April 12, 2015

AAO FIRMLY TETHERS H-1B WORKERS TO AN LCA LIKE A DOG IS TO A LEASH

By Cyrus D. Mehta

In Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC, 26 I&N Dec. 542 (AAO 2015), the AAO affirmed the Service Center Director's decision and revoked the petition's approval. Among other things, the Director had concluded that changes in the beneficiary's places of employment constituted a material change to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original petition. The changes included different metropolitan statistical areas from the original place of employment, which USCIS agents were unable to find. The AAO found that the petitioner should have filed an amended Form I-129 H-1B petition corresponding to a new labor condition application (LCA) that reflected these changes, but the petitioner failed to do so. The AAO noted that petitioners must immediately notify USCIS of any changes in the terms and conditions of employment of a beneficiary that may affect eligibility for H−1B status
In affirming the Director's decision, the AAO noted:
(1) A change in the place of employment of a beneficiary to a geographical area requiring a corresponding Labor Condition Application for Nonimmigrant Workers (LCA) be certified to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with respect to that beneficiary may affect eligibility for H-1B status; it is therefore a material change for purposes of 8 CFR §§ 214.2(h)(2)(i)(E) and (11)(i)(A) (2014).
(2) When there is a material change in the terms and conditions of employment, the petitioner must file an amended or new H−1B petition with the corresponding LCA.
In the not too distant past, employers relied on informal USCIS guidance indicating that so long as a new LCA was obtained prior to placing an H-1B worker at a new worksite, an amended H-1B petition was not required. See Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. And Trade Branch, USCIS, to Lynn Shotwell, Am. Council on int’l Pers., Inc. (October 23, 2003). The AAO has now explicitly stated in Simeio Solutions, footnote 7, that the Hernandez guidance has been superseded. Even prior to the guidance being formally superseded, employers were filing amended H-1B petitions as consular officers were recommending to the USCIS that the H-1B petition be revoked if a new LCA was obtained without an amendment of the H-1B petition. According to the AAO, “[i]f an employer does not submit the LCA to USCIS in support of a new or amended H-1B petition, the process is incomplete and the LCA is not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.” The AAO cites INA 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(i)B)(1) and 20 CFR 655.700(b) to support its position, but none of these provisions seem to suggest that an LCA obtained after an H-1B petition has already been submitted is not valid if it is “not certified to the Secretary of Homeland Security.”   The DOL certifies the LCA. There is no separate process where the DOL also has to certify the LCA to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
It is not so much the cost that troubles employers with respect to filing an amended H-1B petition. The USCIS has made it extremely onerous for employers to obtain H-1B petitions especially when an H-1B worker will be assigned to third party client sites. This is a legitimate business model that American companies across the board rely on to meet their IT needs, but the USICS requires an onerous demonstration that the petitioning company will still have a right to control the H-1B worker’s employment. Each time the employer files an amendment, the USCIS will again make the employer demonstrate the employer-employee relationship through the issuance of a humongous Request for Evidence (RFE). The employer will thus risk a denial upon seeking an amendment, even though it received an H-1B approval initially on virtually the same facts.
H-1B workers in other industries such as healthcare also get re-assigned to different locations, such as physicians, nurses and physical therapists. They too will be over burdened by the need to file amended H-1B petitions each time they move to a new work location. One may also have to await the approval of the amendment before the H-1B worker can move to the new job location. The portability provision at INA 214(n) seems to apply only when an H-1B worker is accepting “new employment” by a “prospective employer of a new petition.” 
Arguably, if an H-1B worker is being moved to a new job location within the same area of intended employment, a new LCA is not required and nor will an H-1B amendment be required. The original LCA should still be posted in the new work location within the same area of intended employment.
20 CFR 655.17 defines “area of intended employment”:
Area of intended employment means the area within normal commuting distance of the place (address) of employment where the H-1B nonimmigrant is or will be employed. There is no rigid measure of distance which constitutes a normal commuting distance or normal commuting area, because there may be widely varying factual circumstances among different areas (e.g., normal commuting distances might be 20, 30, or 50 miles). If the place of employment is within a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or a Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA), any place within the MSA or PMSA is deemed to be within normal commuting distance of the place of employment; however, all locations within a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA) will not automatically be deemed to be within normal commuting distance. The borders of MSAs and PMSAs are not controlling with regard to the identification of the normal commuting area; a location outside of an MSA or PMSA (or a CMSA) may be within normal commuting distance of a location that is inside (e.g., near the border of) the MSA or PMSA (or CMSA).
So a move to a new job location within New York City would not trigger a new LCA, although the previously obtained LCA would need to be posted at the new work location. This could happen if an entire office moved from one location to another within NYC, or even if the H-1B worker moved from one client site to another within NYC.   
The  DOL Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet # 62J at http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/FactSheet62/whdfs62j.htm also confirms this:
If the employer requires the H-1B worker to move from one worksite to another worksite within a geographic area of intended employment, must the employer obtain an LCA for each worksite within that area of intended employment?
No. The employer need not obtain a new LCA for another worksite within the geographic area of intended employment where the employer already has an existing LCA for that area. However, while the prevailing wage on the existing LCA applies to any worksite within the geographic area of intended employment, the notice to workers must be posted at each individual worksite, and the strike/lockout prohibition also applies to each individual worksite.
The AAO decision in Simeio Solutions further over regulates the H-1B visa, which is already subject to the most hyper-technical scrutiny. This in turn will deprive American companies of an efficient business model that 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 and scale that benefit end consumers and promote diversity of product development. This is what the oft-criticized “job 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, but seems to restrict when it applies to service industries located in countries such as India that desire to do business in the US through their skilled personnel
The Hernandez guidance provided flexibility to employers whose H-1B workers frequently moved between client locations, while ensuring the integrity of the H-1B visa program. Employers were still required to obtain new LCAs based on the prevailing wage in the new area of employment, and also notify US workers. However, they were not required to file onerous H-1B amendments each time there was a move, and risk further arbitrary and capricious scrutiny. The AAO has removed this flexibility, and has further regulated the H-1B to such an extent that the LCA must now always firmly and securely tether an H-1B worker through an amended petition just like a dog is to his leash, although the latter may still be occasionally let loose to enjoy more freedom than an H-1B!

