Backlog frustrates green-card seekers
More than 330,000 may wait two more years for residency decision

Washington Post

BALA CYNWYD, PA. - Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers trying to stay in the United States find their journey halted somewhere along a maze of boxes, filing cabinets and cubicles of government contractors.

The backlog of foreign workers seeking green cards, which allow immigrants to live and work in the United States permanently, numbers more than 330,000. In September, the Department of Labor set up a center in Bala Cynwyd and another in Dallas to quicken the first step of processing for employment-based green cards.

Though the federal agency said it has spent time and money to ease a complicated traffic jam, immigrants, their employers and lawyers have been growing impatient.

"It's too long," said Rajesh Poudyal, who emigrated from Nepal 15 years ago on a student visa. His employer, a contractor for NASA in Greenbelt, Md., applied for his green card in November 2001. "You don't know if it's going to be another three-year wait. You keep thinking, 'It's gonna happen. It's gonna happen.' "

And yet it hasn't.

On March 28, the Labor Department introduced a computerized fast-track processing system for new applications, doling them out to two centers. Between the backlog centers and the new sites, labor officials said, they have streamlined a process that could have had some waiting six more years. Now, they say, the backlog should be cleared in two years.

In employment-based green-card applications, the Labor Department certifies that the employer exists and that the immigrant is being paid the prevailing wage for the job described. In most cases, employers also must prove that they sought to hire U.S. workers for the job.

From this stage, labor certification, the application travels to the Department of Homeland Security, which conducts a review and decides whether to allow the immigrant to petition for residency status.

Before the backlog accumulated, immigration attorneys say, labor certification took 30 to 90 days.

Under the fast-track system, labor officials say, the process should routinely take up to 60 days.

But there is no such expectation for the 174,000 people awaiting processing here. Besides 10 federal workers, the remaining staff of 100 work for Exceed Corp., the company that won the backlog contract.

Starting last year, all 50 states sent boxes upon boxes to one of the two backlog sites. Officials said they hope to act on the applications on a first-in, first-out basis and they have entered about 80 percent of the applicants' data into a computerized system.

The backlog stems from legislation that allowed undocumented immigrants or immigrants who had overstayed their visas to apply for green cards if a family member or employer sponsored them â€