USA: Impact of the Federal Budget Sequester on Immigration Processing
DHS, DOL and the State Department have not yet released specific plans for dealing with across-the-board budget cuts, but immigration processing could be delayed if a budget compromise is not reached in Congress.
As has been widely reported in the media, across-the-board funding cuts are set to take effect today at U.S. government agencies unless Congress can reach a compromise on the federal budget. The Departments of Homeland Security, State and Labor are all subject to cuts, but have not yet specified how their immigration processing operations would be affected. If funding reductions take place, employers and foreign nationals could see delays in adjudications, border inspections and visa issuance.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is primarily funded by filing fees and may see the fewest effects if sequester takes place, though it is subject to budget cuts to some degree. Customs and Border Protection is expected to be among the hardest hit among DHS operations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement this week released some low-risk foreign nationals from detention facilities, citing looming budget cuts.
At the State Department, officials have already warned that consular services like visa processing might be delayed. Labor Department functions – including PERM, labor condition application (LCA) and prevailing wage operations – are not funded by fees and could also face delays due to cuts.
Even if sequester is avoided, there remains the threat of a government shutdown later in March when a stopgap government funding measure expires.
What This Means for Employers
The budget sequester comes as employers are preparing for the FY 2014 H-1B cap filing season, which begins April 1. Though by no means certain, cap-related processing could see the most immediate impact if cuts take place — in particular, the processing of LCAs at DOL. The LCA is an essential component of every H-1B case and must be obtained before a petition is filed with USCIS. Employers should continue to work with their Fragomen professionals to file LCAs as soon as possible, but should be prepared for possible delays if the budget impasse is not resolved.