April 5, 2015

NEW L-1B VISA GUIDANCE: WILL THERE BE FEWER DENIALS OR MORE OF THE SAME?

If there is one visa uniquely suited to advance America’s competitive position in the global marketplace, it is the L-1B intra-company transferee visa for specialized knowledge employees.  In an increasingly specialized economy where expertise should trump nationality, the notion of “specialized knowledge” as it affects L-1B adjudications has become increasingly contentious. For many years, the L-1B visa, created in 1970 as Congress warmed to the realization that American business had become international, sailed along in tranquil waters unburdened by controversy. In recent years, much as its companion H-1B visa has become embroiled in bitter dispute, immigration restrictionists have tended to focus on the L-1B visa as a threat to domestic employment, thus ensuring that the climate of adjudications would become rigid and restrictive. In response to the resulting criticism from business and immigrant advocates, the Administration promised a new and improved philosophy to guide L-1B adjudicators. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued interim policy guidance on L-1B "specialized knowledge" adjudications that supersedes and rescinds certain prior L-1B memoranda. USCIS said it is issuing this memorandum now for public review and feedback. USCIS will finalize the guidance effective August 31, 2015. It provides guidance on how L-1B petitioners may demonstrate that an employee has specialized knowledge. In the case of off-site employment, it also clarifies how to comply with the requirements of the L-1 Visa (Intracompany Transferee) Reform Act of 2004. The question is whether this new guidance will bring clarity and common sense into the morass of L-1B jurisprudence or simply result in more of the same excessive inconsistency that has so plagued it in the recent past. 
When President Obama announced his executive actions on November 20, 2014, there was acknowledgment in the memo entitled “Policies Supporting U.S. High Skilled Business and Workers” that the “L-1B visa program for ‘intracompany transferees’ is critically important to multinational companies.”  It was recognized as “an essential tool for managing a global workforce as companies choose where to establish new or expanded operations, research centers, or product lines, all of which stand to benefit the U.S. economy.” The memo, however, acknowledged that there was “vague guidance and inconsistent interpretation of the term “specialized knowledge” in adjudicating L-1B visa petitions created uncertainty for these companies.”  As the applicable L-1B regulation defining “specialized knowledge”, 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D),  dates back to implementation of the Immigration Act of 1990, and merely parrots the statute,  the lack of updated regulatory guidance in the face of constantly changing business practices has created a vacuum that the USCIS has attempted to fill with a series of memoranda promulgated without the notice and comment opportunity afforded by the Administrative Procedures Act. The law has not changed, Congress remains silent, but the legal standards applied by the USCIS evolve according to its own initiative. 
Contrary to what critics may say, the L-1B visa guidance is not some new allegedly unconstitutional program that will allow hundreds of thousands to immigrate to the United States via the backdoor. The absence of an artificial numerical cap seized upon by L-1B visa critics ignores the basic yet universal reality, noted below, that all L-1B beneficiaries are existing international employees of the same corporate group or organization and it is the perceived business needs of these companies, completely divorced from immigration considerations, that explains the interest in L-1B sponsorship. When the commercial realities change, the desire to retain or attract L-1B employees also changes. What critics of the L-1B visa do not seem to realize or appreciate is that L-1 petitions are a business decision. The L-1B visa guidance only seeks to clarify the statutory definition of “specialized knowledge:           
[A]n alien is considered to be serving in a capacity involving specialized knowledge with respect to a company if the alien has a special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or has an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company 
See Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 214(c)(2)(B). 
The L-1B visa guidance starts off by reminding USCIS adjudicators the very basics, which is that a petitioner seeking L-1B classification must establish that it meets the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This is a lower standard than the “clear and convincing evidence” or the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, even if an examiner has some doubt about the claim, the petitioner would have satisfied this standard if after presenting all the evidence it leads to the conclusion that the claim is “more likely than not” or “probably” true. Ever too often examiners have had the tendency to apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which is the standard that the prosecution has to meet in a criminal case to prove the guilt of a defendant. There is no place for such an onerous standard in an administrative law setting relating to L-1B visa petition adjudications. USCIS adjudicators do not have to be “convinced” of the specialized knowledge claim; it should be enough that a reasonable basis for this claim exists. Preponderance does not require nor should it be conditioned upon a showing of absolute truth or complete faith.
Among other things, the L-1B visa guidance notes that a beneficiary must possess either special or advanced knowledge, or both. Determining whether a beneficiary has "special knowledge" requires review of the beneficiary's knowledge of how the company manufactures, produces, or develops its products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests. Determinations concerning "advanced knowledge," on the other hand, require review of the beneficiary's knowledge of the specific employing company's processes and procedures, the L-1B visa guidance states. While the beneficiary may have general knowledge of processes and procedures common to the industry, USCIS's focus is primarily on the processes and procedures used specifically by the beneficiary's employer. With respect to either special or advanced knowledge, the petitioner ordinarily must demonstrate that the beneficiary's knowledge is not commonly held throughout the particular industry or within the petitioning employer. As discussed in detail in the L-1B visa guidance, however, such knowledge need not be proprietary in nature or narrowly held within the employer's organization.
