A proposed U.S. Department of Labor pilot program, publishedlast week in the Federal Register, would make it easier formany U.S. life science institutions to permanently hireimmigrants with doctorates in biology or chemistry.
Mandated under the Immigration Act of 1990, the LaborMarket Information Pilot Program would speed applications forpermanent residence of employees in 10 occupations in whichthere is a shortage of U.S. workers, ranging from Japanese orChinese cooks to computer scientists.
The pilot program was supposed to begin Oct. 1, 1991, but theregulations were not proposed until two immigration attorneysfiled suit on behalf of their clients. The court case is undersubmission at Federal Court in San Francisco. Martin Lawler ofLawler and Lawler in San Francisco, is representing Ly-LuckRestaurant of Oakland, Calif., and attorney Peter Williamson ofWilliamson and Associates in Houston is representing arecruitment firm, Omni Consortium, that places nurses, physicaltherapists and teachers from the Philippines.
The 10 occupations were identified for the Department ofLabor by Malcom Cohen, a professor of labor and industrialrelations at the University of Michigan, using indicators foundover time to be reliable, said Patrick Stange, a manpowerdevelopment specialist with the Department of Labor, whocoordinated publication of the proposal.
The pilot program applies to biologists, biochemists,microbiologists, physiologists and biology faculty members inCalifornia, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland,Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, NewYork, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Italso applies to chemists and chemistry faculty members inCalifornia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York andTexas.
Employers must document they have offered a job to a non-resident holding a doctorate in the required field from anaccredited U.S. or foreign institution.
The program was originally meant to last three years, but isnow set to expire Sept. 30, 1994. It will then be evaluated todetermine the impact on cost and on U.S. employees, Stangesaid. He explained that the exemption "is intended to be fasterand cheaper overall."
Michelle Stelljes, international services coordinator at BaylorMedical School in Houston, said that without the proposedregulations, "you have to certify there is no one else qualified,willing or available."
Approval takes an average of four to 18 months, including a60-day open-recruitment period in which anyone who showsany interest in the job has to be carefully documented andinterviewed -- a process that can bog down the departmentrecruiting for the post, she said.
At the Mayo Clinic, growth hormone gene regulationinvestigator Norman Eberhardt advertised a postdoctoralposition in the journals Science and Cell, but had no applicantsfrom the U.S. He said 60 percent of the applicants were fromChina and 40 percent from India.
He eventually hired a scientist from China. "I took him sightunseen," said Eberhardt, an associate professor. "Actually, hesent a picture. ... He's turned out very nicely."
The human resources manager of an emerging Californiabiotechnology company, who requested that her name not beused, said her company occasionally helps an employee on atemporary visa obtain a green card. "It's a long and tediousprocess." she said.
"It's kind of like closing on a house," she said. "Sometimes youneed someone sooner than later, and the time it takescomplicates the issue. Because we're a breakthrough company,we can never find someone with exactly what we need becauseno one's done this before."
She added that certification includes showing that the salary ofthe employee is comparable to what others might make in thatposition.
At Baylor, Stelljes said she believes relatively low salaries inacademia hurts recruitment, although she claims the majorityof researchers in the U.S. are actually from mainland China.
"It's hard to attract people to do the arduous research," Stelljessaid, "the little step-by-step, nit-picky research that all of ourknowledge is based on, all of our breakthroughs are based on."
Comments on the proposed regulation will be accepted untilApril 19 by the Acting Assistant Secretary of Employment andTraining Administration Carolyn Golding, Department of Labor,Room N 4456, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington D.C.20210.
Although the regulations are not yet in effect, attorney Lawlerrecommends filing all applications by July 1, when anotherimmigration provision will allow 70,000 Chinese students andtemporary residents to apply for green cards as eitherprofessional skilled or unskilled workers, which has a slightlylower immigration preference rating than for applicants withadvanced degrees.
-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.