U.S. To Offer 'Green Cards' To Up To 25,000 Iraqi Contractors - InformationWeek

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U.S. To Offer 'Green Cards' To Up To 25,000 Iraqi Contractors

The Iraqi nationals will have to show they provided "faithful and invaluable service to the U.S. government" to gain permanent resident status.

The United States plans to admit as permanent residents up to 25,000 Iraqi nationals, along with their families, who performed work for American contractors during post-invasion hostilities in Iraq -- including high-tech workers who helped U.S. companies restore the country's computing and communications infrastructure.

According to a July 7 memo written by senior U.S. immigration official Donald Neufeld, the United States last week created a special immigrant visa that will allow up to 5,000 Iraqi contractors and their families to enter the country as immigrants each year for the next five years. "This guidance is effective immediately," wrote Neufeld, who is acting associate director for domestic operations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The memo was sent to all USCIS field offices.

Eligible for the visas are Iraqi citizens who were employed by the U.S. government, or U.S. government contractors, in Iraq during or after March 2003 for at least one year. The workers must have provided "faithful and invaluable service to the U.S. government," according to the memo. The program will admit to the United States up to 5,000 Iraqis per year from 2008 through 2012.

Unused allotments from one year can be added to the next year's total allotment.

To obtain the so-called green cards, the contractors will have to demonstrate that their work on behalf of the United States subjected them to past or ongoing "serious threats" in their home country. That shouldn't be too difficult. Contractors of various national origins have been a favorite target of Iraqi insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida, Sunni-oriented Saddam Hussein loyalists, and Shiite splinter groups.

Hundreds of contractors have been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, according to watchdog group iCasualties.org. Applicants for the visas must submit to a background check by the Department of Homeland Security.

Iraqi contractors' spouses and children are also eligible for permanent resident status. If each eligible contractor has, on average, a family of four, the United States could see an influx of up to 100,000 Iraqis over the next five years.

In addition to translators, drivers, and construction workers, some of those could be IT professionals. Numerous American tech firms, including BearingPoint, Computer Sciences, and Lucent, have been active in Iraq, and some have tapped local workers to help fulfill their contracts with the government.

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