in the Absence of Appropriations’ memo published in 2011, in the event of a government shutdown, Passport offices will be closed for business. So if your passport is about to expire, make sure to get it renewed by Sept. 30, the day the federal budget is set to expire if Congress doesn’t act, or your international travel will be grounded until the government shutdown is resolved.

Now what services won’t be affected include the President and his Cabinet of executive advisors, as well as other presidential appointees, the U.S. Postal Service, the National Weather Service, and of course all “necessary and excepted” services. What this means is that the U.S. immigration services should still be running and operational, although some of their employees may be affected by the furlough. We will have a better idea of how much it will impact the processing of our clients’ cases after September 30th when we receive notice of the impact on the Service Centers. Clients will not have to worry about immigration services being stopped on their cases entirely because of the U.S. government budget not being set by Congress.