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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Dear Editor:
I am writing this letter for the thousands of legal immigration petitioners. The deathly slow processing speed for Work Based Green Cards at the California Service Center of the BCIS (formerly INS) is causing major problems for the daily lives of these legal foreign workers. No one would argue, in light of the terrorist threats, the need to more fully vet potential immigrants into the United States. And if the additional checks required some additional time, so be it, the benefits far outweigh the small price in waiting. However, when the average waiting time for a relatively simple approval process has gone from 6 months to approximately 20-24 months, there is something sinisterly wrong with BCIS operating procedures. And for INS to cloak themselves under the guise of performing additional security checks is deliberately misleading. In a post 9/11 environment, in spite of INS past embarrassments of approving terrorists post humously, the President has given a mandate to the organization to ensure I485 approvals be completed within 6 months with all neccessary security checks. Yet, in practice the complete opposite has happened, stretching approvals to an average of 20 months. In addition, INS (BCIS) has frozen processing from Nov.15 to Feb. 15, first denying there was a freeze then later acknowledging there was a freeze when they upgraded their computer systems. After an initial blip of approvals (lasting 2 weeks), the process has virtually grinded to a halt. In the face of a mountain of backlogged unapproved 485 applications, BCIS is plodding along approving 5-20 applications a day, while 125-200 new applications come in every day. Being forced to wait extraordinary lengths of time, the would be immigrant is forced to reapply/renew his EAD (Employment Authorization document).With this huge problem, what does BCIS do? Do they focus their resources on approving the green cards? No, they put the resources on clearing the backlog of EAD's, which are a temporary solution for the people waiting for the 485 (GC) approvals. If they would approve the 485, they would get rid of the backlog on EAD's at the same time. But this logic escapes BCIS. In addition, as part of the 485 process, each applicant submits to a fingerprint exercise, which gets sent to FBI to check their background. BCIS has a policy of expiring the fingerprints after 15 months. (which seems like a reasonable policy as the president himself has indicated that the process should take no longer than 6 months). Now because BCIS is now taking between 20-24 months to approve, they are reissuing fingerprint notices to applicants who must go through the process again. It begs the question, with their system of tracking dates, instead of focusing extra resources on clearing the EAD backlog, why wouldn't they focus their resources on approving cases that the fingerprints are due to expire?

To understand how tenuous the process is for an immigrant you need to understand the Employment Based Green Card Process. The first step is to have a company sponsor you on a work related visa, usually an H1B. The approval for that could have taken upwards to 1 year. Then for the fortunate ones their sponsoring company immediately began the Green Card Process (this is not the norm, some time would ususally have transpired before this). The company then would need to advertise the position for approximately 6 months, reviewing all potential candidates for a better one, if there were no better ones, they could lodge a Labor Certification with the Department of Labor. This process even with the reduction in recruitment option is currently taking 1-2 years. Once LC is approved, you file an I140 with INS, which currently takes approximately 6 - 12 months. Once approved, then you can make your I485 application and wait the current 20-24 months. While you are waiting some 2-5 years, at your peril, under certain circumstances, you may change your employment. I say, "may", however, you run a serious risk of being denied your green card for numerous reasons. In addition to being tied to one employer for 5 years or more, and there are employers who take advantage of this situation, the immigrant, because he is "temporary" in nature, may not qualify to purchase a home among other things. The immigrant lives a precarious life waiting and hoping for his approval, and in these uncertain times, hopes he isn't laid off of his current employment. They meet on immigrant discussion boards for any scrap of information out of BCIS, which is miserly with their statements. Immigration Officers often give contradictory, inacurate and general information. BCIS issues a "Just In Time" report which shows the current date they are adjudicating, for the last 6 months this date has not changed for the 485 applications. In their frustration and feeling of powerlessness with the lack of progress and responsiveness from the CSC of the BCIS, they have organized a petition. What is a worthwhile read is the comments box in the petition, where you can get a very real sense of how this drawn out process is affecting the lives of these would be immigrants. It would be great if you can bring some pressure to BCIS CSC and get them to actively commit to addressing the problem.

Jeremy Li