June 29, 2015

KEEPING TABS ON A NON-CITIZEN'S ELIGIBILITY FOR HEALTH COVERAGE UNDER THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT


President Obama’s healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is here to stay especially after the law withstood a challenge in King v. Burwell that allows the federal government to provide subsidies to poor and middle class people to buy health insurance on a nationwide basis. 

Even non-citizens who are lawfully present may access the health exchange to buy insurance under the ACA. Many non-citizens will also be subject to the individual mandate or “individual shared responsibility provision” if they do not maintain essential health coverage. It is thus important to keep track of a non-citizen’s eligibility as well as when such an individual may be penalized on his or her next tax return for not maintaining essential coverage, which has been explained in Who is Lawfully Present Under the Affordable Care Act?

Becoming Lawfully Present After Enrollment Period Has Closed

The next open enrollment period for 2016 starts November 1, 2015 and ends January 31, 2016. The last open enrollment closed on February 15, 2015. What if a non-citizen becomes eligible for ACA coverage between February 15, 2015 and November 1, 2015?

Take the example of a US citizen who has sponsored her parents, John Smith and Jane Smith, under the immediate relative category through the filing of an I-130 petition while they were outside the United States. They came to the United States on June 25, 2015 as permanent residents upon the approval of the I-130 and the issuance of immigrant visas at the consular post overseas. A permanent resident is a qualified alien who is eligible for coverage on a health exchange and is also subject to the mandate. Although the open enrollment closed on February 15, 2015, John and Jane are eligible under the 60 day special enrollment period because they just became permanent residents after the prior enrollment period closed on February 15, 2015. Assuming that they do not have minimum essential coverage as yet, if John and Jane do not take advantage of the special enrollment period and get coverage in the first full month during which they are present for the entirety of the month, they will be subject to a penalty when they file their tax returns for 2015. Even if John and Jane choose to return to their original country for two years on a reentry permit to wrap up their business and sell their home, they must still enroll for health coverage or qualify for an exception, which includes qualifying under the foreign earned income exclusion pursuant to section 911(d)(1)(A) or 911(d)(1)(B) of the Internal Revenue Code. This is more fully explained in the blog entitled The Impact of Obamacare on Green Card Holders Who Reside Outside the United States.

Let’s discuss another example of a person who applies for permanent residence from within the United States. Maria Fernandez entered the United States on a B-2 visitor’s visa on January 1, 2009 and has remained ever since. She overstayed her authorized stay as a visitor after July 1, 2009. As a result of overstaying her B-2 visa status, she is not considered lawfully present under the ACA. On April 1, 2015, Maria married a US citizen, who filed an I-130 petition on her behalf and she concurrently filed an I-485 application for adjustment of status. Under the definition of “lawfully present” in 45 CFR 152.2(4)(vii), she is not yet lawfully present as the underlying I-130 visa petition has not been approved. For immigration purposes, Maria will be considered lawfully present as an adjustment application, but some of the definitions of “lawfully present” under the ACA are not in harmony under immigration law. However, if Maria obtains employment authorization as an adjustment applicant, she will be considered lawfully present pursuant to 45 CFR 152.2(4)(iii). Suppose Maria obtains employment authorization on July 1, 2015, although the next open enrollment starts on November 1, 2015 and assuming she does not have minimum essential coverage, Maria will be eligible for the special 60 day enrollment period under 45 CFR 155.420(d)(3).

If on the other hand, Maria does not apply for employment authorization as an adjustment applicant pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9), she will not be considered lawfully present until after her I-130 petition is approved or when she becomes a lawful permanent resident, whichever is earlier.

Special enrollment is available when “[t]he qualified individual, or his or her dependent, which was not previously a citizen, national, or lawfully present individual gains such status.”  45 CFR 155.420(d)(3). It is unclear whether special enrollment would be available to someone who was previously lawfully present, then fell out of status, and now regains another status.  However, it would be bizarre if this rule precluded someone who had ever been lawfully present in their life previously. If the rule was applied so rigidly, someone like Maria in the above example would not qualify for special enrollment and would have to wait for the next open enrollment on November 1, 2015. Even visitors in B-2 status may be considered lawfully present under the ACA, but they may not be required to seek health coverage if they have not yet become tax residents.  Special enrollment ought to cover anyone who goes from not being lawfully present to being lawfully present.

