INS Grants Expedited Processing for Relatives of U.S. Healthcare Workers
December 17, 1999

No question about it, in recent years registered nurses and physical therapists applying for permanent resident status in the U.S. have gotten the short end of the stick. That is, through no fault of the applicants, processing of permanent resident filings for healthcare workers in the U.S. had been stalled for more than 2 years as a result of a new legislation requiring special English language testing and certification and consequent government agency fumbling in issuing implementing regulations.

Even worse, most R.N.’s were without a way to have their overseas spouse or children join them in the U.S. in the interim, as the expiration of the H-1A program effectively eliminated nonimmigrant (h-4) visa opportunities for dependent family members. Fortunately, the rules are now in place and the applicants know what requirements they need to satisfy in order to finally get their “green card”. Moreover, it appears that the INS, in most cases, is now being particularly attentive to healthcare workers’ cases, including their filings to have their overseas spouses and children join them in the U.S.

At present, Chicago area healthcare worker applicants for permanent residence have their cases pending with either one of the two INS offices, in Chicago or in Lincoln, Nebraska. Applicants who are able to obtain the appropriate “Visa Screen” certificate to the INS office where their case is pending. Once such documentation is received, the applicants’ case is generally given immediate attention and the applicant can expect to receive a decision within 90 days. Once an approval is issued, the applicant must take steps to file Form I-824 with the appropriate office in order to facilitate consular notification of the U.S. applicants’ approval and to commence immigrant visa processing for their overseas spouses and children. Fortunately, INS offices in Chicago and Nebraska are both granting these I-824 filings expedited processing, although applicants must explicitly request such expedited processing-especially for filings with the INS Nebraska.

Once the I-824 application is approved, overseas family members can expect to be contacted with further instructions within 90 to 120 days. Most applicants will find that any delays that arise in the process will stem from U.S. Embassy inaction, rather than INS inaction. That is, one the I-824 notification is sent, it is then up to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy overseas to act and call in the “follow to join” family members. All to often however, the U.S. Embassy (such as in Manila) will claim that it never received the I-824 approval from the INS or that an overburdened/understaffed mailroom will not allow them to expeditiously attend to the case. Unfortunately, State Department/U.S. Embassy understaffing is a reality and only tenacious follow up will allow for the overseas family to eventually get scheduled for immigrant visa appointments and have a chance to be unified with their U.S. family member.

Certainly, if no news is received by overseas family within 4 months of I-824 approval, immediate steps should be taken to investigate the case’s status with the appropriate U.S. Embassy.

Delays in Health Care Worker Application Processing at INS Chicago Healthcare workers with permanent resident application pending with INS Chicago may find their cases taking more time to process than their colleagues’ cases pending at INS Nebraska. In many cases, this is true and from my experience, there are several factors at play that are unique to INS Chicago’s approach to adjudicating these cases:

  1. Understaffing: Currently there is only 1 officer who is handling the backlog of healthcare worker cases pending at INS Chicago and she is only assigned to this responsibility on a part-time basis.
  2. Fingerprinting: Although their paperwork may finally be completed, most applicants’ fingerprints will have likely expired by the time they submit their Visa Screen Certificate and a new fingerprint notice will have to be issued. Applicants should expect a decision on their filing, or at least a new fingerprint notice (directing them to appear at an INS fingerprinting facility) within 30 to 60 days after submitting their certificate. For those required to re-appear for fingerprinting, a final decision can be expected within 120 days after their appearance for new fingerprinting. If too much time has passed, the applicant should conduct their own follow up investigation with INS Chicago.
  3. Heightened Scrutiny: Although most applicants with cases pending at INS Chicago have already been interviewed, an intense review of their filing is being conducted-with particular attention as to whether the applicant worked for any period for the facility that originally petitioned them, especially R.N. applicants that entered on H-1A visas. The question being raised is whether the H-1A applicant fraudulently obtained their visa and entered the U.S. knowing that a job did not exist or with the intention of never working for the facility.

In most cases, the R.N.’s failure to work for their H-1A petitioner came about as a result of false promises by recruiters and not because of the H-1A applicant intended to deceive anyone. The extent to which this issue will be a factor in the decision making process is still under consideration by INS Chicago officials. In the meantime, adjudication of these cases is being temporarily held in abeyance.

Copyright © 1999-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois