Cutting in the visa line

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

Tired of those long lines at the Immigration and Naturalization Service? Weary of waiting months for approval of a visa allowing you or a prospective employee to come to work in the United States? Starting today, some applicants will have a way to skip all that tiresome delay, if they're willing to pay for the privilege. For a $1,000 fee, "premium processing" promises action on certain work visa applications within 15 days, or your money back. Aimed at speeding action on workers whom businesses want to bring in from overseas for a limited time, the program will begin with foreign-born athletes, performers, scientists and corporate executives, as well as some temporary agricultural or service workers. By the end of the summer it's expected to cover all applicants aiming to work in the United States but not seeking permanent residence. It does not apply to those seeking green cards, which allow immigrants to remain and work permanently in this country.

The benefit to those who pay is obvious: They get a 15-day turnaround instead of the 60 to 90 days the process usually takes, though paying the fee does not guarantee the visa will be approved. INS officials say other would-be immigrants stand to gain as well, because the money generated by the new fees will be used to hire more workers who can help process all visa applications. Maybe so. But you shouldn't be able to buy your way to the front of the immigration line. If the waits are too long, they should be fixed for everyone.

Congress, which has poured money into border enforcement, should fund the agency's immigration operations at a level that would allow all applicants to be handled expeditiously. That would send the right message about this country to those seeking to work here a message of fairness, not the suggestion that the skids can be greased for those ready, or able, to pay.

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