New U.S. rules could hurt immigrants

WASHINGTON, June 4 (JTA) — Some foreigners soon will be able to pay for quicker processing of temporary work visas in the United States, potentially increasing the backlog of visa applications for Jewish immigrants, among others already in the United States.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service plans to allow special types of workers — mainly high- tech businessmen, scientists and celebrities — to pay $1,000 to have their visa applications processed within 15 days. The agency hopes to generate $80 million from the program.

The INS says the funding will go to hire workers to process all kinds of applications — but Jewish officials are upset about the possibility that immigrants will end up being placed at the bottom of the priority list.

Leonard Glickman, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said the government is continuing to serve special interests at the expense of immigrants who have been living in the United States but are still waiting to receive full working rights.

Glickman is concerned that INS workers in charge of visa and naturalization applications will be pulled to work on the new program.

The agency will be “adding a new priority when they can’t meet their priorities now,” he warned.

But the INS says not to worry.

The enhanced revenue from the program will ensure faster service for businesses without causing delays in the resolution of other petitions, according to Bill Yates, the deputy executive associate commissioner for the agency’s Immigration Services Division.

Yates said the additional funding will allow INS to improve service and expand infrastructure to all of its customers.

In some cases, Jewish groups have brought in artists on temporary visas to perform or speak at cultural events. The new program could apply to those cases, but there are only a small number of such instances, officials said.

If such cases arise in the future, federations are likely to take advantage of the new program and pay the additional fee — far above the normal processing charge of $110 per application — to get premium processing.

Thousands of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union could be affected by the new program.

But the problem with the program is why it’s happening at all, says Diana Aviv, vice president of public policy for United Jewish Communities, the Jewish community’s central social services agency.

“There is some problem about a policy where the government has to do this in the first place,” she said.

Most of the funding for INS goes to border enforcement rather than to immigration services, which are mostly financed through user fees.

Aviv called the creation of a hierarchical system within the INS “somewhat troubling,” and said the agency should be reorganized.

However, the potential silver lining to the new program, she said, is if the money generated by the expedited visas actually is used to hire new workers and help others waiting for work visas, as the INS contends. Congress would still have to approve such a designation.

The program, which was approved by Congress last year, began its first stage this month and is slated to be fully in place by the fall.

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