Lawfully Present Non-Citizens with Low Incomes

Lawful Permanent residents are excluded from Medicaid unless they have had this status for at least 5 years under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). The Children’s Health Insurance Program of 1997 (CHIP), however,  allows pregnant women and children lawfully residing in the United States to access both Medicaid and CHIP even if they have not resided in the United States for five years. Not all states, though, have lifted the 5 year waiting period for CHIP coverage.  Although newly minted LPRs with low incomes may not be able to access Medicaid within the first five years unless they qualify for CHIP, the ACA provides subsidies to eligible non-citizens, which are now protected even if offered through the federal health exchange after King v. Burwell. Lawfully present non-citizens with incomes up to 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible for cost sharing subsidies, and those up to 400% of the FPL are eligible for tax credits to offset the costs of purchasing private plans. Due to the 5 year Medicaid ban, lawfully present immigrants that have incomes under 100% of the FPL can also receive subsidies and tax credits that their US citizen counterparts are precluded from obtaining in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.  Although the Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sibelius upheld the constitutionality of the ACA, it also gave states the choice of whether or not to expand Medicaid. At the time of writing, 30 states including the District of Columbia have opted for expanded Medicaid.

Low income non-citizens who avail of either Medicaid or other subsidies will not be rendered a public charge for immigration purposes.  According to USCIS policy, “Non-cash or special purpose cash benefits that are generally supplemental in nature and do not make the person primarily dependent on the government for subsistence do not impact a public charge determination.” On the other hand institutionalization for long term care through Medicaid or other subsidies would be considered as a factor in making a public charge determination. 

Conclusion

In King v. Burwell, Chief Justice Roberts who wrote the majority opinion stated that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” Since the ACA is here to stay and will most likely be firmly entrenched in the nation’s DNA like Social Security and Medicare, many qualified and lawfully present non-citizens will also be able to access benefits the ACA and may also become subject to the mandate. At this point, undocumented immigrants or recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cannot access the health exchanges or avail of the subsidies. Some states may have their own rules, so for example in New York, DACA recipients and other ‘permanent residents under color of law” (PRUCOL) can still avail of Medicaid since the New York Court of Appeals in Aliessa ex rel. Fayad v. Novello held that PRWORA violated New York’s Equal Protection Clause.  The ACA is becoming more and more linked to immigration issues. While an immigration practitioner need not be an expert in other disciplines, he or she must be aware of eligible statuses for coverage under the ACA, the deadlines for enrollment and when the 60 day special enrollment may become available and the potential for someone to be subject to additional payment to the IRS for failing to obtain coverage, unless the client can qualify for an exemption.

June 15, 2015

EXTENSION OF STEM OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTIONS?

Senator Grassley’s latest angry missive to the DHS protests the proposed increase of F-1 student Optional Practical Training (OPT), which was part of President Obama’s  executive actions of November 20, 2014.  While the Senator’s rant against any beneficial immigration proposal is nothing unusual, it reveals for the first time DHS plans to unveil an OPT  extension regulation relating to its promise to retain skilled foreign talent. It is also refreshing that the Obama Administration is endeavoring to implement a key executive action, especially after a  noted immigration blogger justifiably began to wonder whether the Obama Administration was fulfilling its promise or not.  
According to Senator Grassley’s letter dated June 8, 2015, the DHS is moving forward with new regulations on OPT

    allowing foreign students with degrees in STEM fields to receive up to two 24-month extensions beyond the original 12-month period provided under OPT regulations, for a total of up to six years of post-graduation employment in student status; and
      - authorizing foreign graduates of non-STEM U.S. degree programs to receive the 24-month extension of the OPT period, even if the STEM degree upon which the extension is based is an earlier degree and not for the program from which the student is currently graduating (e.g. student has a bachelor’s in chemistry and is graduating from an M.B.A. program).

