Impact of the Federal Shutdown on the Arts

by Laurie Baskin

in Advocacy

As you know, because the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives were unable to reach a deal on funding federal government operations as the new fiscal year started today, the federal government was forced to shutdown for the first time in 17 years. We hope the stalemate is resolved quickly, and in the meanwhile, this is what we know:

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): The agency is considered closed, with about half a dozen staff approved to hold down the fort. All other employees will be furloughed and most contractors must stop working while a shutdown continues. In most cases, current grantees can continue to expend funds they have already received but should not expect to receive payments during a shutdown. In the very unlikely event that a specific grantee’s work must be disrupted, grantees will be notified and given specific guidance by the NEA’s Grants Office. For more information, see the plan published by the NEA.

Visas for Foreign Guest Artists: If you are in the process of obtaining a visa for a foreign artist, plan for possible delays during the government shutdown. Obtaining a visa is a three part process, starting with approval of a petition by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), followed by processing of a visa application by the State Department at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, and completed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on inspection and admission to the U.S.

  • USCIS and Petitions:  On the plus side, because USCIS is a fee-based agency that, for the most part, does not depend on Congressional appropriations, USCIS has resources to continue processing visa petitions. However, given the strain of the government shutdown on overall infrastructure, delays are a real possibility.
  • State Department and Visa Processing:  Again, the good news is that consular visa processing, too, is supported by fees, not appropriations. Many consular offices thus will continue conducting interviews and issuing visas, so long as their buildings can remain open. The longer the shutdown persists, the more likely it is that consular services will become unavailable. Visit the web site for a specific consulate to determine whether the location is in operation. One major unknown is the fate of any visa applications that might be delayed by “additional administrative processing,” meaning security-related concerns. A number of other U.S. agencies are involved in the clearance process and their ability to continue visa-related clearance operations is unclear.
  • Arrival in the U.S.:  Customs and Border Protection officials are considered “essential” personnel.  Entry to the U.S. for visa holders should not be interrupted.

The Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art and national parks are all closed during a federal government shutdown, which will, of course, have economic impact repercussions as tourism declines.

This is what we know as of today, and we will keep you posted as more information becomes available.


Laurie Baskin is TCG’s Director of Research, Policy & Collective Action.