[SJMN] Workers left in limbo by INS

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From: Joachim Feise (jfeise@ics.uci.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 10:02:23 PST

I usually don't post complaints about the INS here, for various reasons.
But this article sums it up pretty nicely.
And in addition, I am affected by this stuff as well. Because of the INS
processing delays, I will have to leave the US in about 1/2 year, maybe
It's just all a big nightmare.



> Workers left in limbo by INS
> Delays soaring for green cards
> Mercury News Staff Writer
> U.S. immigration officials recently boasted that in a year they had
> cut the average time it takes to become a citizen from 28 to 12
> months. What they failed to say is that the wait for green cards
> grew interminably long as the citizenship lines got shorter.
> Nowhere is the wait felt more deeply than in Silicon Valley, where
> thousands of engineers and other highly skilled immigrants are
> seeking green cards, which allow them to live here permanently
> without becoming citizens.
> Because workers without green cards are still considered
> ``temporary'' residents, they often can't get promotions or even
> home mortgages. They must get written permission from the
> Immigration and Naturalization Service to travel abroad. Some --
> particularly tech workers from India and China -- may even be
> forced to leave the country.
> ``Real lives are being destroyed,'' said Peter Larrabee, a San
> Diego attorney who specializes in employment-based
> immigration.
> INS officials reluctantly concede that the agency's frenetic effort
> to cut citizenship lines has slowed processing of applications for
> permanent residency to a turtle's pace. The average wait
> nationwide for ``adjustment of status''-- the final stage of green
> card processing -- is about 33 months, up from 21 months in
> August 1998, said Eyleen Schmitt, an INS spokeswoman in
> Washington, D.C.
> ``There's no polite way to put it -- it's a mess,'' said one INS
> official who requested anonymity. ``It's a ticking time bomb that
> no one wants to talk about.''
> Most affected are immigrants who came to the United States on
> H-1B visas, which allow highly skilled foreigners to work here --
> but for no more than six years. To get a green card, they must
> prove that their skills are exceptional or in short supply.
> As recently as a year ago, the processing of status adjustments
> for H-1B workers was taking 10 months at the INS' California
> Service Center, according to the American Immigration Lawyers
> Association. Because of the backlog, the processing for the
> workers in California now is expected to take from two to three
> years, the association says. Add in the preliminary procedures
> required of most applicants, and it can be a six-year wait.
> Famous applicant
> Many of Silicon Valley's best are in the INS queue, including
> Linus Torvalds, the internationally renowned software architect.
> ``It's taking forever,'' said Torvalds, who created the Linux
> operating system.
> Torvalds, who came to the United States from Finland three
> years ago, applied to adjust his status in August 1998. Still
> waiting, he recently sought the help of Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San
> Jose. Her staff was told by the INS that Torvalds' application
> wouldn't be processed until the end of the year.
> ``Which year?'' quipped Torvalds.
> ``I've finally reached the end of my rope with the INS,'' fumed
> Lofgren, a member of the House immigration subcommittee.
> ``The situation is ridiculous.''
> The growing delays in applying for permanent residency have left
> thousands of high-tech workers angry, frustrated and perplexed.
> ``I wouldn't mind waiting two years for my IRS refund check, but
> we really need the green cards to get on with our lives,'' said
> Srihari Shoroff, an Indian applications engineer who applied to
> adjust his status in September 1998.
> Ruyben Seth, a program analyst at Synopsys Inc. in Mountain
> View, agreed. ``This is an advanced country, but the government
> is working more slowly than the bureaucracies in developing
> countries,'' said Seth, who came to the United States from India
> in 1994 and started his green card processing two years later.
> He finally got word last week that his green card was approved.
> Seth said the delay forced him to turn down promotions because
> INS rules prevented him from taking a job that is substantially
> different than his original position.
> ``It's like running a race and having the last mile never end,'' said
> Srinivas Pattamatta, a design engineer for Philips
> Semiconductor who may have to leave the country next year
> because of INS delays.
> As a Silicon Valley superstar from a European country where
> there is little demand to immigrate to the United States, Torvalds,
> 30, has less to worry about than many of his Asian colleagues.
> But even he doubts whether a bank will give him a mortgage until
