November 22, 2015


Since the Paris attacks, 31 states have objected to Syrian refugees being resettled within their boundaries. This is so even after these refugees have been carefully selected after demonstrating a well founded fear of persecution, and have undergone a  security vetting procedure that takes almost two years.

The Supreme Court held just over a century ago in  Truax v. Raich that a state could not pass a law that deprived employers from hiring only a certain percentage of non-citizens in their work force. Truax v. Raich stands for the proposition that once a non-citizen has been admitted under federal law, this individual has a right to live anywhere in the United States, and to also enjoy equal protection under law. Thus, the Arizona law that would result in the criminal prosecution of an employer who hired foreign nationals over the percentage limit was found unconstitutional.  Truax v. Raich further upheld the doctrine of federal preemption of state laws that conflicted with the ability of the federal government to admit non-citizens,  and which also conflicted with the Fourteenth Amendment that guaranteed foreign nationals within the jurisdiction of the United States equal protection of the laws.

In Edwards v. California, a case not involving a foreign national, the Supreme Court held invalid a California statute making it a misdemeanor for anyone knowingly to bring or assist in bringing into the State a nonresident indigent person. This case involved a US citizen and resident of California who traveled to Texas with the intention of bringing back to California his wife’s brother, who was also a US citizen and an indigent person. This person was charged under the California statute that the Supreme Court found unconstitutional, and which cited  the famous words of Justice Cardozo from a prior case:

“The Constitution was framed under the dominion of a political philosophy less parochial in range. It was framed upon the theory that the peoples of the several States must sink or swim together, and that, in the long run, prosperity and salvation are in union, and not division."

Thus, under both Truax v. Raich and Edwards v. California, states cannot refuse refugees who have been lawfully admitted into the United States. Refugees, and the programs that assist them, can still defy a state’s refusal to welcome them, although, unfortunately, a state is not obligated to cooperate with the Office of Refugee Resettlement assistance programs and other private charities. They don't have to help administer the refugee program if they're determined not to, in the same way that states can refuse to have their employees enforce federal gun control laws ( as in Printz v. United States)  or federal marijuana laws (as in Colorado  at the moment) even though they cannot actually bar refugees from entering their states.

This makes it all the more important that the Supreme Court overturns the Fifth Circuit decision in  Texas v. United States, which upheld Texas’s standing to sue the federal government over its implementation of deferred action programs. Texas dubiously relied on Massachusetts v. EPA for claiming standing by analogizing greenhouse gas pollutants that Massachusetts would be harmed by due to EPA non-action with deferred action recipients who would request driver’s licenses and thus make it more financially burdensome for Texas. Just like Texas claimed that it would be injured due to additional expenses it would incur in granting licenses to non-citizens granted deferred action, a state may also sue the federal government for being harmed for resettling refugees within its boundaries due to security reasons. Whether the state can succeed is a different matter, especially since there are strong precedents against it by way of Truax v. Raich and Edwards v. California, but a state can still try. It may raise a novel theory that these two precedents involved economic issues, while a state’s ability to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks is distinguishable from economic issues.  The government in its recent petition for certiorari correctly states that if the Fifth Circuit majority decision prevailed  “Texas could claim standing to sue the government for making an individual decision to grant asylum and would clearly have standing to sue the government any time it adopted immigration policies providing relief to a substantial number of aliens in Texas in any of these categories.” States should not get standing in another law suit against the federal government on another manufactured theory of harm if refugees still settle within their boundaries in defiance.

In addition to the states refusing to accept refugees, the House on November 20, 2015 overwhelming passed HR 4038 289-137 (with 47 Democrats voting in favor) that would already make an already arduous vetting process even more difficult. It would require both the director of the FBI and of Homeland Security to personally certify each person being admitted has been fully vetted and they're confident they're not going to be terrorists. This would in effect negate the ability of the United States to admit any refugees from Syria. Both the refusal by more than half of the states and the House bill go against the long held notion of America being a nation of immigrants as well as the shining beacon, as represented by the Statue of Liberty,  for the world’s oppressed. Syrian refugees are some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and taking only 10,000 refugees who have been so carefully vetted, is already a small drop in the ocean in comparison to Germany admitting over 800,000 Syrian refugees, and France still accepting 30,000 refugees even after the horrific attacks. America should be doing more, and ought not be overcome by political hysteria after the attacks, which were carried out by people of French and Belgian nationality. We fortunately have strong Supreme Court precedents that render the refusal by states to take in Syrian refugees legally dubious, and a strong balances in our political system (the Senate still have to vote and the President has veto power), that may ultimately block the passage of the House bill. Let’s keep fingers crosses in favor of upholding long cherished American values.

