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How the government shutdown affects your visas and travel plans

Until the combined Houses of Congress come up with a spending bill that U.S. President Donald Trump will sign, there is a wall of uncertainty. Fear not, we have obtained a plan of action.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on December 24, 2018; updated December 22, 2018

How the government shutdown affects your visas and travel plans

State Department

U.S. Citizens

The issuing of passports and other consular functions (including visa processing for temporary and immigrant categories) are funded by multiyear spending bills and are expected to continue during a shutdown, though some may be curtailed if the buildings that house them are shuttered because of a lapse in funding, according to department guidelines issued this year

Jurisdiction and Functions

U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, as well as foreign embassies and consulates in the United States, have a special status. The host government is responsible for the security of U.S. diplomats and the area around an embassy, but the embassy itself belongs to the country it represents. Representatives of the host country cannot enter an embassy without permission -- even to put out a fire -- and an attack on an embassy is considered an attack on the country it represents.

The primary purpose of an embassy is to assist American citizens who travel to or live in the host country. This includes issuing security or travel warnings if needed as exemplified by this December 21 advisory.

Security Alert – U.S. Embassy Manila, December 21, 2018

Location:  Throughout the Philippines

Event:  The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens to exercise caution while traveling and residing in the Philippines.  The holiday season is a prime time for criminal and terrorist activity.  While victims can oftentimes ‎simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time, they can also be targeted because of a perception of affluence.  In years past, there have been incidents of robbery, pick-pocketing, thefts of property from vehicles, and unoccupied residences being burglarized.  Any public event that draws holiday crowds can be a target for terrorist groups seeking publicity for their cause.

Federal agency services

The federal agencies normally providing services to U.S. citizens are the departments in the Social Security Administration and Veteran Affairs.

Visa Processing. Foreign Service Officers (immigrant and nonimmigrant visa consular officers) also interview citizens of the host country who wish to travel to the United States for business, education, or tourism purposes.  Since these services are fee-based and are funded by multi-year spending bills, visa application procedures for both the nonimmigrant and immigrant categories are expected to continue.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila is officially on U.S. soil, so no rent is due.

U.S. citizens who suddenly realize that their passport has expired, or who are looking to get a new one, would need a combination of luck and timing. Visa and passport services would continue “as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations,” a department spokesman said. — with reporting from Emily Cochrane from the New York Times

Department of Homeland Security

The department, which handles border security to airport screening to deterrence of terrorist attacks against the United States, would largely remain open.

The 60,000 employees at Customs and Border Protection would be forced to work without pay, as would airline screeners and security officers at the Transportation Security Administration, so holiday air travel and security operations would not be disrupted.

Holders of valid U.S. visas may encounter some CBP officers who are not happy with working without pay so, keep an open mind and cheerful disposition when approaching the CBP officer at a port of entry.

Remember they would be part of more than 420,000 or so employees (whose their duties classified as essential) but were ordered to work without pay.

Abroad, the other agency – the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  - located at the U.S. Embassy ground is expected to remain open since most of the services are also fee-funded. This would include application for Returning Resident application, Transportation boarding letter (for lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who may have lost or misplaced their current and valid permanent resident cards. LPRs who intend to voluntarily abandon their permanent residency status might have issues, since submitting the form does not require an application fee. Best that  applicants check the U.S. Embassy appointment dates online.

Interior Department

Unless you have bought tickets or made reservations, going to U.S. national parks and forests is dicey.  The New York Times explain that “the most visible impact of a shutdown would be in national parks and forests, with 80 percent of employees at the National Park Servicefacing immediate furloughs.”

On the other hand, if allowed entry to specified areas, visitors would find less  competition for recreation and camping space. Many of the nation’s most heavily trafficked parks are either closed during the winter. That and the government shutdown equals “less visitors. drop-offs in visits, and in some instances, state officials” may lend a hand.

Most parks, including the National Mall, would remain open without staff members to provide guidance or support, according to the department’s 2018 contingency plan. The Smithsonian museums have the funding to remain open, its staff tweeted on Friday.

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona announced on Friday that the state would do everything it could to keep the Grand Canyon from closing, and would pick up the tab for shuttles and public restrooms.

David Freireich, a spokesman for Aramark, which operates hotels and restaurants inside Yosemite National Park in California, predicted “business as usual.”

In the Pacific Northwest, backcountry skiers at places like North Cascades National Park, northeast of Seattle, could find limited access to some areas and services.

Environmental groups have pointed out that shutdowns have traditionally been hard on local ecosystems, leading to trash pileups and visitor misbehavior. During January’s shutdown, a poacher killed a pregnant elk inside Zion National Park, apparently taking advantage of a lack of park security. At Yellowstone, visitors drove snowmobiles into prohibited areas.

— report mainly from Thomas Fuller, Julie Turkewitz and Kirk Johnson of the New York Times and shared without cost as public service.

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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