The L-1B visa guidance notes the following non-exhaustive list of factors USCIS may consider when determining whether a beneficiary's knowledge is specialized: 
        The beneficiary is qualified to contribute to the U.S. operation's knowledge of foreign operating conditions as a result of knowledge not generally found in the industry or the petitioning organization's U.S. operations. 
        The beneficiary possesses knowledge that is particularly beneficial to the employer's competitiveness in the marketplace. 
        The beneficiary has been employed abroad in a capacity involving assignments that have significantly enhanced the employer's productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position. 
         The beneficiary's claimed specialized knowledge normally can be gained only through prior experience with that employer. 
       The beneficiary possesses knowledge of a product or process that cannot be easily transferred or taught to another individual without significant economic cost or inconvenience (because, for example, such knowledge may require substantial training, work experience, or education).
         The beneficiary has knowledge of a process or a product that either is sophisticated or complex, or of a highly technical nature, although not necessarily unique to the firm.
The L-1B visa guidance notes that specialized knowledge cannot be easily imparted to other individuals. 
The L-1B visa guidance sets broad and flexible parameters to establish specialized knowledge, and comes as a breath of fresh air a few days after the release of a study issued by the National Foundation For American Policy, which confirmed that Indian nationals face the highest refusal rates in the L-1B visa program. The L-1B visa facilitates the transfer of a specialized knowledge employee from an overseas entity to a related US entity. This visa should allow US companies to quickly transfer employees in order to remain globally competitive. Instead, the overall denial rate, according to NFAP report, was 35%. Prior to 2008, the overall denial rate was under 10%. Alarmingly, the denial rate for employees coming from India was 56% in 2014 while the denial rate for employees transferred from all other countries was only 13%. As expressed in Cyrus Mehta’s blog,  The Real Reason For L-1B Visa Denial Rates Being Higher For Indian Nationals, the NFAP report is a damming indictment of USCIS’s discriminatory adjudicatory practices towards Indian national applicants. How does it advance US national interests to frustrate the controlled migration of human capital across national boundaries from an increasingly important trading partner precisely at a time when we seek to create more enlarged and reliable channels of transmission for all other forms of capital? Presumably it does not, yet it seems equally obvious that this is not the USCIS’ concern since this new guidance, like its predecessors, focuses far more on what should be allowed than what can be made possible. External opportunities are subordinated to domestic anxieties. Immigration in the L1B context is or should be aligned with our overall economic strategies as they affect our key bilateral relationships. If trade and investment between the US and India are to benefit both countries, as surely they are intended to and must do, then US immigration policies must treat Indian nationals on an equal footing and not employ a double standard animated by a climate of suspicion and a predisposition to deny. 
While the L-1B visa guidance endeavors to clarify how a petitioner can establish specialized knowledge on behalf of an employee in various ways, it is hoped that it is implemented fairly. It is certainly salutary that the guidance insists that eligibility for other classifications like the H-1B visa should not preclude one from classifying for the L-1B visa. Critics have often tried to unjustifiably portray the L-1B visa as an end run around the H-1B cap, and thus falsely portray an employer’s use of the L-1B visa after the H-1B cap has been met as an example of visa abuse. The L-1B visa guidance recognizes that “[o]fficers should only consider the requirements for the classification sought in the petition, without considering eligibility requirements for other classifications.” Id. at 11.  The USCIS should look for ways to approve L-1B petitions that merit approval, not for ways to deny those whose claims are not accepted. 
On the other hand, despite its positive features, there is enough ambiguity in the guidance that would allow an examiner who is in the habit of saying “No” to an L-1B request to continue to continue to say “No.” For example, even the earlier 1994 Puleo memo listed as a factor that the beneficiary is qualified to contribute to the U.S, operation’s knowledge of foreign operating conditions as a result of knowledge not found in the industry. However, the most recent memo goes on to add that such knowledge must also not be found in “the petitioning organization’s U.S operations.” Id. at 8. This may be an impossible standard to meet if there are other employees who also possess similar specialized knowledge. Indeed, in a business climate where almost all projects rely upon a pooling of talent, a cadre of expertise must be built up for meaningful work on a substantial scale to be accomplished with great planning and significant expense. While the guidance appropriately cautions that the specialized knowledge need not be narrowly held within the petitioning organization, it provides the following ammunition to an examiner who is already predisposed to denying the L-1B visa petition: 
However, in cases where there are already many employees in the U.S. organization with the same specialized knowledge as that of the beneficiary, officers generally should carefully consider the organization’s need to transfer the beneficiary to the United States. 
Id. at 10. 