November 15, 2015


Although the Fifth Circuit in Texas v. USA ruled against the Administration on November 9, 2015 by upholding the preliminary injunction against implementation of President Obama’s program to grant deferred action to certain groups of undocumented persons, the ruling may impact other executive actions that President Obama had announced on November 20, 2014, especially relating to skilled immigrants. It is thus important for the the Supreme Court to reverse this erroneous decision to not only allow the Administration to implement Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program  and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (collectively referred to as DAPA in the decision), but to also allow the Administration to grant other kinds of administrative relief such as interim employment authorization to immigrants who face great hardship and are deprived of the benefits accorded to them under the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

The majority’s ruling in the Fifth Circuit went even further than Judge Hanen’s decision in the lower district court by holding that DAPA was not authorized under any INA provision. Judge Hanen’s ruling suggested that if the Administration had followed the notice and comment procedure under section 553 of the Administrative Procedures Act, DAPA could have survived judicial scrutiny. The Fifth Circuit, on the other hand, held that since DAPA implicated “questions of deep economic and political significance,” Congress would have expressly authorized DHS, which it did not do. Hence, DAPA was a substantive APA violation under section 706(2) as it was not authorized under the INA. Thus, promulgating a rule at this juncture will not help to save DAPA.   

One of the INA provisions relied on by the government to implement DAPA is INA section 274(h)(3), which provides: 

As used in this section, the term “unauthorized alien” means, with respect to the employment of an alien at a particular time, that the alien is not at that time either (A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this chapter or by the Attorney General.  

While the ability to of INA 274A(h)(3) to provide authority to the Administration was  completely overlooked in Judge Hanen’s decision (and his flawed decision is discussed in David Isaacson’s excellent blog entitled IGNORING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: AN INITIAL REACTION TO JUDGE HANEN’S DECISION ENJOINING DAPA AND EXPANDED DACA), the Fifth Circuit took notice of INA 274(h)(3), but gave it short shrift by observing that this provision, which is listed as a miscellaneous definitional provision is an unlikely place to find authorization for DAPA. 

Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s gloss, INA 274A(h)(3)  gives the Attorney General, and now the Secretary of Homeland Security, broad  flexibility to authorize an alien to be employed, thus rendering the alien not an “unauthorized alien” under the INA.  Indeed, INA 274(h)(3) was invoked by the DHS in promulgating a rule providing employment authorization for H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders in the US who are caught in the employment based second and third preference backlogs. INA 274A(h)(3) will also most likely be invoked when the DHS promulgates a rule to grant work authorization to beneficiaries of approved employment-based I-140 petitions who are waiting for their green cards in the backlogged employment preferences.

Indeed, if INA 274A(h)(3) is discredited, as suggested by the Fifth Circuit,  many other justifications for providing an employment authorization document (EAD) would collapse.  The reason the EAD regulations are principally located in 8 CFR 274a, after all, is that the authority for most of them has always been thought to stem from INA 274A. While many of the 8 CFR 274a.12(a) EADs have some specific statutory authorization outside of INA 274A(h)(3), which is why they exist incident to status, many 8 CFR 274a.12(c) EAD categories are based on INA 274A(h)(3) in just the same way that  8 CFR 274a.12(c)(14) EADs for deferred action are.  People with pending adjustment applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9), including the “class of 2007” adjustment applicants, pending cancellation applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(10), pending registry applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(16), all get EADs based on that same statutory authority.  Even the B-1 domestic workers and airline employees at 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(17) have no separate statutory authorization besides 274A(h)(3). Some (c) EADs have their own separate statutory authorization, such as pending-asylum 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(8) EADs with their roots in INA 208(d)(2), and 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(18) final-order EADs with arguable roots in INA 241(a)(7), but they are in the minority.  And even some of the subsection (a) EADs have no clear statutory basis outside 274A(h)(3), such as 8 CFR 274a.12(a)(11) for deferred enforced departure.  If the Fifth Circuit’s theory is taken to its logical conclusion, it would destroy vast swathes of the current employment-authorization framework.

