Kathleen Walker on How The Shutdown Shuts Out Foreign Employees

October 7, 2013
Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov

Labor Department certification processing systems are unavailable due to the shutdown, a loss that bars certain employers from obtaining work authorizations for foreign hires, such as technology professionals, at a time when businesses already are hurting, according to immigration attorneys. Also, some visa holders are unable to extend their stays because they can’t file labor certifications for permanent residence on time.

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification's Web portal is not accepting forms, called labor condition applications, that are required for H-1B worker visas. Specifically, the iCERT Visa Portal System and the PERM system are down, and there have been reports that courier services, such as FedEx, have been unable to deliver paper copies to the Labor Department, according to an Oct. 4 American Immigration Lawyers Association bulletin.

Essentially, overseas employees entitled to work in the United States cannot legally reside in America until their labor condition applications are processed. "Those cases are not moving," said Kathleen Campbell Walker, an El Paso-based immigration lawyer at Cox Smith. "I've got an upper level executive for a global company [who is] trying to come to the United States."

Also, foreign workers lawfully in the United States who are in between two jobs can lose legal status because their new employers cannot submit the required Labor applications.

"We've got professors who are unable to go ahead and start work because you have to get the labor condition application approved first before you can file the H-1B," Walker said. Universities "can't tell the individual when they may be able to start” work, and consequently “staffing for courses may not be available,” she said.

"It's gumming up our legal system that's already messy to begin," she added.

Over the weekend, immigrant advocates staged demonstrations urging Congress to act on legislation that would change the legal status of undocumented foreigners. The Senate already has approved comprehensive immigration reform. The House is reluctant to take up the measure or vote on any bill that would grant what many Republicans see as amnesty for the nearly 12 million immigrants in the United States illegally.

Labor will neither accept nor process any applications or related materials, including labor condition applications, audit responses, applications for prevailing wage determination, applications for temporary employment certification, or applications for permanent employment certification, AILA officials said.

Labor officials were not immediately able to respond to inquiries.

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