One wonders where this standard comes from. If this is what Congress intended, USCIS’ references to it in the legislative history of the L-1B seem conspicuously absent. If, as seems to be the case, Congress did not mandate or even suggest the adoption or such criteria, or even endorse its relevance, whether directly or by implication, where and why does the USCIS find justification for its inclusion? Indeed, this is all too typical of the USCIS approach to the L-1B, and other work visas as well, whereby a standard is announced and becomes justified largely because of its repeated invocation. This indeed is the heart of the matter, namely that L-1 adjudicatory standards change not when external realities or Congressional dictat require such a change but when the USCIS for its own reasons shielded from public information and discussion decides to make a change. As the L-1B becomes more distant from the economic facts that gave rise to it in the first place, the value of the visa diminishes just as the degree of difficulty in gaining an approval rises. When a work visa such as the L-1B ceases to function the way the economy functions, the underlying logic behind the visa becomes increasingly cloudy and subject to challenge.  
Other language that has been introduced in this memo, which was not in the Puleo memo, is the demonstration that that the knowledge cannot be easily transferred to or taught to an individual. The Puleo memo stopped there, but the new guidance adds that such transfer of knowledge cannot be done “without significant economic cost or inconvenience (because, for exampl.e, such knowledge may require substantial training, work experience, or education).” 
While on first brush, showing economic inconvenience in the transfer of knowledge may seem more onerous, the logic behind may be derived from the recent decision from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals reversing an L-1B visa denial  of a Brazilian gaucho chef.  Fogo De Chao (Holdings) Inc. v. DHS, 769 F.3d 1127, 1142 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Noteworthy in Fogo  was  the government’s  dismissal of  the relevance of the economic hardship the restaurant  would suffer if it had to train another employee to perform the gaucho chef’s proposed duties. The Fogo Court disagreed, emphasizing that economic inconvenience is sometimes the most concrete evidence that can be used to determine whether knowledge is specialized. According to the Fogo Court: “Consideration of evidence of this type provides some predictability to a comparative analysis otherwise relatively devoid of settled guideposts….That specialized knowledge may ultimately be a ‘relative and empty idea which cannot have plain meaning’...is not a feature to be celebrated and certainly not a license for the government to apply a sliding scale of specialness that varies from petition to petition without explanation. Suddenly departing from policy guidance and rejecting outright the relevance of Fogo de Chao’s evidence of economic inconvenience threatens just that.” Id. at 28 (citations omitted). 
It is further noted that some language on page 14 of the guidance could still snare L-1Bs working at third-party clients, and this will continue to plague Indian-heritage IT companies. While offsite employment is not prohibited, INA 214(c)(2)(F)(i) requires the petitioner to ultimately exercise control over the beneficiary’s employment and this can be best demonstrated if L-1B workers at third-party sites must be implementing the specialized knowledge of the petitioner's unique products or services. But the guidance adds that specialized knowledge derived from customized products or services rendered to the client may complement but cannot substitute for specialized knowledge of the petitioner's products, services, or methodologies. Sometimes the specialized knowledge is intertwined. For example, the petitioner customized the product or application for the client, and the L-1B is being sent to the United States to upgrade it. Even though the product or application was rendered to the client, the beneficiary possesses specialized knowledge of the product that was customized for the client. This fact pattern could potentially cause problems. If the petitioner has customized a product for a third party client, the employee should still be considered to possess specialized knowledge of the petitioning company’s product, especially if the business model of the petitioning company is to provide customized products or solutions for third party clients.
We do hope that the L-1B visa guidance is implemented in a spirit that is consistent in the way it was intended, which is to provide more clarity on the definition of “specialized knowledge” pursuant to INA 214(c)(2)(B).  Indeed, the guidance can be improved to reflect the view of the DC Circuit Court in Fogo that scolded the USCIS for applying a rather wooden interpretation of specialized knowledge. The Fogo Court held that there was nothing in INA section 214(c)(2)(B) which precludes culturally acquired knowledge as a form of specialized knowledge for a Brazilian goucho chef. Although Fogo applied to a chef of a particular ethnic cuisine, it can arguably be applied to other occupations involving specialized knowledge. Skills gained through certain cultural practices may be relevant in determining specialized knowledge in other settings, such as Japanese management techniques. Similarly, acquiring deep knowledge in a particular software application through another employer can equip the L-1B visa applicant with specialized knowledge that can stand out in comparison to others.
The L-1B visa should indeed be encouraged to make US corporations more globally competitive in the face of Congress not taking any action to increase the H-1B cap. Even if there is no requirement for the payment of a prevailing wage to an L-1B visa holder as distinct to the H-1B visa, that does not justify the unfounded criticisms against the L-1B visa as it is a completely different creature. Only employees who have been working for a related overseas entity of the US company for 1 or more years, and who possess specialized knowledge, can be admitted on the L-1B visa to enhance the employer’s competitiveness. A visa system that imposes artificial limitations on H-1B visa numbers is already flying on one engine and is in distress. If we abruptly shut down the L-1B visa too, the plane will crash. This guidance ought to come as a life saver for US companies in order to remain globally competitive. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! 
(Guest author Gary Endelman is the Senior Counsel of Foster)