It is thus important for the Supreme Court to uphold the Administration’s authority to implement DAPA as part of its broad authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, without the need to undermine INA 274A(h)(3). As I have advocated in FIFTH CIRCUIT PRECEDENT ON PREEMPTION CAN PROVIDE OBAMA WITH PATH TO VICTORY IN TEXAS v. UNITED STATES, the government’s authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, which includes deferred action, is non-justiciable and notwithstanding the Fifth Circuit decision, never required rule making. The dissenting opinion in the Fifth Circuit decision thankfully held that deferred action, which is a quintessential exercise of prosecutorial discretion, is non-justiciable.  Indeed, one of the principal reasons why state regulations have been held to  conflict with federal immigration law is because they interfere with the Administration’s ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion. While on first brush Texas v. USA is not a preemption case, it would still provide a basis for any cantankerous state politician to sue the federal government, under the broad and dubious standing theory  that the Fifth Circuit provided to Texas, whenever the federal government chooses to exercise prosecutorial discretion. While the DACA program of 2012 will be the most vulnerable, if the Supreme Court were to uphold the Fifth Circuit's majority decision, another court would hopefully reach another conclusion with respect to INA 274A(h)(3) as providing the authority to the Administration to grant work authorization in many other contexts. 

The Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States132 S.Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012), articulated the federal government’s authority  to exercise prosecutorial discretion rather elaborately:

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.

The majority of the Supreme Court  justices ought to  latch onto the dissenting opinion, which is the correct opinion, and should reverse the preliminary injunction on the ground that the President’s executive actions regarding DAPA are non-justiciable, and thus leave alone INA 274A(h)(3). The Administration ought to be provided flexibility to provide ameliorative relief, especially EAD under INA 274A(h)(3) to a number of non-citizens needing relief. The prime example are those who have to wait for decades in the India EB-2 and EB-3 backlogs for their green card, even though they have otherwise fulfilled all the conditions. Due to the lack of a current priority date, beneficiaries who are otherwise approved for permanent residence ought to be able to obtain EADs, and the same also should apply to H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders who are caught in the employment based backlogs. Also, researchers, inventors and founders of startup enterprises ought to be paroled into the US and issued EADs under the broad authority provided in INA 274A(h)(3), and this too is one of the initiatives contemplated in the President’s  November 20, 2014 executive actions.  There are many good reasons why the Administration should be allowed to issue work authorization to noncitizens, and INA 274A(h)(3) ought not be reinterpreted to curtail this flexibility.



November 10, 2015


Since writing last year on the challenges facing employers who wish to hire H-1B workers for uncommon specialty occupations, we have seen the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) present a novel way to push back on H-1B filings: by challenging whether the beneficiary’s degree is in a field related to the specialty occupation.  This has especially been rampant in cases where the minimum requirement is a business administration degree. 
To recap, the onus is on the petitioning employer to demonstrate that the proffered position requires the “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” and “attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”  Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §214(i)(l).  The regulations further define “specialty occupation” as one that “requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty.”  8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(ii).  The regulations then provide four regulatory criteria, and the petitioner must satisfy at least one, that would qualify the position as a specialty occupation:
  1. A baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;
  2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
  3. The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
  4. The nature of the specific duties are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.  See 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).
Two recent cases provide insight into how the USCIS is interpreting the above statute and regulations.  The first was a non-precedent decision from the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) dated April 7, 2014 upholding the denial of the H-1B petition of an IT solutions company for a “Project Compliance Analyst.”  The petitioner filed its Labor Condition Application (LCA) for the occupational category “Management Analysts” (OES/SOC Code 13-1111.00), with a Level I prevailing wage rate.  The position’s minimum qualifications called for a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field and two years of project management or management consulting experience.  The AAO did not find that the position is a specialty occupation, and also noted that even if it had ruled differently, there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the beneficiary met the minimum requirements of the proffered position. 

The primary issue in the case was whether the petitioner’s requirement of a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field met the requirements of a specialty occupation.  The petitioner had argued, using an AILA memorandum dated April 4, 2012 and addressed to the USCIS director, that a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty is not required if the petitioner satisfies one of the four prongs of 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).  The AAO rejected AILA and the petitioner’s interpretation and reiterated that USCIS has always interpreted the regulations in harmony with the statute, meaning that the four prongs provide supplemental criteria “that must be met in accordance with, and not as alternatives to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of specialty occupation.” 

