Green-Card policy reversed by Citizenship and Immigration Services

07/06/07 Seán Kinane
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Last month the U.S. State Department announced that thousands of skilled foreign workers could apply for a green card allowing permanent residency. But earlier this week, the State Department abruptly reversed that policy saying that no more of these employer-sponsored visa workers would be issued until October. Ramon Carrion is an immigration attorney and a partner in the firm Ruden McClosky in Tampa. His clients were among the thousands around the country who began expensive and time-consuming preparations to apply for green cards after last month’s announcement.

“What many attorneys did, including yours truly, we quickly notified all of our clients who had been waiting for, some of them for years, and advised them that the opportunity now presented itself to apply for residency. And many of these people immediately went and obtained medical examinations, paid us, you know, got their money together and so on and so forth.”

But earlier this week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or CIS said no more green cards applications would be accepted. Carrion said that his clients were disappointed in the decision.

“Well, tremendous disappointment; and in many cases cost. … What many attorneys, including me, did, and not here just in this area, but throughout the United States, as soon as they received the [June] bulletin, they immediately contacted their clients who were otherwise eligible, and asked them to start getting everything together. Including undergoing the expense of the medical. And that’s what has happened. And for many people, now seeing that they had the opportunity for residency, made provisions, changed their lives, changed their schedules, on the assumption that they were going to be able to file for residency.”

Another local immigration attorney, Dilep Patel, is the chair for the Central Florida Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He told WMNF what one of his clients experienced because of the government’s reversal.

“You cancel your vacation. You go out and spend money …”

Crystal Williams is the Deputy Director for Programs at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). She said there was a “breakdown in communications” between the U.S. CIS and the State Department.

“What I think happened, is that the Sate Department with very good intentions wanted to pressure USCIS into doing its job and adjudicating the employment-based green card applications” … last year even though the demand was in excess of 140K,USCIS fell10K short, couldn’t get the job done, quotas go away. … State concerned it might be worse this year from USCIS.

Steve Royster is the Spokesman for Consular Affairs at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. He said that each year one hundred forty thousand of these work visas are issued, but that number can be higher in certain cases. According to Royster, the problem arose because the State Department attempted to make sure that the U.S. CIS awarded all of the visas that it could.

“Last year, though we worked closely with CIS, we didn’t use all numbers that we could have. So in an attempt this year to make sure that those precious immigrant visas were able to be given to as many qualified applicants as possible, we opened the opportunity for people to apply, regardless of when they had actually submitted their petition. … It looked like, based on the way people were using their visas and completing applications that were pending through the course of this year, that all those visas would not be used up. So to encourage as many people as possible we decided that we would lift the so-called priority date for the visas.

But because there were thousands of applicants waiting in line for these visas, Royster said the available slots were quickly taken.

“There were already several thousand visas on hold awaiting processing. And between the time that our mid-June announcement came out and the time it would have gone into effect on July 1st, those additional visas were processed. Allowing those people who had already filed and hence on the first come first served basis were ahead in line to adjust status and to enjoy the benefits of that. This left people who where expecting an opportunity to move up a few years in line, instead they were not able to apply right away.”

But immigration attorney Ramon Carrion suspects there could be financial reasons for the reversal.

“There are rumors flying around that perhaps the government did that so that they would be able to delay all these visa numbers and thus be able to charge … their new higher fees which take affect on July 30th.”

Those new fees could more than double how much it costs a worker get a green card.

“The fees for people applying for residency, through employment or otherwise will more than double. And of course, the exact amount depends for example on for instance how many dependents they have in their family. Let me give you one example. To file for residency, the base filing is now $395– that’s $325 plus $70 for fingerprints – that’s going to be almost a thousand dollars on July 30th.”

Carrion said that Fees for other applications would nearly double for each person as well. Overall, the cost for each member of a family to get a green card could increase by three to five thousand dollars at the end of this month.

Crystal Williams’ group, the American Immigration Lawyers Association will bring a class-action lawsuit against both the State Department and the USCIS.

“We’ll be asking that USCIS accept the applications.”

The State Department’s Steve Royster would not comment.

“I hate to sound like a hackneyed spokesman, but we don’t comment on pending litigation. We certainly don’t comment on litigation that is proposed elsewhere in the media.”

Carrion said that problems like this could be solved if the government implemented comprehensive immigration reform including more flexibility in awarding employment visas.

“This fiasco that we’re going through is only one example as to why we need comprehensive immigration reform. We have a system that is absolutely incapable of dealing with the current economic conditions that this country is in. And we have a system that as you can see just misfires. … They need to increase the employment visa numbers.”

WMNF’s request to in interview a spokesperson from USCIS was not granted by airtime.

You can learn more about green cards on the website for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services – triple w dot USCIS dot gov .

Learn More:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

USCIS Announces Update [July reversal] on Employment-Based Adjustment of Status Processing

State Department Update on Visa availability

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