March 1, 2015

EVERY COUNTRY EXCEPT THE PHILIPPINES: NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN OPT-OUT PROVISION UNDER THE CHILD STATUS PROTECTION ACT

Section 6 of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) allows beneficiaries of I-130 petitions that have been converted from the Family Second Preference (F2B) to the Family First Preference (F1), after the parent has naturalized, to opt out and remain in the F2B. The American Immigration Council’s February 2015 advisory provides a comprehensive overview of the CSPA.
While the wait in the F1 is generally less than in the F2A, in some instances, it is possible for the F1 to be more backlogged than the F2B.  The Philippines has been the prime example, and was the only country where the F1 was worse off than the F2B for several years. Thus, the issue of whether to opt out of the F1 mainly concerned people born in the Philippines for several years.  Since June 2014, this has changed. The Philippines F1 has been doing better than the F2B, and there has been no need for beneficiaries of I-130 petitions born in the Philippines to opt out.   On the other hand, since June 2014, with the sole exception of Mexico, beneficiaries born in all other countries are better off under the F2B than the F1. This changed too for Mexico as of October 1, 2014, when even Mexican born beneficiaries started doing better under F2B than F1. Under the latest State Department Visa Bulletin of March 1, 2015, http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2015/visa-bulletin-for-march-2015.html, except for the Philippines, beneficiaries of I-130 petitions born in all other countries are better off under the F2B than the F1.
An quick analysis of how the F-1 has compared to the F2B since 1992 is provided below (courtesy David Isaacson):
For the Philippines, according to the FY1992-2014 list at http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/family-preference-cut-off-dates/Cut-off_Dates_Philippines_online.pdf, F2B pulled ahead of F1 in August of 1992, and stayed ahead until July of 2014.  Beginning in August 2014, Philippines F1 pulled back ahead of Philippines F2B, and it too has stayed that way October 2014-March 2015.
As for Mexico, the Mexico FY1992-2014 list at http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/family-preference-cut-off-dates/Cut-off_Dates_Mexico_online.pdf  shows F1 generally ahead of F2B, but there have been more anomalies over the years.  At the end of FY1996 and in February-March of 2002, F1 was unavailable but F2B wasn’t.  There was an inversion in July 2001 right before both became unavailable for the remainder of FY2001.  In July-September of 2005, Mexico F1 retrogressed all the way to January 1, 1983, while F2B was at January 1, 1991.  In May of 2006, Mexico F2B again pulled slightly ahead of Mexico F1 before falling behind again in the remaining months of FY2006.  In FY2007, Mexico F2B was ahead of Mexico F1 in May 2007 through September 2007.  In FY2009, Mexico F2B pulled ahead, or rather F1 feel behind, during July-September 2009.  The next inversion after that was indeed October 2014, and then it has stayed inverted since.
 Section 6 of the CSPA has been codified in Section 204(k) of the Immigration & Nationalization Act (INA) entitled "Procedures for unmarried sons and daughters of citizens," which provides:
  • In general. - Except as provided in paragraph (2), in the case of a petition under this section initially filed for an alien unmarried son or daughter's classification as a family-sponsored immigrant under section 203(a)(2)(B), based on a parent of the son or daughter be­ing an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, if such parent subsequently becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States, such petition shall be converted to a petition to clas­sify the unmarried son or daughter as a family-sponsored immigrant under section 203(a)(1).
  • Exception. - Paragraph (1) does not apply if the son or daughter files with the Attorney General a written statement that he or she elects not to have such conversion occur (or if it has occurred, to have such conversion revoked). Where such an election has been made, any determination with respect to the son or daughter's eligibility for admission as a family-sponsored immigrant shall be made as if such naturalization had not taken place.
  • Priority date. - Regardless of whether a petition is converted under this subsection or not, if an unmarried son or daughter described in this subsection was assigned a priority date with respect to such petition before such naturalization, he or she may maintain that priority date.
  • Clarification. - This subsection shall apply to a petition if it is properly filed, regardless of whether it was approved or not before such naturalization.