Presently, students can receive up to 12 months of OPT upon graduation. In 2008, the DHS published regulations authorizing an additional 17-months extension of the OPT period for foreign students who graduated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical) fields. The Senator’s letter also seems to suggest that the agency is considering that employers will certify that they have not displaced US workers.  The STEM OPT extension is presently subject to a legal challenge by the  Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (Washtec). See Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. DHS, Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-529.   Plaintiffs have alleged that the OPT STEM extension period is a deliberate circumvention of the H-1B visa cap in violation of Congressional intent, and have also been granted competitor standing, which recognizes that a party suffers injury when a government agency lifts regulatory restrictions on competitors or allows increased competition.  
Notwithstanding Senator Grassley’s protest and the lawsuit, this is good news for foreign students, especially those who were not selected in the H-1B visa lottery for FY2016.  While the current lawsuit could potentially thwart the  efforts of the administration to extend STEM OPT especially in the face of mounting law suits,  we can also take comfort in an earlier failed legal challenge against STEM OPT.
Soon after the DHS extended OPT from twelve months to twenty-nine months for STEM students, the Programmers Guild sued DHS. in Programmers Guild v. Chertoff, 08-cv-2666 (D.N.J. 2008), challenging the regulation, and initially seeking an injunction, on the ground that DHS. had invented its own guest worker program without Congressional authorization. The court dismissed the suit for injunction on the ground that DHS was entitled to deference under Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Under the oft quoted Chevron doctrine, courts will pay deference to the regulatory interpretation of the agency charged with executing the laws of the United States when there is ambiguity in the statute. The courts will step in only when the agency’s interpretation is irrational or in error. The Chevron doctrine has two parts: Step 1 requires an examination of whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If Congress had clearly spoken, then that is the end of the matter and the agency and the court must give effect to the unambiguous intent of the statute. Step 2 applies when Congress has not clearly spoken, then the agency’s interpretation is given deference if it is based on a permissible construction of the statute, and the court will defer to this interpretation even if it does not agree with it. Similarly, the Supreme Court in Nat’l Cable & Telecomm. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967 (2005), while affirming Chevron, held that if there is an ambiguous statute requiring agency deference under Chevron Step 2, the agency’s interpretation will also trump a judicial decision interpreting the same statute. Brand X involved a judicial review of an FCC ruling exempting broadband Internet carrier from mandatory regulation under a statute. The Supreme Court observed that the Commission’s interpretation involved a “subject matter that is technical, complex, and dynamic;” therefore, the Court concluded that the Commission is in a far better position to address these questions than the Court because nothing in the Communications Act or the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the Court, made unlawful the Commission’s use of its expert policy judgment to resolve these difficult questions.

The District Court in dismissing the Programmers Guild lawsuit discussed the rulings in Chevron and Brand X to uphold the DHS’s ability to extend the student F-1 OPT regulation. Programmers Guild appealed and the Third Circuit also dismissed the lawsuit based on the fact that the Plaintiffs did not have standing. Programmers Guild, Inc. v. Chertoff, 338 Fed. Appx. 239 (3rd Cir. 2009), petition for cert. filed, (U.S. Nov. 13, 2009) (No. 09-590). While the Third Circuit did not address Chevron or Brand X – there was no need to – it interestingly cited Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 580 (1978), which held that Congress is presumed to be aware of an administrative interpretation of a statute and to adopt that interpretation when it reenacts its statutes without change. Here, the F-1 practical training regulation was devoid of any reference to the displacement of domestic labor, and Congress chose not to enact any such reference, which is why the Programmers Guild lacked standing.
So, why is Washtec again challenging the STEM OPT extension after another challenger had previously failed? This is because the DC Circuit is a favorable court to get standing, which it has already been granted. Even if plaintiffs ultimately prevail on their competitor standing theory, which requires them to show that they are direct and current competitors to F-1 students, plaintiffs still have an uphill task. The plaintiffs rely on International Bricklayers Union v. Meese (another reason why they have commenced legal action in the DC Circuit),  which struck down an INS Operating Instruction that allowed foreign laborers to come to the US on B-1 visas to install equipment or machinery after it had been purchased from an overseas seller. The court in International Bricklayers agreed with the plaintiffs that the laborers were not properly in the United States on a B-1 business visa, which under INA 101(a)(15)(B) precluded one from “performing skilled or unskilled labor.” In fact, Congress had enacted the H-2B visa for this sort of labor pursuant to INA 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(b).
On the other hand, the provision pertaining to F-1 students at INA 101(a)(15)(F)(i) is more ambiguous. It prescribes the eligibility criterion for a student to enter the United States, but does not indicate what a student may do after he or she has completed the educational program. For over 50 years, the government has allowed students to engage in practical training after the completion of their studies, which Congress has never altered.  Thus, a court should be more inclined to give deference to the Administration’s interpretation of INA 101(a)(15)(F)(i) under Chevron and Brand X even if it expanded STEM OPT beyond the maximum available  period of 29 months. From a policy perspective, the Administration should be given room to expand STEM OPT in order to retain skilled talent in the United States. Global competition for STEM students has increased dramatically, and many countries have reformed their immigration systems to attract such students. American innovation will fall behind global competitors  if we cannot find ways to attract foreign talent especially after they have been educated at American universities.
Senator Grassley’s misgivings about extending STEM OPT  are misplaced, and it is fervently hoped that the Administration will not pay heed to his letter and cynically scrap the program after putting up a show that it had tried it’s best. If extended STEM OPT is implemented, it will provide the impetus for the implementation of other key executive actions such as allowing entrepreneurs to be paroled into the United States and permitting beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions to work and enjoy job mobility even if their priority dates have not become current. Each and every action will surely get challenged, but the Administration should fight on and prevail, like it did when the motion to preliminarily enjoin the granting of work authorization to H-4 dependent spouses failed.  

