What Does the U.S. Government Shutdown Mean?

The U.S. government shut down this past week. Read about the different departments and services affected and if this shutdown could affect you.

So why did the U.S. Government shutdown?

To keep it short, Congress can’t agree on how to fund certain things. The biggest disagreement is about healthcare reform. Since Congress couldn’t decide how to split up the funding, they decided to shutdown.

First, let’s take a look at how the shutdown affects immigration services.

1. Immigration paperwork

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes immigration paperwork, won’t be affected too much. They are pretty much self-funded. The fees they charge people cover about 95% of their budget.

However, E-Verify, a federal program that checks whether employees are authorized to work in the U.S. is entirely funded by the government. This will be shut down until funding is restored.

New H-1B filings will be delayed. (H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa allowing foreign workers to temporarily work in the U.S.) Existing H-1Bs will not be affected.

2. Immigration enforcement

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will continue to operate. The only people in this department affected are the public affairs office. The spokespeople aren’t working right now.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including Border Patrol are considered essential. Of the 59,561 overall employees, 52,673 are still going to work.

3. Visa and passport processing

The State Department will continue to process visas and consulates will stay open, but processing will slow down. Processing visa applications is funded by the government, so they will continue to run until funding runs out.

4. Immigration courts

A majority of immigration courts are still open, but some cases will be will be put on hold until there’s funding again. Petitions for political asylum and non-emergency deportation cases could be delayed for months.

international student voice magazine Statue_of_Liberty_7
The Statue of Liberty is closed to visitors during the U.S. government shutdown.

Several other departments/services are affected by the shutdown. Some others include:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will stop its seasonal flu program and won’t be able to respond to outbreak investigations.
  • The National Park Service closed more than 400 parks and museums, including Yosemite National Park in California, Alcatraz in San Francisco, and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is pretty much closed right now.
  • If the shutdown lasts more than 2-3 weeks, the Department of Veteran Affairs won’t have enough money to pay disability claims and pension payments. This could affect 3.6 million U.S. veterans. Also, many services for Veterans will be disrupted. The Veterans Benefits Administration won’t be able to process education and rehabilitation benefits.

Has the government shutdown before?

Technically, 17 times before. But a very serious shutdown that lasted a while only happened once before. The most significant shutdown lasted 21 days back in 1995-1996 when President Bill Clinton couldn’t agree with Congress over budget matters.

Does Congress still get paid during the shutdown?

Yes, those who are responsible for the shutdown still get paid. Salaries for members of the House and Senate are written into permanent law, which by the way is $174,000 each year. It’s the 27th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution that says the salaries of the House and Senate can’t be changed until the start of a new term. The point of this was to stop members of Congress from giving themselves raises before elections.

How does the government shutdown end?

Congress needs to pass a bill (or bills) to fund the government and President Obama has to sign them. This can happen at any time.

Resources for article provided by the Washington Post and ABC News.
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