March 29, 2015

AMERICA CANNOT BE OPEN FOR BUSINESS THROUGH AN H-1B VISA LOTTERY

In America, the best day of the week has always been tomorrow except, it seems, when it comes to immigration. On April 1, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2016 cap. U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, engineering, and computer programming.
The congressionally mandated cap on H-1B visas for FY 2016 is 65,000. The first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 cap.
USCIS expects to receive more petitions than the H-1B cap during the first five business days of this year's program. The agency will monitor the number of petitions received and notify the public when the H-1B cap has been met. If USCIS receives an excess of petitions during the first five business days, the agency will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to meet the cap. USCIS will reject all unselected petitions that are subject to the cap as well as any petitions received after the cap has closed. USCIS used the lottery for the FY 2015 program last April. It is anticipated that USCIS will also use the lottery again for the FY 2016. The very existence of the H-1B lottery speaks most eloquently to the economic illiteracy of the current H-1B cap. Perhaps more than any other visa, the H-1B is viewed by those in charge as a problem to be contained, not an asset to be maximized. In a political system that has an almost mystical faith in the market, the inflexibility that characterizes the H-1B cap is eloquent testimony to an absence of imagination and a refusal to let the market set the level of H-1B demand.
A few days back, President Obama addressed the SelectUSA Investment Summit, and these were his words:
So the bottom line is this:  America is proudly open for business, and we want to make it as simple and as attractive for you to set up shop here as is possible.  That is what this summit is all about.  I hope you take full advantage of the opportunities that are here.
These words sound hollow if employers who desire to hire foreign talented workers on the H-1B visas have to depend on a lottery. If an H-1B visa petition is selected, the foreign worker can only start employment on October 1, 2015. If the H-1B visa petition is not selected, the employer has to try again in April 2016, with the hopes that the employee will come on board on October 1, 2016. It is self evident that the cap hinders the ability of a company to hire skilled and talented workers in order to grow and compete in the global economy. The hiring of an H-1B worker does not displace a US worker. In fact, research shows that they result in more jobs for US workers. The notion of a nonsensical quota reminds us of Soviet era central planning, and then to inject a casino style lottery into the process, just rubs salt into an oozing old wound. The lack of flexibility that robs our H-1B policies of any notion of flexibility reflects a bedrock belief, as wrong as it can possibly be, that immigration is only for the benefit of the immigrants. It is about them, we seem to be saying, not about us. Our self-interest is not at stake. Not only is this economically incoherent but it ignores the moral integrity of allowing an employment-based immigration system to function in harmony with the economy that it is supposed to serve. It will not only fail to prepare American workers for the future; it will fail utterly to protect them against the present. That is the most telling indictment of our current H-1B approach, namely it does nothing to benefit those who are presumably its intended beneficiaries. So long as this Maginot line of defense persists, those in charge of H-1B policy will have no incentive to look for anything better.
This absurd situation can be remedied quite quickly. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2015 (S. 153) (“I-Squared” Act) was introduced by  Senators Hatch (R-UT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Rubio (R-FL), Coons (D-DE), Flake (R-AZ), and Blumenthal (D-CT). When partisan rancor is the norm in Congress, the I-Squared Act is genuinely bipartisan, and endeavors to provide critical reforms needed in the area of high-skilled immigration. The I-Squared Act will raise H-1B numbers so as to avoid these unnecessary scrambles for the H-1B visa. What is unique is that the H-1B numbers will not be the subject of an arbitrary cap just picked from a hat, but will fluctuate based on actual market demand. The cap will not go above 195, 000, but not below 115,000. In essence, for the first time, the H-1B allotment will be infused with the lubricant of capitalism, rising and falling in concert with the needs of the American economy.
Among the bill’s provisions are the following, although we refer readers to Greg Siskind’s detailed summary:
  • Increases the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and allows the cap to go up (but not above 195,000) or down (but not below 115,000), depending on actual market demand.
  • Removes the existing 20,000 cap on the U.S. advanced degree exemption for H-1Bs.
  • Authorizes employment for dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders.
  • Recognizes that foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities have “dual intent” so they aren’t penalized for wanting to stay in the U.S. after graduation.
  • Recaptures green card numbers that were approved by Congress in previous years but were not used, and continues to do so going forward.
  • Exempts dependents of employment-based immigrant visa recipients, U.S. STEM advanced degree holders, persons with extraordinary ability, and outstanding professors and researchers from the employment-based green card cap.
