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DPK Public Relations Client Published in Houston Chronicle Outlook Section

DPK Public Relations client Quan, Burdette & Perez recently sought the firm's assistance in getting the word out regarding the impact of new immigration regulations. A topical, strongly written op-ed was among the strategies employed. The op-ed, published on January 16th, follows:

Shorter immigrant waits benefit us all; Improvements to certification process needed

By COUNCIL MEMBER GORDON QUAN

As legal wrangling continues in the tragic human smuggling case in which 19 illegal immigrants died in a sweltering tractor-trailer, it is important to examine why immigrants have become so desperate. The case highlights the need to humanely and legally allow immigrants to enter the United States to perform needed labor required by our economy — and to do so in a timely manner. In short, we need a comprehensive approach to legal immigration rather than Band-Aids.

Today, the processing time for labor certification of workers is a jaw-dropping three to five years. Needless to say, these delays contribute to the problem of illegal immigration and add to the desperation of immigrant workers.

While President Bush has called for a guest worker program that has been decried by many in his own party, little attention has been focused on regulations published in recent weeks by the Department of Labor, which seeks to address this issue. In contrast to legislation proposed by Bush, which would only provide temporary working visas, these new regulations provide the basis for lawful permanent resident status that could lead to citizenship.

The stated goal of the new regulations is to reduce the processing time for certification to 45 to 60 days.

The Department of Labor has spent the past two years working with industry groups to develop regulations that would balance the needs of employers with safeguards against abuse. Currently, more than 315,000 potential foreign workers are awaiting a decision on their respective applications for positions in the United States.

In every case, these are jobs U.S. employers have been unable to find U.S. workers to fill. With diminishing resources at the Department of Labor, the wait has grown increasingly longer. With such uncertainty, it is little wonder that companies have turned to outsourcing and that many of the most talented scientists, teachers and researchers have elected to seek immigration to other countries.

According to the Education Testing Service, the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, had dropped by half. The GRE is a requirement for applying to most graduate schools.

The new regulations establish a Permanent Labor Certification program called PERM, which allows employers to electronically file applications for needed foreign workers. There are numerous safeguards to protect U.S. workers and citizens:
• Employers must confirm that they have unsuccessfully attempted to recruit U.S. workers through newspaper ads and state workforce job orders as well as job fairs, recruitment agencies, internal postings and incentive programs.
• If the employer previously had layoffs, those workers must first be offered the positions.
• The wage offered the foreign worker must be certified to meet the prevailing wages for the occupation paid to U.S. workers.
• Each person allowed to enter the United States will go through a criminal and medical background check as part of the permanent residence application process to weed out inadmissible aliens who may pose a threat to society.

Employers face stiff sanctions if they fail to provide evidence that these requirements have been satisfied or if authorities find the employer provided false information. Even after the fact, a certification by the Department of Labor may be revoked at any time.

This system enables employers to recruit and process green cards for persons key to their operations in a timely manner. U.S. workers are protected by the safeguards requiring proof of unavailability of a U.S. worker for the occupation.

Meanwhile, the timely processing of applications will improve working conditions for immigrant workers. Once approved for permanent residence, if an employer does not treat the employee properly, the worker is free to seek employment elsewhere. Under the current system, employees are often in virtual servitude because of the long waiting lines and the fear that the employer may withdraw the application at any time. Others have been denied promotions or raises for fear that this would violate the terms of the position for which they are being sponsored.

With a viable opportunity to immigrate with one's family in a reasonable period of time, the lure of choosing to enter illegally with all of its incumbent risk loses much of its luster.

President Bush has stated that we should make legal processing the norm, not the exception. These regulations are just one step toward providing a timely system for processing of skilled workers and their families. Congress now needs to focus on reducing growing backlogs in visa availability. It is in the interests of all citizens to strive for a process that achieves the delicate balance between protecting the interests of U.S. workers while meeting labor market needs and ensuring national security. This can only be accomplished through a comprehensive approach to legal immigration.

Quan is a Houston City Council member and managing partner of Quan, Burdette & Perez, a professional legal corporation focusing in immigration law.
Author: Dan Keeney
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