The first step in the AAO’s analysis is determining if the degree is in a specific specialty that is directly related to the proffered position.  Specialties that are closely related meet the “degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent)” requirement of INA § 214(i)(l)(B) easily.  The AAO’s example of closely related specialties is chemistry and biochemistry where the body of highly specialized knowledge would be essentially the same.  On the other hand, when the minimum requirements are in two disparate fields, such as philosophy and engineering, then the petitioner must demonstrate how each field is “directly related to the duties and responsibilities of the position such that the ‘body of highly specialized knowledge’ is an amalgamation of the different specialties.”  The AAO also said it would find a specialty occupation in a case where the job duties and requirements are a combination of a general bachelor’s degree and experience such that both INA §214(i)(l)(A) and (B) are satisfied. 

But the statute and regulations allow for the minimum requirements to be a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent.  When relying on a degree that is not a single specific specialty, the employer will have to demonstrate that the position is a specialty occupation by meeting one of the four prongs of 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).  And what this case teaches us is that the USCIS no longer views the business administration degree, without more, as being a degree in a specific specialty. 

The petitioner here found itself having to prove that it meets at least one of the criteria listed in 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).  To meet the first prong (a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the position), the petitioner cited the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (“OOH”) entry for Management Analysts, specifically the minimum requirements for the field: 
A bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level requirement for management analysts.  However, some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a master’s degree in business administration (MBA)… [M]any fields of study provide a suitable education because of the range of areas that management analysts address.  Common fields of study include business, management, economics, political science and government, accounting, finance, marketing, psychology, computer and information science, and English.

The AAO was not convinced by this argument.  In an ungenerous reading of the OOH’s entry for the position, the AAO said that because the OOH stated that bachelor’s degrees are typical did not insinuate that they are always required for the position.  Moreover, the AAO found that because the OOH lists many disparate fields that Management Analysts practice in (business, management, economics, political science and government, accounting, finance, marketing, psychology, computer and information science, and English), it could not conclude that this occupational category is one that requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty as required by INA § 214(i)(l) and 8 CFR § 214.2(h).  The takeaway lesson here is to be careful when relying on the OOH when there is no specific specialty entry field for the occupation because the AAO will interpret the degree requirement as too general and not specific enough for a specialty occupation. 

Unfortunately for the petitioner in this case, the AAO was not swayed by evidence that the position met the other three prongs (sample ads submitted were not in parallel positions among similar organizations (strike for prong two), petitioner could not argue that it normally requires a degree for the position since it was a newly created one (strike for prong three), and the job duties were too general for the AAO to surmise that the position is so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with getting a bachelor’s or higher degree (strike for prong four)).  The petitioner’s arguments about the complexity of the position was also hurt by the fact that its Level 1 wage rate on the LCA - a wage rate associated with entry level positions.  If an employer wishes to make the argument that the position is a specialty occupation because it is complex and unique, it cannot then only pay entry level wages.  Thus, in this case where a business administration degree was the minimum requirement, the case was denied because the USCIS is not convinced a business administration degree was in a specific enough specialty and the petitioner could not demonstrate how the position met one of the prongs of 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A). 

In a second recent case, the USCIS again questioned whether the minimum requirement was in a specialty related to the occupation.  The H-1B petition was filed by a home health care provider for a Deputy Controller, with a finance degree as the minimum requirement.  Irish Help at Home LLC v. Melville, Case3:13-cv-00943-MEJ (N.D. Ca. Feb. 24, 2015).  As in the case discussed above, the OOH profile for the relevant occupational category, Financial Managers (SOC/OES Code 11-3031.00), listed “a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, economics, or business administration” as the degrees often required for financial managers, but that “many employers now seek candidates with a master’s degree, preferably in business administration, finance, or economics.”  Despite requiring a bachelor’s degree in finance or a related field (which the beneficiary readily met with her Finance degree), the Court upheld the denial, not convinced that the proffered position is a specialty occupation because even a general purpose degree like a bachelor’s in business administration would have adequately prepared a candidate for the position, thus undermining the petitioner’s assertion that the position required a degree in a specific specialty.  So it would seem again that the business administration degree, without more, is too general to be sufficient as the minimum requirement for an H-1B specialty occupation.  It would behoove the petitioner to provide even more evidence that the position is a specialty occupation by arguing how it meets at least one of the other prongs in 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).  And it is worth noting that in this case also, the petitioner argued that the position was complex and unique but this was undermined by its classification of the position at the Level 1 wage rate in the LCA. 

