Government shutdown may disrupt business travel, H-1B visas

Shutdown would complicate, if not curtail, the visa process for people coming to the U.S. on business

A federal government shutdown could disrupt business travel for people who need a visa to enter the U.S., as well as an H-1B visa.

And employers who check immigration status through the E-Verify program may be out of luck as well.

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But the full impact of a government shutdown, should it happen, probably won't be known until it happens. Some parts of the government's immigration system may continue to turn but with as much effect as spinning wheels on overturned cars.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), for example, sends H-1B visa petitions to service centers in California and Vermont. Those centers are expected to continue to operate, because the majority of USCIS operations are paid for through fees and are not susceptible to a lapse in operation, say people familiar with their situation.

But continued operation of the H-1B processing centers through a shutdown doesn't mean that the visas will be readily available, particularly if the visa requires action by the U.S. Department of Labor, which has filing requirements related to wages. Also, there's a need for involvement by a State Dept. consular office, which will be closed during a shutdown.

At a stakeholder meeting Thursday, the Labor Dept. told immigration attorneys that the iCert system, used for filing labor condition applications for the H-1B visa, as well as an online application systems used for permanent residency, are not essential services and will "not be active, and that will hold up cases," said Scott Cooper, managing partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy.

A shutdown could happen as early as midnight Friday if Congress doesn't agree on a federal budget.

"It is likely that some disruptions could impact pending cases and new cases," Sarah Hawk, who heads the immigration practice at Fisher & Phillips.

Those most affected may be business travelers seeking a visa to attend a conference or meeting here. Visitors from some countries may need a business visitor visa, or B-1, which is relatively simple to get but not if a shutdown closes consular offices.

"This will definitely impact business," said Cooper, especially for travelers from developing countries, not participating in the visa waiver program.

The State Dept. list 35 participating countries in the visa waiver program, mostly in Europe. China and India are not on the list.

The U.S. began April 1 accepting H-1B visa petitions for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. Sometime Friday afternoon, the USCIS is expected to report on the number of visa petitions it has received since it began accepting petitions.

Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn.(AILA), said people have been doing a little bit of scrambling to get H-1B petitions in. She said members appear to be filing more petitions appear to filing more petitions this year than in the last couple of years. Increase H-1B demand may be "an early indicator on the economy as a whole," she said.

Prior to the recession, Williams said AILA "members saw a slowdown in employment-based petitions before the rest of the economy started to tank."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Read more about government/industries in Computerworld's Government/Industries Topic Center.

This story, "Government shutdown may disrupt business travel, H-1B visas" was originally published by Computerworld .

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