> he's a permanent resident. And, as a green card applicant, he
> must get the INS' written permission to leave the country.
> ``It's just the lack of freedom that's irritating,'' said Torvalds, who
> works at highly touted Transmeta Corp., a Sunnyvale chip
> maker.
> Leaving a possibility
> For workers from China and India, who make up the bulk of H-1B
> visa holders, however, the INS delays are far more painful. The
> wait means some might eventually have to leave Silicon Valley --
> and the country -- behind.
> U.S. immigration law sets aside 140,000 employment-based
> green cards each fiscal year. But because of the green card
> backlog, about 40,000 cards were issued in fiscal year 1999. The
> approximately 100,000 unused spots don't roll over to this fiscal
> year, so they're lost.
> No more than 9,800 employment-based green cards for
> immigrants of any one country can be issued in any year, and
> the State Department is warning that the demand for green
> cards from Indian and Chinese workers will be greater than the
> supply as soon as March.
> If there are no green cards available, the workers can't even
> apply for adjustment of status. If their six years are up, they have
> no choice but to leave the country for at least a year, until they
> can apply for a new H-1B visa and another six-year stint.
> For Pattamatta, the Philips engineer, the looming quota might
> mean a forced separation from his wife, a software developer for
> Compuware in Campbell. Her H-1B visa doesn't expire for three
> years.
> Pattamatta, who came to the United States eight years ago to
> get a master's degree in computer science at Oregon State, filed
> his petition to immigrate in April. Despite a written promise that
> the petition would take a maximum of 120 days, he's still waiting.
> And by the time he gets it, all the green cards for Indians -- who
> represent nearly half of new H-1B workers -- might be gone.
> ``Luckily,'' he said, ``I work for a multinational company and could
> work overseas.''
> Torvalds was luckier than most. Because the INS determined
> that he was an ``alien of extraordinary ability,'' he was able to
> skip the first stage in the three-step green card process: Labor
> Department certification, designed to ensure that immigrant
> workers aren't taking the jobs of Americans.
> The second stage, petitioning to immigrate, is also taking longer
> these days. The petitions took several weeks to process in the
> spring of 1998, said Larrabee, the San Diego attorney. Now it's
> taking about 11 months, said Larrabee.
> ``My question is why?'' said Larrabee, a former INS officer.
> ``There's no reason except poor management. It's the Keystone
> Kops.''
> No, said Dona Coultice, director of the California Service Center
> in Laguna Niguel. It's because she doesn't have enough staff to
> do the job, she said.
> Coultice said the number of employment-based immigration
> petitions has been soaring, as high-tech skills become more of a
> commodity in a vibrant economy. From 1995 to 1999, she said,
> the petitions jumped by about 80 percent, while the number of
> INS adjudicators increased by 25 percent.
> Immigration officials also blame the CIA for not processing
> security clearances quickly enough for green card applicants.
> The backlog got so bad in late 1999 that the INS decided to issue
> green cards without waiting for the CIA clearance, which is
> aimed at detecting criminals and suspected terrorists.
> Many tech workers say they are growing tired of all the excuses.
> ``I'm feeling very uncertain about the future,'' said Sudhakar
> Muddu of Silicon Graphics. The INS-certified ``outstanding
> researcher'' has been waiting for an adjustment of status since
> October 1998.
> His greatest fear is losing his job through a company
> restructuring, said Muddu, who has a master's and a doctorate in
> chip design from UCLA.
> One unusual aspect of the employment-based immigration
> process is that if you change jobs, you're back to square one. It
> could mean starting the grueling multi-year process or even
> having to leave the country.
> ``You could be two weeks away from getting a green card and
> have to start all over again,'' Muddu said.
> INS optimistic
> But INS officials claim the situation is not as hopeless as it
> seems. Believing that the citizenship lines are under control, INS
> Commissioner Doris Meissner has ordered that service centers
> and local INS officials begin working harder on adjustment of
> status applications. The goal for this fiscal year is to decrease
> the average wait from 33 months to 24 months, said Schmitt, the
> INS spokeswoman.
> Coultice said the California center has set a goal of processing
> 18,000 of the 26,000 pending status adjustment applications,
> most from high-tech workers.
> ``If I had the staff, I would get them all cleared out in 60 days,''
> she said.

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