Elsewhere, anecdotal evidence has confirmed that the USCIS continues to use Requests for Evidence (RFEs) to question whether business administration degrees are directly related to the proffered position.  As an example, an IT services and software solution company filed a petition for a systems analyst classified in the Computer Systems Analyst occupational category (SOC/OES code 15-1121.00).  The USCIS issued an RFE questioning how a bachelor’s degree in business administration is related to the field.  The RFE cited case law, specifically Matter of Ling, 13 I&N Dec. 35 (Comm. 1968), to point out that “business administration” is a general term for professional and non-professional activities, a business administration degree would be insufficient to qualify the degree holder as a member of the professions, “unless the academic courses pursued and knowledge gained is a realistic prerequisite to a particular occupation in the field of business administration in which he is engaged or plans to be engaged.”  This should give pause to petitioners and attorneys alike.  Whereas before petitioners may have obtained approvals for holders of business administration degrees in the IT sector, now their minimum requirements will be questioned, and they will have to show (1) how business administration is a degree related to the IT position, and (2) how the beneficiary’s business administration degree courses earned him or her knowledge that was a realistic prerequisite to the specific occupation.  The USCIS has even questioned in a different case how a business administration degree is related to the position offered: CEO of a small company. 

Through these recent cases and RFEs, USCIS has again found a way to strike back against H-1B employers, this time by focusing on beneficiaries with business administration degrees. While degrees in business administration, especially at the masters level, are considered specialized in their own right like law or medicine, and are routinely sought by employers, the USCIS’s attitude is not in keeping with the real world.  USCIS is no longer accepting at face value that a business administration degree would prepare an individual to perform the duties of positions in fields such as business management, systems analysis, financial management, and management analysis.  This would also adversely impact entrepreneurs who are petitioned through their own startups, even though an MBA program equips one with the specialized knowledge and skills to be an entrepreneur.  USCIS’s skeptical attitude toward the business degree also runs counter to its Entrepreneur in Residence policy, which is has actively promoted in recent years. 

When the candidate holds a business administration degree, employers and attorneys should consider whether to provide detailed job duties to demonstrate the complexity of the position, explain how the degree is directly related to the position, and perhaps obtain an evaluation of the position and degree requirements from a professor or official with authority to grant college-level credit for training/experience in the specialty at an accredited college or university.  And when the minimum requirements are in disparate fields, the employer should strive to explain clearly how each field is related to the position.  And, further, if the argument is made that the position is complex and unique, employers should offer an appropriately mid- to high-level wage.  Overall it appears USCIS has unfortunately placed a target on the business administration degree and employers should beware of nasty RFEs and even denials.

