When it was formally announced in the Federal Register in December 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) projected that permanent labor certifications filed using the Program for Electronic Review Management system (PERM) would take 45 to 60 days to process, unless the case was subject to an audit. During the first several months of PERM, the system experienced many problems and processing often took several months. Over time, the system was tweaked and it became more common to receive approvals within weeks or even days of filing. In the second half of 2007, processing of PERM cases began to slow. This was apparently caused by new initiatives of the DOL which included a redeployment of personnel and the initiation of audits on a substantial number of cases. Today, the processing time for PERM cases is commonly measured in months, with many audited cases taking over one year.

DOL officials recently reset processing expectations to 60 to 90 days for cases not subject to an audit. The DOL indicated that approximately 70 to 90 percent of all cases (these are deemed “clean cases,” presumably those with no audit trigger issues) are decided during this timeframe, but further stated to attorneys that 120 days is a better benchmark to use to manage client expectations. As of July 15, the DOL was working on audited cases with a filing date of March 2007. With the high number of audited cases and the ongoing changes at the DOL (including the introduction of the new PERM portal and rollout of the new PERM ETA 9089 application form on January 1, 2009), it would seem prudent to expect a PERM case to take one year or more to be processed unless the case is fortunate to be considered a “clean case” that could fall within the 120-day timeframe.

In other DOL news, the Fragomen firm filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the DOL to cancel the special audit of PERM cases filed by the firm on behalf of its clients (see the June Immigration eAuthority) and to prevent the DOL from enforcing its new interpretation of the law regarding attorney involvement in the PERM process. The court documents revealed the DOL’s announced intention to audit over 2,500 PERM filings by Fragomen on behalf of its clients. In light of this information, it would again seem reasonable to expect no significant decrease in processing times for audited PERM cases.