At 12:01 am on December 22, 2018, the U.S. government shut down for the third time in the calendar year (the previous shutdowns took place in late January and early February).
A shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the government. It’s a temporary situation, but it’s unclear how long it will last. The shutdowns in early 2018 lasted three days and a very brief five hours, while a government closure in 2013 lasted 16 days.
The current shutdown is “partial.” Portions of the government, such as Congress, have already been funded for FY19, while others, like the Department of State, have not. Congress will be open for business starting today, when new members are sworn in and the first votes of the year take place (including on proposed bills to end the shutdown).
However, the State Department and many other agencies (like the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Homeland Security, among many others) are shuttered. Most employees have been furloughed and will not work or be paid until the shutdown ends. Others are still working but without pay.
Here’s what the shutdown means for J-1 visa exchange program participants, applicants, and hosts, as well as U.S. citizens currently abroad.
Visa services continue “as situation permits,” but prepare for delays
Many U.S. government offices will either be closed for operations or functioning at limited capacity. The State Department advises that “scheduled passport and visa services in the United States and at our U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas will continue during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits.” Even so, J-1 visa exchange program applicants awaiting visa approvals or interviews should prepare for 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. consular offices will likely 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 prepare for 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.