June 6, 2015

PUTTING DISNEY AND H-1B VISAS IN PERSPECTIVE

Most who read Julia Preston’s New York Times article on Disney laying off its qualified programmers to be replaced with Indian  programmers on H-1B visas at HCL America are understandably outraged. The fact that Disney axed its employees – an iconic American  company that has promoted happiness, gentleness  and well being– has let down people even more. There have been more than 3,000 mostly angry comments to the article.
If we put aside the Indian H-1B worker for a minute, no one will doubt that it is business reality for companies to contract out many of their functions, such as IT, accounting or human resources. This practice is not limited to employers using foreign labor, and it is a widespread practice for companies to cut costs by reducing overhead such as payroll and benefits. Would there be similar outrage if an American law firm contracted away its human resources functions and stopped hiring additional HR personnel? Or if an entrepreneur wanted to sell a newly designed stroller with interesting gizmos in the US market, but arranged to have the manufacturing done in China? While we all feel badly for the American workers who may have been laid off, this is an unavoidable part of the quantum advances that have been made in globalization and the information technology revolution, which does not just involve access to foreign skilled labor (even if outside the United States) but even automation and robotics. Tom Friedman once famously said this in his NYT column “Average is Over”:  
In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.
This is not to suggest that the laid off American workers in the Disney episode were average, but it is fervently hoped that the benefits that accrue in contracting away functions in this new era of globalization will allow companies to engage in innovations that will  ultimately benefit consumers, which in turn will create more, albeit different, jobs in the United States. Even Disney said that after its reorganization that allowed it to focus on more innovations, it had a net gain of 70 jobs and has created 30,000 new jobs in the past decade.
While the media highlights the cases of Disney and SoCal where US workers are laid off and replaced by H-1B workers of an IT consulting company, most employers hire H-1B workers to supplement their workforce and not to replace their workforce. The H-1B visa cap is too small with only a total of 85,000 annual slots, and I personally have represented employers and  talented H-1B workers who can no longer be employed because they were not selected under the H-1B visa lottery. It is unfortunate that US employers lost talented foreign workers, many of whom have been educated at US universities. Lower costs, as is commonly believed,  is not the driving factor in hiring H-1B workers . The employer has to pay the higher of the prevailing wage or the actual wage it pays similarly situated workers, and so it is generally difficult for an H-1B worker to replace a US worker because they are cheaper. The employer has to also pay filing fees ranging from upwards of $2,325 to $5550, plus lawyers’ fees, besides the mandated prevailing wage.
Contrary to how the H-1B visa program is portrayed in the media, an employer does not have to first find a US worker before hiring an H-1B worker, or be concerned about displacing American workers at client locations such as Disney,  unless the employer is dependent on H-1B workers or has been found to have been a willful violator. See INA 212(n)(1)(E), (F) and (G) & INA 212(n)(3)(A). But even a dependent H-1B employer or willful violator need not recruit for a US worker first, or be concerned about displacement,  if it pays the H-1B worker over $60,000 or the worker has a Master’s degree. See INA 212(n)(3)(B).  The employer has to pay the higher of the prevailing or the actual wage among the workers that it employs and not which Disney employs. The replacement H-1B worker relating to the skill needed for Disney’s new technology platform need not have 10 years of experience, but probably less experience, and can be paid accordingly but still at the prevailing wage.