  • Eliminates annual per-country limits for employment-based visa petitioners and adjusts per-country caps for family-based immigrant visas.
  • Establishes a grant program using funds from new fees added to H-1Bs and employment-based green cards to promote STEM education and worker retraining.
Unfortunately, the prospects of this bill’s passage are not too strong. Senator Grassley chairs the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and he will likely not consider the bill. Nor will Senator Jeff Sessions who chairs the Immigration Subcommittee. Both of them are arch foes of positive skilled immigration reform. They also do not see that passing the I Squared Act will indeed benefit rather than harm the United States. They also have allies on the left such as the AFL-CIO and think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute who oppose the H-1B visa. The reason that they do not know how to use immigration to create economic opportunity is that they do not think of immigration in this fashion. They have a static view of the economy where the focus is on not letting foreigners steal the jobs that do exist rather than examine how employers or entrepreneurs can use immigration to create new economic opportunity. Indeed, the odd marriage of the left and the right in opposition to a rational H-1B program reflects a shared belief that immigration is bad for American workers, that no new wealth can be created, that opportunity is gone, that we have to protect what now exists rather than seek to invent that which has yet to be imagined. The H-1B illustrates the Luddite pessimism of its opponents who believe that America’s best days are behind it. At a time when change is the only constant, those who want to place a straightjacket around the H-1B vainly seek to hold back the future. Operating from these misplaced assumptions, it is not at all surprising that the United States ranks near the bottom among major economies in terms of policies to allow hiring highly skilled immigrant workers, according to a study.
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” 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, but seems to restrict when it applies to service industries located in countries such as India that desire to do business in the US through their skilled personnel.
While Senator Grassley and his cheerleaders may gloat, decent people should feel bad for all the rejected foreign national prospective employees who would have otherwise qualified to work in a specialty occupation, as defined under the H-1B visa law. More people will get rejected than selected, and their hopes and dreams will be dashed.  Many who are in the United States after graduating from American universities may have to leave. Others won't be able to set foot into the United States to take up their prized job offers. Imagine if all of these rejected folks could actually come and work in the United States. Their employers would benefit and become more globally competitive - and could have less reason to outsource work to other countries. They would have also been productive workers, and spent money in the US economy, including buying houses and paying taxes. The H-1B cap will once again rob the economy of this wonderful cascading effect. 
We have said this before and it is worth repeating again. What we are dealing with is a global battle for talent. More than any other single immigration issue, the H-1B debate highlights the growing and inexorable importance of a skilled entrepreneurial class with superb expertise and a commitment not to company or country, but to their own careers and the technologies on which they are based. They have true international mobility and, like superstar professional athletes, will go to those places where they are paid most handsomely and given a full and rich opportunity to create. We are no longer the only game in town. The debate over the H-1B is, at its core, an argument over whether the United States will continue to embrace this culture, thus reinforcing its competitive dominance in it, or turn away and shrink from the competition and the benefits that await. How can we, as a nation, attract and retain that on which our prosperity most directly depends, namely a productive, diverse, stable and highly educated work force irrespective of nationality and do so without sacrificing the dreams and aspirations of our own people whose protection is the first duty and only sure justification for the continuance of that democracy on which all else rests? This is the very heart of the H-1B maze. The H-1B has become the test case for all employment-based immigration. If we cannot articulate a rational policy here that serves the nation well, we will likely not be able to do it anywhere else.
The ongoing H-1B debate is really about the direction that the American economy will take in the digital age and whether we will surrender the high ground that America now occupies. History teaches us that those who shrink from new challenges rarely achieve greatness. In the 15th century, vast Chinese armadas with ships far larger than Columbus’ fleet crossed the Chinese sea venturing far west to Ceylon, Arabia and East Africa. Seven times from 1405 to 1433, Chinese traders sailed to the Persian Gulf and beyond, bringing vast new trading areas under Chinese imperial control. Yet, precisely at a time when China was poised to create this global commercial empire, they drew back. Less than a century later, all overseas trade was banned and it became a capital crime to sail from China in a multi-masted ship. This was one of history’s great turning points. The high ground in the information age global economy of the 21st century will belong to those who dare to dream. Maybe a rational H-1B policy would be a good place to start.

