Protest causes reversal on work visas

August 6, 2007

Getting work visas may prove to be more difficult for foreign-born pharmacists.

Sometimes protests do work. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would reopen 60,000 permanent resident applications for foreign-born workers after suddenly announcing-the day the applications were due-that the visas would not be available.

The reversal came after an unusual protest. Led by Immigration Voice, an advocacy group, thousands of angry applicants sent bouquets of flowers to USCIS director Emilio Gonzalez. "The public reaction ... made it clear that the federal government's management of this process needs further review," he explained in a statement. "I am committed to working with Congress and the State Department to implement a more efficient system in line with public expectations."

It is unclear how many foreign-born pharmacists were impacted by the change. In 2000, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores advocated for an expansion of the program to respond to the shortage of pharmacists. Currently, USCIS has an annual quota of 140,000 workers with employer sponsorship. Some chains, such as Walgreens, have created Web pages for employees to help them navigate through the complex regulations regarding the visas.

According to Shusterman, pharmacies must follow a three-step process to obtain an H-1B visa for an employee. First, U.S. immigration law requires that all employees be paid the prevailing wage for their occupation. Second, the employer must attest that the foreign pharmacist's working conditions will not adversely affect those of other pharmacists. Once that is approved, the employer may submit an H-1B petition to USCIS.