Critics of the H-1B program seize upon INA 212(n)(1)(A)(ii), which  states that an employer “will provide working conditions for such [an H-1B] nonimmigrant that will not adversely affect the working conditions of workers similarly employed.”  They argue that it is this provision that renders what happened at Disney to be in violation of the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law.  But this is hardly the case. INA 212(n)(1)(A)(ii) represents the second of four attestations that a non-dependent employer makes on a Labor Condition Application. 20 CFR 655.732(b) defines “working conditions” to “include matters such as hours, shifts, vacation periods, and benefits such as seniority-based preferences for training programs and work schedules.” The first attestation is that the employer agrees to pay the higher of the prevailing or actual wage. The third attestation that the employer makes is that there is no strike or lock-out in the occupational classification at the place of employment. The fourth and final attestation requires the employer to provide notice to the bargaining representative, and if none exists, then it must be posted at the place of employment for 10 days.
INA 212(n)(1)(A)(ii) does not mandate that the employer has to first recruit US workers. Elsewhere in INA 212(n) it is clear that only a dependent employer or one found to be a willful violator, who has no exempt H-1B workers, is required to recruit US workers and be concerned about displacing American workers at client sites. See INA 212(n)(1)(E), (F) and (G). While it intuitively makes sense for the employer to be required to test the US labor market before hiring all H-1B workers and be concerned about displacing a US worker, the H-1B visa is a temporary visa, and there is also the countervailing policy interest for employers  to be able to expeditiously hire foreign national workers to urgently execute projects. If they wish to sponsor them for permanent residence, there is an elaborate procedure for the employer to first certify that there was no willing or qualified worker for the position. H-1B workers have to also be paid the higher of the prevailing or actual wage, and at times the prevailing wage mandated by the Department of Labor seems to be higher than what it is in reality in many occupations. 
 The use of IT consulting companies is widespread in America (and even the US government contracts for their services), and was acknowledged by Congress when it passed the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (AVWIA) by creating onerous additional attestations for H-1B dependent employers. The current enforcement regime has sufficient teeth to severely punish bad actors.  IT consulting employers who hire professional workers from India unfortunately seem to be getting more of a rap for indiscriminately using up the H-1B visa. However, it is this very business model has provided reliability to companies in the United States and throughout the industrialized world to obtain top-drawer talent quickly with flexibility and at affordable prices that benefit end consumers and promote diversity of product development. This is what the oft-criticized “job shop” or “body shop” readily provides. By making possible a source of expertise that can be modified and redirected in response to changing demand, uncertain budgets, shifting corporate priorities and unpredictable fluctuations in the business cycle itself, the pejorative reference to them as “job shop” is, in reality, the engine of technological ingenuity on which progress in the global information age largely depends.  Such a business model is also consistent with free trade, which the US promotes vehemently to other countries (including the protection of intellectual property rights of its pharmaceutical companies that keep life saving drugs high), but seems to restrict when it applies to service industries located in countries such as India that desire to do business in the United States through their skilled personnel. US companies and IT consulting companies should engage in more public relations efforts to highlight the overall benefits of their collaborations, which in the case of the Disney episode was admittedly not enough.
 By continuing to limit and stifle the H-1B program, US employers will remain less competitive and will not be able to pass on the benefits to consumers. We need more H-1B visa numbers rather than less. We also need to respect H-1B workers rather than deride them, even if they work at IT consulting company, as they too wish to abide by the law and to pursue their dreams in America.  The best way to reform the H-1B program is to provide more mobility to H-1B visa workers. By providing more mobility, which includes being able to obtain a green card quickly,  H-1B workers will not be stuck with the employer who brought them on the H-1B visa, and this can also result in rising wages within the occupation as a whole. Mobile foreign workers will also be incentivized to start their own innovative companies in America, which in turn will result in more jobs. This is the best way to reform the H-1B visa program, rather than to further shackle it with stifling laws and regulations, labor attestations and quotas.

