Fate of H-1B visa renewal, EAD approvals in jeopardy during lockdown

USCIS doesn’t want to set ‘precedent’, says lawyer.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: The Federal shutdown is turning out to be a nightmare for residents on visas in the US.

The shutdown, which began Tuesday, and is likely to be prolonged, has put into jeopardy the legal residency of tens of thousands of immigrants who need the services of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is not processing paperwork for extending or renewing H1B visas, as well as other services – critical for continued employment within the country.

Johnson Myalill, an immigration lawyer at leading law firm High-Tech Immigration Law Group, PLLC, which is based in the Washington, DC-metro area, is of the opinion that the USCIS is not likely to renew visas, due to the fear of setting a “precedent.”

“There is no official word on the USCIS or [any other federal department] granting some sort of reprieve for those whose H-1B renewal period[s] [occurs] during the time of the shutdown. Those chances are very remote. [The departments] have the authority to grant that, but they try to avoid any precedent-setting decisions [like this]. […] But if the shutdown lasts more than a week or so, there may be some temporary measures instated,” said Myalill in an interview to The American Bazaar.

“Within the DoL (Department of Labor) there are so many agencies. The Employment and Training Administration and the Office of Foreign Labor Certification [are] the agencies that handle PERM-level certification and LCAs, and these are some of the lowest priority agencies within the department. So unless [DoL] receives full funding, I don’t think these agencies can operate at full functionality,” said Myalill.

However, there is hope for applicants for job and tourist visas overseas, as the State Department and the USCIS issued notice that the US consulates and embassies overseas and within the country will continue operations, unless hampered by its location within a restricted area.

According to Myalill, consulates and embassies are largely dependent on the fees charged for processing visa and passport-related paperwork. Without such income, the offices would be unable to function, which is necessary despite the partial government shutdown.

“Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100 percent operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations. However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, the facility may become unsupported,” says a memo issued by the State Department today.

Most federal departments, as well as consulates and embassies, are appropriated emergency funds that can last as long as two years in some cases. Although that funding could theoretically run out, Myalil is of the opinion that this shutdown will not last very long at all.

“I think it will go on for about a week,” he says of the shutdown, a sentiment that seems to be shared by many on Capitol Hill.

Many hurdles remain for job seekers to the country, during the lockdown. E-Verify – the USCIS online service that allows employers to see the legal immigration status of workers they are trying to import from foreign nations – is not functional, which may create a backlog of prospective foreign workers who can still technically apply for visas, but cannot be properly vetted by the interested hiring companies.

The last time the government experienced a shutdown like this was back in 1995-1996. In that instance as well, the Republican faction of Congress was at loggerheads with Democratic President Bill Clinton over budget implementation, which led to a shutdown from December 15th to January 6th, at which point a compromise was reached.

That shutdown, which lasted a total of 23 days, was the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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