What Section 204(k) means is that an F2B beneficiary of an I-130 petition is automatically converted into F1 upon the naturalization of the parent who was previously a lawful permanent resident (LPR).  However, such a beneficiary may opt-out, either prior to the conversion or after the conversion, by requesting such an election through a written statement.  If an election has been made, the son or daughter would be considered under the F2B as if such naturalization of the parent never took place.
At issue is the interpretation of the phrase "in the case of a petition under this Section initially filed for a alien's unmarried son or daughter's classification as family-sponsored immigrant under Section 203(a)(2)(B)."
In a previous USCIS Memo dated March 23, 2004 (March 23, 2004 Memo), the USCIS opined that the opt-out provision applied only to a beneficiary whose initial Form I-130 was filed after he or she turned 21 or over as  the unmarried son or daughter of an LPR.  If on the other hand, the I-130 petition was filed by an LPR on behalf of his or her child when the child was under 21 years of age, and the child attained the age of 21, and then the parent naturalized, the opt-out provision would no longer be applicable according to that Memo.
Fortunately, the USCIS reversed itself in a subsequent Memo from Michael Aytes, dated June 14, 2006 (June 14, 2006 Memo), and opined that the phrase "initially filed" would be applicable to the beneficiary who was sponsored as a minor.  The June 14, 2006 Memo generously notes that the prior policy had a perverse result of older siblings who were originally sponsored under F2B acquiring permanent residency more quickly than the younger siblings who had to wait longer under the F1.  The Memo also notes that it is reasonable to interpret "initially filed" as "initially filed for an alien who is now in the unmarried son or daughter classification."
At present, beneficiaries born in all countries excepting the Philippines may opt out from F1 and remain in F2B, and thus the guidance provided in the March 23, 2004 Memo regarding contacting the USCIS Officer in Charge in Manila may no longer be relevant. According to a April 2008 Memo from Donald Neufeld (April 2008 Neufeld Memo), one must file a request in writing at the USCIS District Office with jurisdiction over the beneficiary’s residence. For example, one would have to make such a request with the New Delhi Field Office (which covers India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the Maldives) if the beneficiary resides in any of these countries.   The question is whether all USCIS District offices are set up to accept unsolicited requests of this sort, and whether such a request would truly be effective.
In addition to writing to a USCIS District Office, one should not be prevented from also writing to either the Service Center that processed the I-130 petition or to the National Visa Center, if the approved I-130 petition is already residing there. It may also be well worth it to notify the USCIS at the time of filing an adjustment of status application if the beneficiary resides in the United States.  For instance, if the beneficiary has automatically converted to F1 and finds that F2B is more advantageous, he or she should still go ahead and file the adjustment of status application accompanied by a letter requesting that he or she be allowed to opt-out of F1. The adjustment-application option arguably complies with the April 2008 Neufeld Memo because a family-based adjustment filing with the lockbox is made with the expectation that it will likely be ultimately forwarded to the local District Office for an interview, by way of the National Benefits Center. 
The timing of making such a request is also crucial. It is probably advisable to make the request to opt out just prior to the priority date becoming current or at the time when it has become current. While one may in principle be able to reverse an opt-out, it is preferable to   wait until the F-2B is current or almost current before opting out.  One would not want to be the test case for how many times you can opt out, and reverse, and reverse your reversal, if the relative positions of the F-1 and F-2B keep changing over time before the priority date is current.
Finally, the USCIS has always taken the position, affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of Zamora-Molina, 25 I&N Dec. 606 (BIA 2011) that it is the beneficiary’s biological age that is locked in when the petitioner naturalizes and not the protected CSPA age. Hence, if the beneficiary, who has already turned 21, has his or her age protected under the CSPA so as to remain in the Family Second Preference (2A), as the minor child of a permanent resident parent, then it may not be advisable for the parent to naturalize if the child would be disadvantaged under the F1, or if there is an opt out, under the F2B.  Zamora-Molina further held that the child could not opt out from F1 to F2A, only to F2B.  It is thus important to strategically consider whether naturalization by the parent would be worth it if it would disadvantage the child’s ability to more quickly receive the green card.