October 30, 2015


The approved immigrant visa petition, Form I-140, is truly precious, especially when foreign nationals caught in the employment-based second and third preference backlogs have to wait for several years before they can get their green cards. The beneficiary of an I-140 petition can also “port” to a new employer after an I-485 adjustment of status application has been pending for 180 days. Once the beneficiary has ported and is no longer in contact with the former employer, the USCIS may discover that it improperly approved the I-140 petition and revoke it. Only the prior employer may get notification, which may no longer care to contest the grounds for revoking the I-140 or this employer may no longer even be in existence. The hapless foreign national who is enjoying job mobility under INA 204(j) does not know any better, but this individual may no longer be able to obtain permanent residency.
Should this foreign national beneficiary at least be notified about the I-140 being revoked and allowed to contest it? In 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Herrera v. USCIS  answered in the negative by holding that the government’s authority to revoke an I-140 petition under INA 205 survived portability under INA 204(j). Since Herrera,  progress has been made in favor of the foreign national’s interest in the I-140 petition although it may have been filed by the employer. In 2014, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in  Kurupati v. USCIS held that a foreign national had standing notwithstanding the USCIS rule in 8 CFR 103.3(a)(1)(iii)(B) that precluded the beneficiary from challenging the revocation of an I-140.  The Kurupati court observed that the foreign national was clearly harmed as the revocation of the I-140 petition resulted in the denial of the I-485 adjustment application. The Court further observed that the notion of prudential standing, where a court may disregard standing based on prudence,  has been discredited by the Supreme Court in Lexmark International Inc. v. Static Control Components, which held that the correct question to ask is whether the plaintiffs “fall within the class of plaintiffs whom Congress has authorized to sue.” The Eleventh Circuit in Kurupati closely followed an earlier 2013 decision of the Sixth Circuit in Patel v. USCIS  by holding that the beneficiary of an I-140 petition had standing because he or she suffered injury that was traceable to the USICS, namely, the loss of an opportunity to become a permanent resident. INA 203(b) makes the visa available directly to the immigrant, and not the employer, which suggests that Congress gave the beneficiary a stake in the outcome of the I-140. Moreover, after an I-140 is approved, the beneficiary can apply for permanent residency rather than a temporary status based on the employer’s need for the beneficiary’s services. Additionally, Congress also enacted INA 204(j) that allows the beneficiary to change jobs without starting the whole I-140 process all over again. Thus, under the question raised in Lexmark, Congress has authorized the beneficiary to challenge the denial of an I-140 petition, and thus this individual has standing without taking into consideration whether a court has discretion to allow it. This reasoning is further bolstered by INA 204(j), where the employer derives no further benefit from the employee’s benefit to port to a new employer.  
Despite Kurupati and Patel, which gave standing to the beneficiary of an I-140 petition to challenge the revocation or denial, a federal district court in Musunuru v. Lynch, 81 F. Supp.3d 721 (2015) held to the contrary, that the beneficiary of an I-140 petition could not challenge the revocation of a prior I-140 as the applicable regulations only authorize the petitioning employer to be provided with notification and to challenge the revocation. The Musunuru Court also opined that unlike a non-citizen who is in removal proceedings and who would suffer a serious loss, and thus a right to be heard, an I-140 revocation does not cause the same loss. Obviously, the court’s reasoning is wrong as the denial of an I-140 petition results in the denial of the I-485 adjustment application, which in turn can place the beneficiary in removal proceedings. Fortunately, Law360 reported that this case is on appeal in the Seventh Circuit, and at oral argument, “Circuit Judge Rovner seemed baffled by the whole case, however, saying it doesn’t appear that Musunuru did anything wrong but was being punished for someone else’s mistakes.”
The prospect of the DHS promulgating a rule that would allow beneficiaries of an approved I-140 to apply for work authorization although they are not yet able to file I-1-485 applications should not diminish the beneficiary’s standing in case the I-140 is revoked. First, USCIS has authority under INA 274(a)(h)(3) to issue work authorization to any class of non-citizens.  While an I-140 petition anchored by an I-485 would strengthen the standing claim, there are old decisions that provided standing to the beneficiary of a labor certification, in the absence of a subsequent I-140 petition or an I-485 adjustment of status application. In Ramirez v. Reich,  the DC Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the non-citizen’s standing to sue, but then denied the appeal since the employer’s participation in the appeal of a labor certification denial was essential. While the holding in Ramirez was contradictory, as it recognized the standing of the non-citizen but turned down the appeal due to the lack of participation of the employer,  the employer’s essentiality is obviated if the non-citizen is allowed to detach from the sponsoring employer under a rule granting work authorization  that replicates 204(j) portability, notwithstanding the lack of an I-485 application. Still, an even older 1984 case, Gladysz v. Donovan provides further  basis for non-citizen standing even if there is no pending I-485 application. In Gladysz, the non-citizen sought judicial review after the employer’s labor certification had been denied, rather than challenged his ability to seek administrative review, and the court agreed that the plaintiff had standing as he was within the zone of interests protected under the Administrative Procedures Act.
As courts are recognizing the non-citizen’s interest in an I-140, employers may want to think twice before withdrawing an already approved I-140 petition even after the employee has left. Unlike an H-1B petition, there is no sanction for the employer who does not withdraw the I-140 petition. The I-140 petition allows the non-citizen to seek an H-1B extension through another employer beyond the maximum sixth year under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act. It also allows the priority date on that I-140 petition to be transferred to a subsequently filed petition, and provides a measure of protection for one who wishes to port under INA 204(j). Courts have also recognized that the I-140 petition enables the beneficiary to seek benefits independent of the employer who sponsored him or her, and thus providing greater rights to the foreign national beneficiary in the I-140 is a step in the right direction, especially when backlogs in the employment preferences have resulted in longer and longer waits for the coveted green card.  

