The Collective Public Policy Voice of the Exchange Community

By Andrea Bodine

With only four legislative days left before the end of the fiscal year, Congress is still far from a funding deal. None of the 12 appropriations bills have passed, and progress on a Continuing Resolution (CR) – a bill that would kick the can and bide time for a deal – is sporadic at best. It’s not impossible that the situation could change in the coming week, but given the current dynamics on the Hill, a government shutdown is looking more and more possible as time goes on. 

A shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass legislation to fund the government, whether in the form of final appropriations bills or a temporary CR. In this case, if neither of these options are enacted before Sunday, October 1, a full government shutdown will occur and would affect all federal activities covered by discretionary funding. A shutdown is temporary, but how long it would continue is uncertain. The last shutdown, in late 2018/early 2019, was the longest in American history at 35 days. 

In the event that a shutdown does occur, below is a primer on how international exchange programs might be impacted during that time. 

U.S. government offices will be closed or at limited capacity
Many U.S. government offices will either be closed for operations or functioning at limited capacity, including the Department of State’s Bureaus of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and Consular Affairs (CA). See the Department’s Guidance on Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations published in early 2022 for more details. 

Once a shutdown is in effect, we expect that the Department of State would release specific guidance outlining how consular services are impacted. Exchange program applicants awaiting visa approvals or interviews should expect that there will be processing delays during this time. During the last shutdown, DOS advised that “scheduled” passport and visa services would continue as “the situation permits.” 

Federal funding for exchanges won’t be immediately impacted
DOS funded programs already in progress won’t face instantaneous issues when the shutdown happens, as the funds have already been allocated. According to the DOS guidance linked above, ECA would be able to “continue operating using available balances” (pg. 23 and pg. 69) until those funds are expended. However, if the shutdown is prolonged, new projects would likely be stalled. ECA cannot start any new programs or activities during a shutdown.

Additionally, if a large part of ECA’s staff is furloughed, this could hinder certain programmatic decisions from moving forward in the short term and create a backlog in the long term. 

Participants will feel the impact in different ways

  • Exchange participants currently in the U.S.: 
    • Their visa and status in the U.S. will be unaffected. 
  • U.S. citizens currently outside the U.S.: 
    • Americans who are abroad on an exchange program should be advised that, during a shutdown, U.S. embassies may only be open to provide services to Americans in distress. 
  • Exchange participants with approved visas, awaiting travel dates: 
    • The Department of Homeland Security will likely continue operations, so these individuals can plan to arrive in the U.S. according to their current schedules – but participants are advised to check in with their exchange organization and/or airline before traveling.
    • SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System) will also likely continue operations, so arriving participants can register as instructed. 
    • The Social Security Administration will likely suspend processing original or replacement cards, so arriving exchange participants will likely need to wait until the government reopens to apply for a Social Security number. 
  • Exchange program applicants awaiting visa approval or interviews:  
    • Applicants awaiting visa approval should anticipate delays in visa processing. 
    • Applicants awaiting a visa interview or scheduling a visa interview should anticipate that there may be delays in the process. 
    • It’s advisable to check for updates about the status of the shutdown and to contact the local U.S. embassy or consular office for more details, especially once the shutdown is over. 

We’ll update this post with more information as the situation of a potential shutdown develops.