Getting Amerasians from Asia to America is no easy task.

Virgil Kovalenko, who heads a Utah-based agency aimed at simplifying that procedure, has been working on one case for four years. The case was already termed fruitless when his agency got it.The Emery County, Utah, man involved in the case served in Vietnam in the late '60s. While there, he married a Vietnamese woman who in 1967 gave birth to their son. The soldier registered his son as a U.S. citizen with the American Consulate. But he left Vietnam in 1974, divorced his Vietnamese wife and later remarried.

He has been trying ever since to get his son out of Vietnam.

The matter has been complicated because the man's ex-wife was earlier unwilling to sign release forms for her son to leave Vietnam.

In 1980, the father renewed his efforts to bring his son to Utah after the United States initiated the Orderly Departure Program. He wrote a number of letters to officials in Washington, D.C., without luck. Then in 1984, he handed his case over to Kovalenko's agency, Veterans Assisting Saints Abroad Association.

Kovalenko said the son has been recognized by the State Department as a U.S. citizen. He was scheduled to fly out of Vietnam with his mother and a half-brother on Feb. 21, 1988, but a last-minute administrative foul-up changed that. Now, people at Veterans wait day by day for word that the young man has left Vietnam.

"The U.S. government has its own program that is bogged down in a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of paperwork," Kovalenko said, making political pawns of many Amerasian children.

U.S. officials say the average age of Amerasian children is just under 18. But many of them are still interested in emigrating to the United States on their own. And in other cases, American fathers are looking for ways to be reunited with their mixed-race children.

The fact that Amerasian immigrants are processed by both the U.S. State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service further complicates the process, Kovalenko said.

Most Amerasians leaving Vietnam go to Bangkok, Thailand, for processing. They stay in what Kovalenko describes as an old jail for about a week before going on to the United States or going to a resettlement camp in the Philippines.

In December 1987, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier for Vietnamese Amerasians to come to the United States. The new law sets up a two-year period, beginning March 21 of this year, in which Amerasians can apply for immigrant status, with minimal documentation.

The legislation defines Amerasians as children born in Southeast Asia between Jan. 1, 1962, and Jan. 1, 1976, whose fathers are U.S. citizens. It also allows for their immediate family members or foster families of Amerasians to migrate under refugee status.

Many family members of Amerasians have been quick to take advantage of that particular clause in immigration law, Kovalenko said.

Otherwise they would need to meet the strict definition of refugee, which includes proving political or religious persecution, said Marian Miller, an information officer for the U.S. Immigration Service in Washington, D.C.

Although many of the Amerasians come to the United States on immigrant status, they are still eligible for assistance programs made available to refugees, including language training, cultural orientation and domestic resettlement.

Government-subsidized resettlement agencies usually step in once the Amerasians and their family members have reached this country.

Meryl Rogers, director of the Salt Lake Immigration and Naturalization Service office, said he has seen very few Amerasian applications come across his desk.

Rogers said the law on Amerasians differs from other immigration law, including the lack of quotas.

He said although the paperwork involved with immigration transactions is extensive, it does not require an attorney to complete. He said 80 percent of those who work through the Salt Lake office are not represented by lawyers.

"We kind of pride ourselves in that anyone who walks in here is going to get equal treatment regardless of whether they're represented. I don't want anybody who comes through this office and deals with us to feel they could have gotten more if they had a lawyer," Rogers said.

Although Vietnam has served as the setting for much of the Amerasian story, immigration laws are also in effect for Amerasians born in Korea, Laos, the Cambodia region of Kampuchea and Thailand.