Lawyers Say Suits Are Likely Over Visas

Lawyers say suits are likely over visas
The Chicago Tribune
July 7, 2007

Many angry as U.S. halts applicationsBy Ofelia Casillas and Antonio Olivo, Chicago Tribune staff reporters. Tribune wire services contributed to this report July 8, 2007

A mix-up by the federal government in issuing special high-tech visas is causing a variety of hardships for tens of thousands of legal immigrants, lawyers said Saturday.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Gabriela Ptasinska, a Chicago woman among those affected, is claiming that the government violated its own laws and her constitutional rights.

Immigration attorneys said they think more suits will be filed across the country, including a class-action suit that the non-profit American Immigration Law Foundation plans to file this week.

Experts say the impact of the mix-up speaks to the demand for high-tech visas at a time when the government is reducing its quotas for such types of legal immigration. The visas, most commonly known as H1-B, have been a side discussion in the immigration reform debate that recently stalled in Congress, with companies such as Microsoft Corp. pushing Washington to open the door wider for legal immigrants in that category.

Government officials had announced last month that at least 60,000 high-tech visas would be accepted but later reversed that decision.

“These are all people who have followed the rules, who are here legally, who have waited in line patiently in many cases for five or seven or more years for their opportunity to submit their green card applications,” said Paul Zulkie, president of the Washington-based American Immigration Law Foundation.

Zulkie said the immigrants often fill jobs experiencing a shortage of U.S. workers, so their employers sponsor their green cards, for which there is a quota of 140,000 each year. Other ways for immigrants to obtain green cards include sponsorship by an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or marriage to a U.S. citizen, he added.

Last month's announcement had meant that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could begin accepting applications, spurring thousands to begin a lengthy process that includes obtaining certified documents, medical exams and background checks.

The U.S. State Department called the backlog an “unexpected action” and said employment visa numbers would be available when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1 to a new pool of 140,000 applicants.

Federal immigration officials have acknowledged that a “lack of communication” among departments that share oversight of visa applications caused the mix-up.

Zulkie said the impact is life-altering for many.

“All the individuals who thought they were able to apply and scurried around had the door slammed in their face,” Zulkie said.

In her suit, Ptasinska, a Polish immigrant with a temporary work visa sponsored through her job at an engineering consulting firm, is seeking a ruling that would keep the application from being rejected, said her attorney, Ira Azulay. She flew to Lincoln, Neb., last week in hopes of being among the first to submit a green card application.

Azulay said thousands of people are in a similar situation and could join the suit.

Ptasinska declined to comment.

The Chicago suit names several government officials and agencies including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the State Department and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

State Department spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said Friday that the agency does not comment on litigation. Calls to Citizenship and Immigration Services went unanswered.