The clock struck midnight last night, and the U.S. government, unfortunately, shut down. A Congressional impasse in Washington has brought the government to a standstill for the second time in five years (the last shutdown was in 2013).
A shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the government. In this case, Congress failed to agree on another “continuing resolution,” or CR. The 2018 fiscal year for the U.S. government began on October 1, 2017. But Congress failed to pass an FY18 budget in regular order. So it used a CR to kick the budget can down the road and buy more time.
A CR essentially continues to fund the government at last year’s levels and has an expiration date (see our article on making sense of the federal budget process for more detail). The U.S. was on its third continuing resolution of FY18, which expired last night. Congress failed to pass a fourth CR, creating a “funding gap,” and the government shut down.
The shutdown is temporary, but it’s unclear how long it will last (the 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days). Here’s what the shutdown means for J-1 visa exchange program participants, applicants, and hosts, as well as U.S. citizens currently abroad.
U.S. government offices closed or at limited capacity
Many U.S. government offices will either be closed for operations or functioning at limited capacity. The U.S. State Department advises that "scheduled" passport and visa services are continuing as "the situation permits." J-1 visa exchange program applicants awaiting visa approvals or interviews should expect that there will be processing delays during this time.
J-1 participants currently in the U.S.:
- Their visa and status in the U.S. are unaffected.
U.S. citizens currently outside the U.S.:
- Americans who are abroad on an exchange program should be advised that, during the shutdown, U.S. embassies may only be open to provide services to Americans in distress.
J-1 participants with approved visas, awaiting travel dates:
- The Department of Homeland Security is expected to continue operations, so these individuals can plan to arrive in the U.S. according to their current schedules – but it’s advisable to check in with your exchange provider organization and/or airline before traveling.
- SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System) will continue operations, so arriving J-1 participants can register as instructed.
- The Social Security Administration will likely suspend processing original or replacement cards, so arriving J-1 participants will likely need to wait until the government reopens to apply for a Social Security number.
J-1 visa applicants awaiting approval:
- J-1 applicants awaiting visa approval should anticipate delays in visa processing.
- It’s advisable to check https://www.usembassy.gov/ for updates about the status of the shutdown and to contact your local U.S. embassy or consular office for more detail, especially when the shutdown ends.
U.S.-based host businesses, organizations, and families:
- U.S.-based hosts awaiting J-1 visas exchange participants who have not yet been processed should anticipate arrival delays.
- Participants that arrive in-country during a shutdown will likely not be able to apply for their social security numbers until the government reopens, but can still be paid for time worked.
After studying in France and teaching in China, Mark was hooked on cultural exchange. He's worked in the field of international education and exchange for more than 10 years, and is InterExchange's Vice President of External Affairs.