If Congress cannot approve a budget by this Friday at midnight, the federal government will shut down. While it would likely be business as usual for most private employers in the United States, H-2A users could be dramatically impacted.
That is because U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) staff that process H-2A foreign labor certifications are deemed “non-essential” during government shutdowns and are furloughed until the government reopens. H-2A applications that have not been certified by the shutdown will sit in the queue indefinitely.
Moreover, consulates and embassies responsible for the issuance of visas which allow foreign nationals to travel into the U.S. are typically affected as well. Consular appointments could be canceled for lack of personnel to conduct services such as calendaring appoitnments and background checks.
On a positive note, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which adjudicates non-immigrant petitions for H-2A works, would not likely be affected. USCIS operates on user-fees, so its services are not expected to be directly impacted, although it would be impacted to the extent the agency depends on DOL issuing certifications to initiate the non-immigrant petition process.
During the last government shutdown in 2013, processing of visa applications for seasonal H-2A farmworkers ground to a halt for 16 days, just before the Yuma and Imperial winter vegetable harvest. At that time, Western Growers asked the Department of Labor and members of Congress to help expedite the H-2A process so that the visas can be finalized in time for the harvest, and will do so again if the Republicans and Democrats can’t come together to keep our government open.