Earlier today, Managing Editor Alan Kotok posted a blog entry about the U.S. State Department announcement that it wouldn't accept any more green-card applications for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in October. I called Mark Harrington, a Houston-based immigration attorney and friend of Science Careers, hoping he could provide a little perspective on the situation. Here's what I learned.
Employment-based "green cards" come in several flavors, designated EB-1 (a and b), EB-2, and EB-3, in descending order of prestige. EB-3's are the most common, and there's a backlog for immigrants from most (maybe all) countries. There's a backlog for EB-2 applicants only for immigrants from India and China. EB-1 applicants are rare; there has never been a backlog for this category.
Each month, the state department issues a "Visa Bulletin" announcing what visa applications are likely to be processed in the coming months. Last months' bulletin was extraordinary: It announced that there no longer were any backlogs in any of the employment-based categories. Chinese Immigrants, who a month earlier were expecting a 4-year wait (applications were being processed from mid-2003), suddenly found themselves with no wait at all. Immigration attorneys were scrambling to submit applications on behalf of their clients before the door closed again. These changes would take effect on 2 July, the first business day of the new month.
But the door closed too fast. The notice Alan Kotok mentioned in his earlier blog post, which took effect on 2 July, effectively reversed the earlier ruling by announcing that no further applications would be accepted. The notice explains this action as a consequence of "backlog reduction efforts" and the resulting "use of almost 60,000 employment numbers." But, since the changes announced in June were not scheduled to take effect until July, it isn't clear what happened to all those "employment numbers."
But the new notice doesn't just restore the status quo. Previously there was no backlog for EB-1 applicants, or for EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China. But the new notice effects all "employment-based preference cases," including the categories most important for research scientists. This new development means that (unless the decision is reversed or modified) EB-1 applicants--and EB-2 applicants from countries other than India and China--are out of luck until the new fiscal year.
Immigrants seeking employment-based green cards, and their attorneys, await the next Visa Bulletin eagerly.