Green-card mess has employers seeing red

Green-card mess has employers seeing red – Immigrants on work visas were hit by Uncle Sam’s about-faces. in Star Tribune – July 25, 2007 – By H.J. Cummins,

  • A green-card fiasco this summer is calling attention to the precarious lives of tens of thousands of immigrants trying to build their futures in this country. These are workers who already have documented that there are no Americans who either can or want to do their particular jobs. Around here, their ranks include Asian scientists and engineers, Spanish-speaking social workers and a Polish welder on a North Dakota farm cooperative. They are in suspense after the federal government flip-flopped this month on a decision to let skilled immigrants who are here on work visas apply for green cards — officially, “permanent resident status.”
  • At one stage, the government invited the applications, setting off a scramble. Immigrants who happened to be on assignment outside the United States paid hefty air fares to come back in order to apply. Some moved up weddings, because green card status also helps a spouse. Some paid exorbitant fees to get the necessary medical exam, with one family charged $1,200 instead of the customary $400. Then, the government reversed itself, creating heartbreak. “I had to sit down and tell one family who’s been waiting since 1999 that the government announced they would reject everyone,” said David Wilson, an immigration lawyer at the Wilson Group in Minneapolis. “They cried. It was outright cruelty.”
  • This drama shows just how badly managed the federal government’s work-based immigration system is, said Laura Danielson, an immigration lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis. And wherever the public comes down on immigration reform, Wilson said, “Congress has to start taking employers seriously when they say that in certain segments of the economy there aren’t enough Americans to fill the jobs.” How it played out
  • The chain of events this summer went like this: As it does every month, the U.S. State Department released a “Visa Bulletin” for June. It looked like they always do: There was a grid of every kind of work-based visa — including “priority workers,”professionals with advanced degrees or persons with exceptional ability” and “skilled or professional workers” — and dates showing how backed up the green-card process is for each category. In one category, there was a one-year wait to apply; another showed a four-year wait. Then the bulletin for July came out, with the surprising announcement that everyone with a work-based visa could file for a green card. All the waiting periods to apply vanished.
  • That started the mad scramble, partly because immigration attorneys figured this could be a fluke and they wanted to get their clients’ applications in ASAP — preferably by the first business day of the month, July 2. Then, on July 2, the State Department released a revised July bulletin that reversed its position, saying it wouldn’t accept any applications this month, that the categories were suddenly filled up. “It has never happened, in the history of these categories, for all the worldwide quotas to be full,” Danielson said. In the meantime, the government had already received about 55,000 applications nationally.
  • Citing a communications problem, and after an employers’ outcry and two lawsuits, the government did a third about-face, announcing that it will honor its “everyone is welcome” July terms after all. “The important point is that no individual went through the expense and time and effort to put their paperwork together for nothing,” said Bill Wright, spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington, D.C., which processes visas and green cards for the State Department. The State Department declined to comment, because of the pending litigation. Still apprehensive
  • It is good news, attorneys for immigrants said, but no one feels out of the woods yet. For one thing, the applicants are in a long line because the annual limit of 140,000 green cards is covered, according to citizenship and immigration services. (The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.) Also, as the summer’s events show, the government sometimes changes its mind without warning, Danielson said. Until her clients get official notification that the government has accepted their application, which could take months, their lives are still unsettled. One is a Chinese engineer, unable to reenter the United States without that official receipt. “His mother is terribly ill, but he’s scared to death to travel,” she said. Wilson is telling his clients to watch their bank statements to see whether their application checks clear. “Often, the first you know that they’ve done something is when they’ve taken your money,” he said. Wilson is little cheered by the government’s promise to process all the July applications as they came in. “The problem with ’in the order in which they were received’ is that they received so many on July 2, and my experience is the government is not very reliable,” he said. “Now there are people whose applications are in some warehouse somewhere, and we’re all in a position of holding our breath.”