The University of Iowa

Impact of U.S. Federal Government Shutdown - December 2018

Updated 12/22/2018 at 10:00 a.m.


As of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, December 21, a partial "shutdown" has occurred of the U.S. federal government.

What does it mean when the government "shuts down?"  "In United States politics, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass or the President fails to sign appropriations legislation funding federal government operations and agencies."  Some programs and services then become unavailable until the shutdown ends.

It is important to note that not all services and programs are halted when this occurs.  Those services and staff who are deemed "essential" are required to continue to work, although payment to federal employees halts until the shutdown is ended.

For most persons on international student and scholar visas, there should not be extensive impact, largely because many of the programs that international students and scholars encounter are funded by fees and not Congressional appropriations.  As far as ISSS is currently aware, the following units and services will be impacted as follows:


  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  - These are departments/services that are supported by fees and are expected to remain open and working as usual.  USCIS would be expected to continue processing things like applications for OPT, change of status, reinstatement. SEVP, which oversees the SEVIS system, should remain open and continue processing correction requests, and be used by ISSS for things like program extensiond, CPT, and part-time authorizations.
  • U.S. Department of State - This is the organization that runs U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, and issues visas to come to the U.S.  Visa services probably will not be impacted, as these too are at least partially supported by fees.  However, ISSS does note that the Department of State budget is one that was never finalized, and we cannot tell if this will have any impact on visa applications and issuance.  In the past for shutdowns visa services have remained open but sometimes slowed, so it is hard to tell what to expect right now.  Sometimes other agencies may need to be consulted before a visa is issued, such as during background checks, and it is possible some of those services may not be available.
  • Social Security Administration - Other government offices such as the Social Security Administration will likely be open for essential duties, but typically this is only for continuing Social Security-based payments to U.S. citizens such as elderly/retired individuals, disability programs, and others on federal public assistance, etc.  New applications to request a Social Security Number will probably not be processed during the shutdown.  Fortunately we are in the middle of a slow period of time when it is not common to see many requests for the SSN, but if this should last into orientation, new students may be impacted.  It is important for departments to note that those on international student visas CAN begin working without a SSN initially, but there is a deadline by which the SSN needs to be submitted to HR.  Please check with your HR coordinators about this.  Students and scholars who need a SSN could also be impacted by a backlog once the shutdown ends.  Newly arriving scholars who do not have and need a SSN would be impacted in the same way.
  • Department of Labor and e-Verify Program - Most of our international students and scholars would not be impacted by this.  It would primarily impact those in the middle of seeking an H-1B or green card.  However, if they are shut down, individuals who need to be run through e-Verify such as international students starting new jobs on OPT, or newly arrived J-1 scholars, may not be able to start working.  It is not currently clear to ISSS if these offices/programs will be shut down, as the Department of Labor may already have funding in place through September 2019. 


ISSS will update this page as more information becomes available.