(Guest Author Gary Endelman is the Senior Counsel of Foster)

March 22, 2015

THE REAL REASON FOR L-1B VISA DENIAL RATES BEING HIGHER FOR INDIAN NATIONALS

A study issued by the National Foundation For American Policy confirms what we attorneys who work in the trenches have feared most. It was already been assumed that an L-1B case for an Indian national will face much higher scrutiny, and one was always prepared to put in a lot more work into such a case, only to expect that the case could still be denied.  The NFAP report entitled L-1 Denial Rates Increase Again For High Skill Foreign Nationals now confirms that Indian nationals face the highest refusal rates in the L-1B visa program.
The L-1B visa allows the transfer of a specialized knowledge employee from an overseas entity to a related US entity. This visa should allow US companies to quickly transfer employees in order to remain globally competitive. Instead, the overall denial rate, according to NFAP report, was 35%. Prior to 2008, the overall denial rate was under 10%
Alarmingly, the denial rate for employees coming from India was 56% in 2014 while the denial rate for employees transferred from all other countries was only 13%. The following table from the NFAP report comparing denial rates is very stark and speaks for itself: 
L-B Denial Rates by Country: FY 2012-2014

Country of Origin
Total
Denials
Denial Rate
Indian Nationals
25,296
14,104
56%
Canadian Nationals
10,692
424
4%
British Nationals
2,577
410
16%
Chinese Nationals
1,570
347
22%
Japanese Nationals
1,145
171
15%
German Nationals
1,100
161
15%
French Nationals
753
140
19%
Mexican Nationals
740
157
21%

Source: USCIS; National Foundation for American Policy.