October 26, 2015


By David A. Isaacson
Earlier this year, in Zombie Precedents, the Sequel, I discussed how the Second Circuit’s April 2015 decision in Lugo v. Holder exemplified a better way of dealing with precedent decisions that had been overturned by a court.  As I noted in that blog post, the Second Circuit remanded Lugo to the BIA not only to deal with the issue raised by the overturned precedent, but also to deal with a related question regarding the retroactivity of the BIA’s decision in Matter of Robles-Urrea.  In that regard, the Second Circuit’s decision in Lugo forms part of an interesting trend regarding limits on the retroactivity of BIA decisions, most recently exemplified by the Tenth Circuit’s decision last week in De Niz Robles v. Lynch.
The issue in De Niz Robles concerned the interaction of INA §245(i), 8 U.S.C. §1255(i), with INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(9)(C)(i)(I).  The former provision, as has been discussed previously on this blog in a September 2010 post by Cyrus D. Mehta, allows adjustment of status by certain applicants who have entered without inspection, or are otherwise disqualified from adjustment under INA §245(a) and (c), if they are “grandfathered” as the principal or derivative beneficiaries of appropriate visa petitions or labor certification applications filed prior to April 30, 2001.  The latter provision declares inadmissible those who have been unlawfully present in the United States for a year or more and have subsequently re-entered without inspection, subject to a potential waiver which must be sought 10 years after one’s last departure from the United States.  These provisions, as the 10th Circuit noted in De Niz Robles, are in some tension with one another.
Approximately ten years ago, the Tenth Circuit held in Padilla-Caldera v. Gonzales (Padilla-Caldera I), 426 F.3d 1294 (10th Cir. 2005), amended and superseded on reh’g, 453 F.3d 1237 (10th Cir. 2006), that §245(i) prevailed over §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), such that Mr. Padilla-Caldera could adjust status under §245(i) despite having been unlawfully present for over a year, left the United States in order to seek an immigrant visa, and ultimately re-entered without inspection.  The BIA then held differently in Matter of Briones, 24 I&N Dec. 355 (BIA 2007), finding that inadmissibility under §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) prevented §245(i) adjustment.  The Tenth Circuit, in Padilla-Caldera v. Holder (Padilla-Caldera II), 637 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2011), deferred to this BIA decision pursuant to Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services (“Brand X”), 545 U.S. 967 (2005), finding it to be a reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutory language. 
In the meantime, however, between the time of Padilla-Caldera I and Matter of Briones, Mr. De Niz Robles had applied for adjustment of status under §245(i) based on Padilla-Caldera I.  His application took so long to process that it was adjudicated after Padilla-Caldera II, and the BIA, applying that decision and Matter of Briones, denied Mr. De Niz Robles’s application.  He argued that this was an inappropriately retroactive application of Matter of Briones to an application filed before that decision was issued.  The Tenth Circuit agreed.
As the Tenth Circuit pointed out, when Mr. De Niz Robles filed his application in 2007, he had the option of instead leaving the United States, and serving out the ten-year period before he could apply for a waiver of his inadmissibility under INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I).  In reliance on the case law as it existed at that time, specifically Padilla-Caldera I, he chose to apply for adjustment of status instead.  The BIA, by applying Matter of Briones to Mr. De Niz Robles six years later in 2013, and defending that position on appeal in 2015, had put Mr. De Niz Robles in the position of having lost years of time that he could have spent towards the ten-year waiver qualification period—by now, he would have served out eight of the required ten years and been only two years away from being able to apply for a waiver, had he left.  This, the Tenth Circuit said, was retroactive application of the Briones decision, and was not permissible. 
When the BIA or a similar agency tribunal acts to overturn an existing decision via Brand X, the Tenth Circuit decided, it should be treated for retroactivity purposes similarly to an agency that declares its new policy through rulemaking.  Although retroactive rulemaking is sometimes permitted, it is disfavored.  Applying the factors that govern such a retroactive agency rulemaking, the Tenth Circuit determined that the reasonableness of Mr. De Niz Robles’s reliance on Padilla-Caldera I, and the dire consequences to him if the BIA’s ruling was allowed to stand, weighed particularly strongly in favor of finding that Briones should not be applied to him.