May 31, 2015

FIFTH CIRCUIT PRECEDENT ON PREEMPTION CAN PROVIDE OBAMA WITH PATH TO VICTORY IN TEXAS v. UNITED STATES

After a split Fifth Circuit panel declined to lift Judge Hanen’s preliminary injunction in Texas v. United States blocking President Obama’s two executive actions that could defer the deportations of an estimated 4.4 million people, the score was 2 in favor of Texas and 0 for President Obama.  One of the memorable quotes in the Rocky movie about boxing is apt here, “[I]t ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
Although President Obama has been hit hard, his legal team has to keep moving forward and there is plenty to look forward to that can ultimately win the day for the 4.4 million who will benefit from deferred action.  Although there has been substantial analysis regarding the flaws in the latest decision, scant attention has been paid to a 2013 decision of the Fifth Circuit that held that a local ordinance penalizing  landlords and occupants for not being lawfully present in the United States was preempted under federal immigration law.  This decision may provide a narrow path to victory for President Obama.
In Villas at Parkside Partners v. Farmers Branch, 726 F.3d 524 (5th Cir. 2013), the Fifth Circuit struck down a Farmers Branch, TX, ordinance on preemption grounds because it conflicted with federal law regarding the ability of aliens not lawfully present in the United States to remain in the US. The Fifth Circuit also noted that the federal government’s ability to exercise discretion relating to removal of non-citizens is a key reason for a state or local regulation of immigration being preempted under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution: 
Whereas the Supreme Court has made clear that there are "significant complexities involved in [making] . . . the determination whether a person is removable," and the decision is "entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government," Arizona, 132 S. Ct. at 2506; see also Plyler, 457 U.S. at 236 (Blackmun, J., concurring) ("[T]he structure of the immigration statutes makes it impossible for the State to determine which aliens are entitled to residence, and which eventually will be deported."), the Ordinance allows state courts to assess the legality of a non-citizen's presence absent a "preclusive" federal determination, opening the door to conflicting state and federal rulings on the question.  
Texas v. United States, on first brush, is not a preemption case as it does not involve a state law regulating immigration that conflicts with federal law. Plaintiff states challenged President Obama’s executive actions, mainly on grounds that the President did not issue a rule prior to implementing deferred action for parents who have citizen or permanent resident children in the US (DAPA) or expanded deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA). Still, the Fifth Circuit’s panel refusing to stay the preliminary injunction of  Judge Hanen  does not bode too well for federal preemption of immigration law and policy, which has been upheld not only by the Fifth Circuit in Farmers Branch, but also by the Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012),   which articulated:
A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials…... Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all. If removal proceedings commence, aliens may seek asylum and other discretionary relief allowing them to remain in the country or at least to leave without formal removal….

Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime. The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service. Some discretionary decisions involve policy choices that bear on this Nation’s international relations. Returning an alien to his own country may be deemed inappropriate even where he has committed a removable offense or fails to meet the criteria for admission. The foreign state maybe mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution, or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return. The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation’s foreign policy with respect to these and other realities.

