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December 26, 2007 > US Immigration policies

US Immigration policies

Submitted By Barbara Wong

Changes in U.S. immigration laws often stir up fierce debate because of its far reaching effects locally and nationally. As the immigrant population continues to grow in Fremont and other cities in California, immigration policies and issues debated in Congress become increasingly relevant on a local level. With all the potential changes in U.S. immigration, what can we expect in the year to come?

Currently, there are two main avenues for U.S. permanent residence; sponsorship by an employer, or sponsorship by a close family member. For family based immigration, only immediate relatives, such as spouses, parents, children over 21, or siblings may sponsor a family member. The sponsor must be a U.S. permanent resident or U.S. citizen, and there are limitations to who they may sponsor. Current immigration regulations also limit the number of visas available for family based petitions to 226,000 per fiscal year, with relatives of U.S. permanent residents taking up approximately 114,000 visas per fiscal year, but these numbers don't meet the demand.

Processing wait times for family based petitions vary significantly depending on the category. For example, an immediate relative, such as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, can expect to gain U.S. permanent residence within a year or so from the date of filing an application, however, a U.S. permanent resident wishing to sponsor a spouse will need to wait approximately five years or longer just to submit the application for adjustment to U.S. permanent residence. Whether we should expand the number of visas available for family based immigration and how to minimize the backlogs continues to be a topic of debate in Congress.

In the coming year, we can expect some proposed U.S. immigration legislation to address the backlogs for U.S. citizens and permanent residents who wish to sponsor family members. But because U.S. permanent residents do not have the right to vote immigration reform may focus minimally on their concerns.

Employment based immigration concerns stand a better chance of being address by Congress due to the sheer number of businesses that depend upon the work of immigrants. From the high-technology sector and beyond, companies and organizations increasingly rely on educated professionals in the computer and engineering fields to design the technology and tools required for its businesses to function smoothly.

Most nonimmigrants come to the U.S. on a temporary basis, with the expectation that they will depart the U.S. at the conclusion of their stay, unless they have an avenue towards U.S. permanent residence. Employment based sponsorship is often the only vehicle for such immigrants to enter the U.S. and gain U.S. permanent residence. They often enter the U.S. in H-1B or L-1 status for a limited period of time, and then start the process for U.S. permanent residence. In order to keep talented workers, most employers are willing to offer sponsorship for U.S. permanent residence.

In order to protect the U.S. workforce from an influx of foreign labor, the U.S. Department of Labor requires some employment-based cases to test the current labor market to see if there are any U.S. workers available for the position open to foreign workers. Current regulations are designed to speed up the decision making process by the U.S. Department of Labor to determine whether the employer's offered position meets minimum education, experience and salary requirements, and whether the employer has done the leg work required to recruit and advertise for the position, and failed to secure U.S. workers, or have the need exceed the demand.

This change in processing methodology, initiated in 2005, positively altered wait times for the Department of Labor's decision on employer sponsorship; however, there are still significant obstacles in the road to gaining a 'greencard', including long wait times and uncertainty in employment in a fluctuating environment. Since employment-based immigration is dependent on a continued offer of employment, there must be a job in existence in order for sponsorship.

The near future points to the continuing need for highly skilled professionals who require sponsorship in order to work in the U.S. The desire for employers to sponsor highly skilled workers for U.S. permanent residence often outstrips the 140,000 employment-based visas available. The majority of capable and talented computer engineers who are foreign born and require sponsorship by U.S. employers will continue to grow.

Whether Congress will take into consideration the realities of U.S. business needs will need to be parsed out before comprehensive changes in U.S. immigration laws may be implemented.

Lastly, this discussion on employer or family based sponsorship for greencards does not touch upon the sheer number of illegal immigrants currently in the U.S., and those that enter the U.S. illegally every day. This is why Congress and the relevant government agencies tend to focus on border security and temporary worker programs. By addressing the issues of illegal immigration, the administration hopes to target the major sticking point of U.S. immigration regulations, and remedy concerns about those who break the law to come to the U.S., and remain here indefinitely.

Congress and the current presidential hopefuls will need to address immigration issues sooner or later. But with the split between illegal and legal immigration, how to reconcile both in a comprehensive manner will be tricky. The lobbying force of U.S. employers may turn the focus of U.S. immigration policy towards business needs instead of illegal immigration issues. In the coming fiscal year, we can expect the issues of visa numbers to arise on the legal immigration front, and on the illegal side, matters regarding U.S. border safety and cost of illegal immigrants to local communities will be on the forefront of voters minds. The impact of immigration policy affects the makeup of our communities and the costs of illegal immigration affects a diverse range of issues from health care to worker's rights. Ultimately, U.S. immigration is a concern for everyone, not just those who are immigrants.

Barbara Wong is an immigration attorney practicing in San Francisco and residing in Fremont. She specializes in business immigration and enjoys the diversity of the large immigrant population in the Bay Area.

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