In this way, De Niz Robles went beyond what Lugo had done, flatly finding that it would be inappropriate to give retroactive effect to the BIA’s ruling rather than merely remanding for further explanation of the point.  This is partly because the context made clearer in De Niz Robles that there had in fact been a retroactive ruling.  The Second Circuit in Lugo had asked the BIA to address, among other factors, “whether its holding in Matter of Robles-Urrea was a departure from prior law.”  Lugo, slip op. at 5.  In De Niz Robles, the Tenth Circuit did not need to defer to the BIA on the analogous question, but was able to resolve it on its own: it was quite clear that Briones was a departure from prior law, at least within the jurisdiction of the Tenth Circuit, where it was contrary to Padilla-Caldera I.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit followed a similar path to the Tenth in Acosta-Olivarria v. Lynch, decided less than two months before De Niz Robles, on August 26, 2015.  Like the Tenth Circuit, the Ninth had, prior to Matter of Briones, issued a decision allowing §245(i) adjustment despite inadmissibility under INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I): Acosta v. Gonzales, 439 F.3d 550 (9th Cir. 2006).  Like the Tenth Circuit, after Briones, the Ninth Circuit had overruled its decision, in Garfias-Rodriguez v. Holder, 702 F.3d 504 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc), deferring to the BIA under Brand X.  And like Mr. De Niz Robles, Mr. Acosta-Olivarria had applied for adjustment of status after his Circuit case law indicated he could do so, and before the BIA and Circuit told him he could not.  The bottom line was the same in Acosta-Olivarria as in De Niz Robles: the Ninth Circuit held, over one judge’s dissent, that the BIA’s ruling in Briones could not be applied retroactively to Mr. Acosta-Olivarria, and so an immigration judge’s order granting him adjustment of status, which had been set aside by the BIA, was reinstated.
De Niz Robles, Acosta-Olivarria and Lugo are not the only relatively recent decisions to reject or cast doubt on retroactive application of a BIA ruling.  The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also did this in its July 2014 decision in Velasquez-Garcia v. Holder, 760 F.3d 571 (7th Cir. 2014).  There, the Seventh Circuit rejected retroactive application of the BIA’s decision in Matter of O. Vasquez, 25 I&N Dec. 817 (BIA 2012), interpreting the “sought to acquire” language of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA).
As discussed in more detail by a number of posts on this blog and articles on our firm’s website, INA §203(h)(1)(A), added by section 3 of the CSPA, requires that a child have “sought to acquire” lawful permanent residence within one year of visa availability in order to take advantage of protections under the CSPA that fix the child’s age for purposes of derivative visa eligibility  at a point younger than that child’s actual biological age.  The BIA held in Matter of O. Vasquez that absent “extraordinary circumstances”, this provision could only be satisfied by the actual filing of an application for adjustment of status or of analogous forms and fees used to apply for an immigrant visa from the Department of State.  (USCIS subsequently issued an interim Policy Memorandum elaborating on what it would consider to be extraordinary circumstances.)  Prior to O. Vasquez, however, the BIA had in several non-precedential decisions been more lenient, allowing a broader set of “substantial steps” towards the obtainment of permanent residence to qualify as seeking to acquire for CSPA purposes.  As discussed in a previous post on this blog, for example, the BIA’s October 2010 unpublished decision in Matter of Murillo and other pre-2010 cases allowed such steps as hiring an attorney to meet the seeking-to-acquire requirement.
The Seventh Circuit in Velasquez-Garcia held that it would not be appropriate to apply the stricter O. Vasquez standard to those who may have complied with the prior, laxer standard of seeking to acquire before O. Vasquez was issued.  As the Court of Appeals explained: “In light of the state of the law at the critical time, a reasonable person reasonably could have assumed that the [CSPA] did not require him to file an application within one year.”  Given the immense burden that applying the new rule retroactively would have imposed on Velasquez, and the tension between the effect of retroactive application and the remedial purpose of the CSPA to ameliorate the effect of administrative delays – among which the Seventh Circuit included the eight-year delay by the BIA before promulgating precedential guidance regarding “sought to acquire” in O. Vasquez – the Seventh Circuit held that Mr. Velasquez-Garcia should be permitted to proceed under the standard in effect prior to O. Vasquez.
These sorts of retroactivity issues can be expected to continue to arise in the future as the BIA aggressively uses its policymaking interpretative authority under Chevron and Brand X, at least when that authority is used to reinterpret a standard unfavorably to immigrants.  (Changes in a rule which are more favorable to those affected by that rule are not the sort which raise retroactivity concerns under the case law, since allowing someone to apply for a benefit from which he or she previously was precluded does not raise the same unfairness concerns as a change in the other direction.)  Under such circumstances, attorneys and clients should be alert for the possibility that the less-favorable BIA precedent may not apply retroactively, particularly to those who could potentially have relied on the prior state of the law.  The issue of retroactivity is often a complicated one, but it is worth exploring in appropriate cases.