Proposal to Divide INS in Two Could Ease Visa Headaches

Split designed to speed processing

Employers may be able to hire foreign workers faster if the Bush administration carries out its plan to split the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into two divisions.

In his budget for fiscal 2002, which begins Oct. 1, President Bush outlined a $500 million, five-year plan to split the INS into two units: One would manage the border patrol, and the other would process visas and green cards for legal immigrants.


Welcome Wagon

President Bush’s immigration plans:

Allocate $500 million over five years
Split the agency into two divisions: one for border patrol and one for visa processing
Goal would be to improve service, including visa processing times

Current visa processing times:

H-1B visa: 60 to 110 days
Green cards: two and a half to three years

Trade associations, foreign-born technology workers and attorneys said dividing the organization should improve service for the millions of legal immigrants and the employers that sponsor them. However, some said they believe that splitting the INS could result in some administrative nightmares as officials try to separate millions of files.

Currently, the agency's resources "go largely to the enforcement side, [and] services are left to be the poor stepchild," said Jeff Lande, a vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va.-based trade association that represents the technology industry. Seventy percent of the INS's $4.8 billion budget goes toward enforcement.

Employers that hire foreign technology workers rely on a number of temporary visas. The INS allots 140,000 green cards each year, and in October, Congress nearly doubled the number of H-1B visas to 195,000.

Enforcement Bias

Immigration lawyers said many INS workers who process visas started at the agency as border patrol officials.

"If the officer's job is to decide whether someone gets a green card or an H-1B, in an agency where enforcement dominates, it colors your perception," said Carl Shusterman, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney.

The enforcement bias at the INS has often led to unnecessary scrutiny of legal immigrants, which may help account for the long processing times for visas and green cards. Liz Stern, an immigration attorney at Shaw Pittman in Washington, said the "fraud mentality" of INS officials means the agency is often trying to second-guess independent, reputable credentials agencies.

Though October's H-1B legislation included provisions to speed up visa processing, attorneys and H-1B holders report that backlogs still remain.

Shailesh Gala, a senior software engineer at consulting firm CDI Corp. in Philadelphia, has been waiting almost six years for his green card. Splitting the INS into two divisions, he said, "would help tremendously, because there is no clear separation of duties" there now.

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