When the actual merits of Judge Hanen’s injunction are considered by another panel of judges in the Fifth Circuit, they will hopefully take notice of Farmer’s Branch that was decided en banc, which upheld the federal government’s ability to exercise discretion in the removal of aliens under the preemption doctrine. Interestingly, Judges Smith and Elrod, who  decided against President Obama in the Fifth Circuit, were also among the dissenting judges in the Farmers Branch case.  
The key issue in Texas v. United States is whether states should be even permitted to sue the federal government on immigration enforcement policy. If President Obama loses in the Fifth Circuit on the actual appeal, and the Supreme Court upholds it, then this would be an open invitation for any cantankerous state politician to bring a law suit against the federal government over an immigration policy that he or she dislikes. The ability of a state to harass the federal government could be endless. For instance, the federal government can invoke its authority to parole aliens into the United States under INA 212(d)(5), and could bring in a large group of people into the US for humanitarian reasons, such as victims of atrocities by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. A state opposed to the paroling of these aliens can potentially sue the federal government if it can manufacture some harm that would befall it, like Texas did, that it would be costly for the state to issue drivers licenses to them. Similarly, a state could sue the federal government for granting deferred action to victims of domestic violence or crime victims or widows and widowers of US citizens, like the federal government has done in the past. These sorts of challenges from states would undermine the long established doctrine that immigration policy is within the purview of the federal government and Congress. Another concern for upholding preemption of federal immigration law from interference by states is the concern about the relationship between immigration and foreign affairs. See Toll v. Moreno, 458 U.S. 1 (1982); Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52 (1941).  If a state were allowed to sue each time the federal government issued a policy and blocked it, this would upset the long acknowledged preemption doctrine relating to immigration. If there is a disagreement in how the Executive Branch implements immigration policy, it is for Congress to intervene by changing the law rather than for states like Texas to file a law suit.
 Judge Higginson’s dissenting opinion (who also wrote the majority opinion in Farmers Branch) in the Fifth Circuit’s decision refusing to lift the stay correctly opined that President Obama’s executive actions are non-justiciable as they are internal executive enforcement guidelines. The dissenting opinion appropriately relied on the Supreme Court decision in Heckler v. Chaney,  470 U.S. 821 (1985), which held  “that an agency’s decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agencies absolute discretion.”  Whether executive enforcement guidelines provide deferred action to millions rather than thousands or hundreds should not make them any more or less amenable to a legal challenge by a state. So long as the President does not grant legal status, which he cannot do under the INA (and both Judge Hanen and the majority in the Fifth Circuit confused legal status with lawful presence), it should not make a difference under Heckler v. Chaney whether deferred action is granted to thousands of spouses of military personnel or to millions of parents of citizen and permanent resident children.  Charles Kuck and others have forcefully proposed that President Obama should publish a rule in the Federal Register, and this would weaken plaintiffs’ chief claim that the President violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not proposing a rule for public notice and comment when implementing DAPA and DACA. While this is an intriguing idea, it would also be a cop out. Every new enforcement decision would have to go through the notice and comment procedure under the APA out of fear of inviting more law suits from states, and this would again undermine the preemption doctrine relating to immigration.
Indeed, one of the concurring opinions in Farmers Branch  acknowledged that the largely federal discretionary immigration enforcement system, including the grant of deferred action,  would be upset if a state regulation conflicted with it, and relied on Arizona v. USA by opining:  “The Court held that the statute stood as an impermissible obstacle to the design and purposes of the largely discretionary immigration enforcement system Congress created because it could result in “unnecessary harassment of some aliens (for instance, a veteran, college student, or someone assisting with a criminal investigation) whom federal officials determine should not be removed” and ultimately “would allow the State to achieve its own immigration policy.” [citation omitted]. Because such state-to-state variance “is not the system Congress created,” the Court held that the Arizona statute “violates the principle that the removal process is entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government.””
There are many arguments that may ultimately carry the day for the Obama administration and its ability to bring relief to millions who are a low enforcement priority. In Crane v. Johnson, the federal government was victorious in a law suit against the previous 2012 DACA program as the Fifth Circuit held that Mississippi lacked standing since its claim to injury was speculative.  Texas, however, has been able to manufacture a more cogent harm regarding the burdens that would be caused in the issuance of new driver licenses. Regardless of the merits of a state’s standing claim, standing would be moot if the claim is non- justiciable as Judge Higginson found, and  Farmers Branch should provide the basis for this on the ground that a state cannot upset the preemption doctrine on immigration. It is no secret that Texas v. United States is a political fight as the plaintiff states are Republican, and the judges that have ruled against Obama have been appointed by Republican Presidents.  It is also true that the majority of judges in the Fifth Circuit are Republican appointees, but Farmers Branch was also decided en banc in the Fifth Circuit, and the panel that considers the appeal will be bound by its own precedent.