Immigration attorneys knew it in their bones that when they file an L-1B petition on behalf of an Indian national, however meritorious, it is likely to result in a Request for Evidence, and potentially a denial. USCIS examiners change the goal posts to the point that it has become frustratingly ridiculous. We now have the NFAP report to thank for confirming our worst fears. 
Take the example of a company that legitimately produces a software application for the financial industry. It is a proprietary product of the company, and is branded as such. Over the years, the company has developed a loyal client base for this product. The product is upgraded frequently. An employee of the company who has worked on the development of this product in India needs to be transferred to the US so that she can train sales staff in the United States, and also assist in customization upgrades based on each client’s unique needs. This individual should readily qualify for the intra-company transferee L-1B visa as she has specialized knowledge of the company’s proprietary software product. This is what the L-1B visa was designed for by Congress.  Still, there is still going to be a likelihood of refusal of the L-1B visa for this Indian national employee. Even if the L-1B was previously approved, the renewal or extension request of L-1B status may fail. Indeed, the NFAP report confirms that “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicators are more likely to deny a case for an extension of L-1B status than an initial application.” The report goes on to correctly observe: “This seems counterintuitive, since the individual whose status is being extended typically has already worked in the United States for three years and is simply continuing work.” 
A prior blog  describes a common example for denying an otherwise meritorious L-1B visa application of an Indian national: 
In the denial, USCIS acknowledged that the company had a proprietary product and that the employee had knowledge of its proprietary product. However, USCIS stated that this failed to meet the definition of “specialized knowledge” because the company had failed to demonstrate that it was the only company in the industry that provided its service. To the reasonable person, such a denial seems absurd; such a policy could render obsolete the entire category of specialized knowledge and certainly undermines the capitalist values that inspired the L-1B “specialized knowledge” visa category in the first place. If the L-1B “specialized knowledge” category requires a showing that a business is the only one in the industry to provide a service, no business with a competitor would be able to transfer a worker to the U.S. under the L-1B “specialized knowledge” category. Coca-Cola would be unable to bring in a worker with knowledge of its proprietary product because Pepsi provides a similar service. A showing that an industry is the only one of its kind to provide a service is clearly not a requirement for showing “specialized knowledge”, but, unfortunately, denials for failing to demonstrate the existence of “specialized knowledge” are often the result of absurd interpretations of the L-1B “specialized knowledge” category requirements.
 So let’s try to find out why the refusal rate for Indian nationals is higher than others. Some will justify that since there are more L-1B visa applicants from India, the refusal rate will be proportionately higher. True, but this does not explain why the refusal rate for Indians is 56% while the refusal rate of the next highest number of L-1B visa applications, Canadians, is only 10%. Another argument is that the L-1B visa is seen as a way to get around the H-1B annual cap, and again, since there are more Indian nationals applying for the H-1B visa who did not qualify, it is okay to get tough on their L-1B visa applications. This too is a spurious justification. It is perfectly appropriate for an employer to try to file an L-1B visa for an employee who is qualified for that visa, notwithstanding the fact that he did not make it under the H-1B visa lottery. A person can be eligible for more than one visa classification.
Another justification is that the L-1B visa, like the H-1B visa, is used to facilitate outsourcing. In other words, US workers are replaced by L-1B visa workers who are paid less, and the jobs eventually get transferred to India. One can understand the concern about US workers being replaced by foreign workers, but this does not explain why a company which has a proprietary product that is sold to US financial services clients should get adversely impacted with an arbitrary denial of its L-1B visa application for a specialized knowledge employee.
Moreover, even if an Indian heritage IT firm, accused of outsourcing, wishes to bring in L-1B specialized knowledge employees, it is incumbent upon the USCIS to still meritoriously and objectively determine whether they qualify under the specialized knowledge criteria for the L-1B visa.   As explained in a prior blog, the success of the Indian IT global model has led to a backlash in the same way that Japanese car makers were viewed in the late 1980s. There is no doubt that corporations in the US and the western world rely on Indian IT, which keeps them competitive. This vendetta, spurred on by the likes of Senator Grassley who is the new Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and even left leaning think tanks like the Economic  Policy Institute, to deny L-1B visa applications of Indian nationals have unwittingly prepared the way for a massive dislocation of the American economy which will no longer be able to benefit from the steady supply of world class talent that the Indian IT providers have always supplied at prices that American business and its consumers could afford. What has gone unnoticed is the fact that the ability of American companies to maintain their competitive edge has been due in no small measure, to the very Indian IT global model that the US government now seeks to destroy. One can also recall Senator Schumer's infamous slip of tongue when he referred to Indian IT companies as "chop shops" instead of job shops at the time Congress outrageously raised the filing fees for certain L-1 and H-1B employers (to fund a couple of drones on the Mexican border), as if job shops is not enough of a pejorative. Gary Endelman adds in an e mail to the author “that the overly restrictive view of the L-1B discourages international trade and investment and that, by discouraging Indian migration to the USA, the USCIS actually expands the wage differential between India and the USA, thereby increasing outsourcing rather than limiting it.”
Indians are already disadvantaged in the US immigration system. As a result of the per country limits in the employment-based (EB) preferences, those born in India have to wait much longer for their green cards than others. In fact, Indian born beneficiaries of EB third preference I-140 petitions may need to wait decades before they can apply for green cards. Then, Indian three year degrees, and even other qualifications on top of the degree, do not get the same level of recognition than degrees from other countries. As a result, many who could qualify for the EB-2 now have to wait for a lifetime in the EB-3 for their green cards while their children age out, and may not be able to derivatively get the green card with their parents. It is even becoming harder to obtain an equivalency based on a three year degree. The latest revelation that the L-1B refusal rates for Indians is the highest, despite the fact that the claim is meritorious and the denial often happens at the renewal stage (after it was previously approved), only leads to one conclusion. It is discrimination. A mindset has crept into the system that L-1B visa applicants from India are undesirable, and ways are then found to deny the application.  The NFAP report is a wakeup call for fair minded people to question such discriminatory practices and to work towards a more just immigration system for people from all countries.