In response to concerns from employers, immigrant workers, and their attorneys about the prolonged delays in adjudicating applications for labor certification, the Department of Labor (DOL) will likely hire new staff and implement more streamlined procedures in an attempt to decrease the current backlog of 300,000+ cases in 2004.

Faced with the overwhelming backlog-particularly applications filed in response to the temporary extension of § 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 2001-the DOL retained PriceWaterhouseCoopers to analyze deficiencies in its processing and to provide recommendations. The management consulting firm proffered numerous suggestions, including the temporary hire of a contractor to assist with processing, which could improve productivity by 20 to 42%.

A management services contractor hired by the DOL earlier this year to provide similar analyses also noted that a significant problem in the processing of labor certification applications concerned the individual state workforce agencies’ (SWA) variant interpretation of an acceptable “established pattern of recruitment” for Reduction-in-Recruitment (RIR) cases. The contractor recommended that the DOL issue general guidelines or criteria to all SWA’s to ensure consistency as well as facilitate efficiency.

As discussed in previous articles in this column, the labor certification process is necessary for immigrant workers to gain lawful permanent residence through an employer-sponsor for most occupations. Before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) may approve petition requests, the DOL must first certify to the USCIS that: (1) there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available at the time of the application for a visa and admission into the U.S. and at the place where the alien is to perform the work; and (2) the employment of the alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

The DOL is endeavoring to reduce its backlog of over 300,000 cases before it implements the Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) system, which is supposed to automate and expedite the labor certification process. This reduction effort will cost about $100 million of government funding, to be appropriated by Congress in 2004 and 2005.

Consulting a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney is critical to ensuring a successful application for labor certification.