May 25, 2015

PHANTOM VISA STATUSES

By Cyrus D. Mehta
While life is fortunately not always so dull and single dimensional, a rigid immigration system may force you into a straightjacket. Is there any leeway in the US visa system that might enable foreign nationals to pursue interests outside the narrow purpose of their entry without jeopardizing their visa status?
One who comes on an H-1B visa to work for a specific employer as a software engineer may not be prevented from also pursuing activities that are permissible under a tourist visa – such as participating in a community orchestra as an amateur violinist or taking rock climbing lessons in Yosemite national park. Similarly, someone visiting the United States on a tourist visa should not be prevented from also participating on a business conference call relating to one’s occupation in his home country.  I for one have furiously sent business e mails back and forth in relation to my law practice in the United States while waiting in an immigration line of another country’s airport to enter as a tourist. Even before the age of smart phones and Skype, nothing prevented a tourist in the United States from jotting notes on a yellow pad in preparation for a business meeting that would take place in his or her home country after he returned.
There is nothing in the Immigration and Nationality Act that prevents one from engaging in activities in what I call a “phantom” status, provided they do not constitute unauthorized unemployment.  This is recognized in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) at 9 FAM 41.11 N3.1, which states that “[a]n alien desiring to come to the United States for one principal, and one or more incidental, purposes should be classified in accordance with the principal purpose.” The FAM note provides the example of a student who prior to entering an approved school wishes to first make a tourist trip of not more than 30 days. The FAM instructs that the person should receive the F-1 or M-1 student visa rather than a B-2 tourist visa.
The H-1B employee in the above example while working for her employer as a software engineer may decide to invest in a startup company. Preparatory activities such as meeting with corporate lawyers to incorporate the company and to market the business idea to venture capitalists would arguably be permissible under the B-1 business visa. Since one cannot hold H-1B and B-1 status at the same time, she can potentially engage in permissible business activities through this phantom B-1 status even while actually being in H-1B status. One must be careful, though, not to cross the line.  Once the startup is established and the H-1B worker manages its day to day affairs, she may engage in activities that would not be permissible under the B-1 visa and this would constitute unauthorized employment.
There is a clear prohibition against unauthorized unemployment. 8 CFR 214.1(e) provides:
 Employment. A nonimmigrant in the United States in a class defined in section 101(a)(15)(B) of the Act as a temporary visitor for pleasure, or section 101(a)(15)(C) of the Act as an alien in transit through this country, may not engage in any employment. Any other nonimmigrant in the United States may not engage in any employment unless he has been accorded a nonimmigrant classification which authorizes employment or he has been granted permission to engage in employment in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. A nonimmigrant who is permitted to engage in employment may engage only in such employment as has been authorized. Any unauthorized employment by a nonimmigrant constitutes a failure to maintain status within the meaning of section 241(a)(1)(C)(i) of the Act.
The question is when does one cross that line so that it constitutes unauthorized employment? This is hard to tell, but the best way to gauge this is whether the activity would be permissible under the B-1 visa for business or the B-2 visa for pleasure. Thus, our H-1B employee may regularly participate as a violinist in an amateur orchestra as such an activity would be permissible under the B-2 tourist visa. If the H-1B worker was also a professional violinist, and was paid to play in a professional philharmonic orchestra in the United States while on an H-1B visa, that would be an impermissible activity as it would constitute unauthorized employment. The most appropriate visa for a performer would be an O-1 visa (an H-1B visa claim for a violinist was turned down a few years ago, see Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra v. INS). When there are two competing work activities that can only be done under different visa statuses, the person must choose to either be in the United States on an H-1B visa or an O-1 visa. It is unfortunate that our visa policy cannot accommodate a renaissance woman like our H-1B employee and violinist. On the other hand, if the work activities can be done under the same visa, the H-1B worker who is employed as a software engineer can also potentially be employed concurrently in H-1B status through her startup entity.
The ability to engage in activities under a phantom status is especially crucial in light of the USCIS policy to attract entrepreneurs to the United States under the existing visa system, and in the absence of a specific startup visa. One encounters many students who desire to establish startups while still in F-1 student status, or H-1B workers too who have dreams of leaving their existing jobs for the companies they have founded So long as their activities are preparatory in nature and otherwise permissible under the B-1 visa, they have arguably not violated their F-1 status. The USCIS Entrepreneur Pathway Portal provides a good explanation of activities permissible under the B-1 visa that could arguably be undertaken even while in another nonimmigrant status such as an F-1 or H-1B:
The B-1 visa is intended only for business activities that are a “necessary incident” to your business abroad. This covers a wide range of activities such as attending meetings, consulting with associates, engaging in negotiations, taking orders for goods produced and located outside the United States, attending conferences, and researching options for opening a business in the United States (such as locating or entering into a lease for office space). Generally speaking, you cannot engage in any activity or perform a service that would constitute local employment for hire within the United States. What constitutes local employment for hire will depend on the circumstances of each case, but generally speaking, any activity you perform in the United States must be directly connected with and part of your work abroad. 
If you are coming to secure funding for a new business, you cannot remain in the United States after securing the funding to start actual operations or to manage the business, unless you change status to another classification that authorizes employment in the United States.
In Garavito v. INS, the First Circuit shed further light on activities that might not constitute unauthorized employment in the context of one who had established a gas station in contemplation of later applying for an E-2 visa:
The INS nowhere explains, however, what law would prevent a business visitor from making phone calls, giving employees instructions, or taking clients to their cars. Indeed, were the INS regulations to make such activity unlawful, it is difficult to see how foreign businessmen could conduct business within the United States, and it is equally difficult to see how any such regulation could fall within the lawful scope of the relevant statute.
Once the line is crossed from starting to managing the business, the individual in F-1 status must change to H-1B visa status through the startup, or if already in an H-1B status must file a concurrent H-1B visa through the startup. There are other reasons why it is good policy to permit activities under a phantom status. A person admitted on a B-1 visa to participate in business meetings should also be permitted to engage in tourism. Likewise, someone who primarily enters the United States to visit family members should be permitted to participate in an incidental one hour business meeting without having to switch status from B-2 to B-1. In the same vein, it would be preposterous to penalize a tourist who engages in communications through her iPhone relating to professional activities outside the United States while rock climbing in Yosemite!