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The U.S. Department of Labor may soon implement radical changes to routine green card processing through its proposed PERM — Program Electronic Review Management — process for labor certification applications. Although publication of the final PERM regulations likely will be delayed until late spring or summer, employers should review staffing needs, anticipate the new guidelines and make strategic immigration decisions today. Labor certification is a Department of Labor (DOL) process to protect U.S. workers. Foreign nationals normally can get an employment-based green card only if their employers follow specific DOL procedures for testing the labor market. The employer must confirm that it could not find a U.S. worker who is able, willing, qualified and available for the prospective position offered the foreign national. Although certain immigration categories enable foreign nationals to obtain a green card without labor certification, these cover a minority of cases. Today, two processes exist for getting labor certification: traditional/basic processing and reduction in recruitment (RIR). In Texas, applications must pass through the Texas Workforce Commission before reaching the DOL regional office in Dallas. Processing times usually range from two to four or more years. Facing record backlogs, on May 6, 2002, DOL published the proposed PERM rule. This plan recommended replacing the existing adjudicatory labor certification process with a new system that would rely on 1. employer attestations submitted online to provide a factual basis for prompt DOL review and approval; and 2. the threat of random and targeted compliance audits to ensure good-faith representations and thorough recordkeeping by employers. Employers welcomed the possibility of speedy adjudications of labor certification applications. Yet the proposed tradeoff for speed was a higher qualification threshold. Proposed restrictions would limit the ability to file cases. Although the final rule may substantially alter certain of the proposed restrictions, employers should consider some key possibilities now:

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