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09/25/91

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1990 immigration law means good news, bad news for international scholars

When the Immigration Act of 1990 goes into effect Tuesday, it will mean both good news and bad news for international scholars, according to a Stanford official who will grapple with it.

The good news is that now there will be more green cards, or immigrant visas, for foreign-born students and faculty who want to live and work permanently in the United States.

The bad news is that there will be a cap on H-1 visas for short-term visiting professors and research associates, and there is going to be "tremendous delay" in processing those visa applications in the year ahead.

That's according to Lee Madden, assistant director of Stanford's Bechtel International Center, whose office helps Stanford departments file visa petitions for hundreds of international professors and researchers each year.

"The increased number of green cards is very welcome, and we're looking forward to that," Madden said. "Both private industry and universities lobbied hard for this part of the law, because there isn't a big pool of American Ph.D.s out there to conduct the basic scientific research that is needed today."

In particular, the new law will provide 40,000 AA-1 immigrant visas for each of the next three years to natives of countries, mostly in Europe, that were "adversely affected" by previous immigration legislation (see box).

At the same time, Madden said, Stanford and other universities will have to do more paperwork to hire short-term visiting professors and researchers under the H-1 visa program.

Stanford departments usually submit about 100 H-1 visa applications each year. Until now, all paperwork for the H-1 visa was sent to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and took about 60 days.

Effective Oct. 1, however, all employers wishing to file H-1 visa petitions with the INS also must file a "labor attestation" with the Department of Labor.

That document must state (1) that the foreign worker's salary will be in keeping with prevailing wages for similar work in the area; (2) that the conditions of employment are not unusual, inappropriate or dangerous; and (3) that the department will pay the return airfare of the H-1 employee if the employment is terminated under certain conditions.

Employers who are found later to have misrepresented the going wage can be fined and barred from filing other work- related visa petitions for at least a year.

Representatives from the Bechtel International Center have been meeting with government officials to get a better understanding of the new rules, but there is still much confusion.

"Part of the problem is that neither the Department of Labor or the Immigration and Naturalization Service has finalized its regulations on this yet, and the Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve the form that we should use," Madden said. "It's pretty much up in the air."

There also is confusion about which Stanford office will be responsible for sumbitting the labor attestations, once the government forms are ready.

Staff members at the International Center feel unqualified to make statements about prevailing wages in the area, and most Stanford departments lack the data necessary to complete the forms themselves.

"What we would like to see the university do is develop a way of dealing with all the loose ends," Madden said. "Oct. 1 is coming up fast."

Whatever the university does, it is clear that it will be some time before the machinery to process H-1 visa applications will be working smoothly.

"All departments should take into account a delay of at least several weeks in addition to the normal processing time of about 60 days for the Immigration Service to adjudicate an H-1 petition," Madden said. "Plans to hire H-1 nonimmigrants should be put into action several months ahead of the projected start date.

"Given the new provisions it will be impossible to process H-1 applications in the time now taken."

The Immigration Act of 1990 will provide 40,000 green cards in fiscal years 1991, 1992 and 1993 to natives of countries that were "adversely affected" by previous immigration legislation. An immigrant visa provides the holder with unrestricted permission to live and work in the United States.

Individuals born in the following countries are eligible to enter the lottery: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (including Guadeloupe and New Caledonia), Germany, Great Britain and Northern Ireland (including Bermuda and Gibraltar), Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia.

A pamphlet on the new AA-1 immigrant visa program is available at the Bechtel International Center.More information on how to enter the lottery may be obtained by calling the State Department at (202) 663-1600.

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