Path to U.S. Citizenship Costly, Tedious

Ladik also warns of the new threat posed by rising layoffs. “The market moves much faster than the INS. The volatile economy can jeopardize someone’s whole application. The person can either be laid off or passed up for promotions because a significant change of duties means you have to start all over,” he explains.

Adds Jo Anne Adlerstein, attorney and head of immigration at a New York law firm: “At this point there’s no such thing as a routine [immigration] case.”

Both the INS and the Labor Department are aware of their public perception and say they are working on a solution. The Clinton administration tried to pitch in and ameliorate the backlogs by passing new legislation. But most attorneys agree the laws only made the situation worse.

For all the frustration and time spent waiting, even a successful green card recipient can be left with bittersweet feelings. Says Italian native Elena Olivari, an architect and new permanent resident working in San Francisco: “At the end, it [the process] has nothing to do with you. … The freedom once you get the green card is great. The freedom they took away from you is the worst part.”

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