(The information contained in this blog is of a generalized nature and does not constitute legal advice).  

February 24, 2015

THE AAO ON H-1B VISA CREDENTIAL EVALUATIONS AND THE 'THREE-FOR-ONE" RULE


By Cora-Ann V. Pestaina

As immigration practitioners, we file H-1B visa petitions all the time. We know that in each petition, the employer must demonstrate that the position requires a professional in a specialty occupation and that the foreign national – the intended employee - has the required qualifications. It’s become common knowledge that progressively responsible work experience may substitute for any deficiency in the foreign national’s education and everyone is pretty comfortable with the equivalency ratio of three years of work to one year of college training (the “three-for-one” rule). Under this rule, a foreign national with twelve years of work experience could be deemed to possess the equivalent of a four-year US baccalaureate degree and therefore qualified to hold a specialty occupation.

Going forward on new H-1B petitions and especially as we gear up for the upcoming H-1B cap season, a recent non-precedent decision by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) discussing USCIS’ recognition of any years of college-credit for a foreign national’s training and/or work experience is worthy of some careful review as it provides detailed analyses that can help us ward off nasty Requests for Evidence (RFE) from the USCIS upon the filing of H-1B petitions.

The case involved an H-1B visa petition filed by a software solutions provider to employ a foreign national in the position of Senior Associate, Solution Architect. The petitioner based its beneficiary-qualification claim upon a combination of the beneficiary’s foreign coursework (a three-year Bachelor of Commerce degree) and the beneficiary’s work experience and training. The USCIS Director denied the H-1B petition and the AAO subsequently dismissed an appeal of the denial, both on the grounds that the petitioner failed to demonstrate that the beneficiary was qualified to perform the duties of the specialty occupation-caliber Software Developer position.

In its decision to dismiss the appeal and deny the petition, the AAO cited language at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(4) and at section 214(i)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 214(i)(2) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1184(i)(2), states that an alien applying for classification as an H-lB nonimmigrant worker must possess:
(A) full state licensure to practice in the occupation, if such licensure is required to practice in the occupation,
(B) completion of the degree described in paragraph (1)(B) for the occupation, or
(C) (i) experience in the specialty equivalent to the completion of such degree,and(ii) recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions relating to the specialty.

8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C), Beneficiary qualifications, provides for beneficiary qualification by satisfying one of four criteria. They require that the evidence of record establish that, at the time of the petition's filing, the beneficiary was a person either:
(1) Hold(ing] a United States baccalaureate or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university;
(2) Hold(ing] a foreign degree determined to be equivalent to a United States baccalaureate or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university;
(3) Hold[ing] an unrestricted state license, registration or certification which authorizes him or her to fully practice the specialty occupation and be immediately engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment; or
(4) Hav[ing] [(A)] education, specialized training, and/or progressively responsible experience that is equivalent to completion of a United States baccalaureate or higher degree in the specialty occupation, and hav[ing] [(B)] recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.

The AAO pointed out that the clear, unambiguous language at both 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(4) and at section 214(i)(2)(C) of the Act, stipulates that for classification as an H-1B nonimmigrant worker not qualifying by virtue of a license or qualifying degree, a beneficiary must possess TWO requirements - the experience in the specialty equivalent to the completion of such degree; AND recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions relating to the specialty.

The petitioner submitted three sets of credentials evaluation documents, each an evaluation of a combination of the beneficiary’s foreign education and his work experience and training. Regarding the documentation of the beneficiary’s work experience, the evaluations relied heavily upon an experience letter which indicated that the beneficiary had been employed full-time “from June 2008 through the present” and that he “currently serves in the position of Sr. Associate, Solution Architect.” The letter provided a list of the beneficiary’s current job duties. The AAO found the experience letter deficient in that it did not establish any progression in the beneficiary’s duties and responsibilities or any progression through increasingly responsible positions that would meet the requirement, at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(4), to show recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty in question. In other words, the AAO found that the experience letter did not indicate the position in which the beneficiary had initially been hired and whether the beneficiary still held that same position or whether the beneficiary’s current position represented a promotion or a series of promotions. The AAO found that the letter identified only the beneficiary’s current job duties in “relatively abstract terms of generalized functions” and did not state how long the beneficiary was performing in that current job. Because the letter failed to recount the beneficiary’s prior positions with the employer and the duties and responsibilities of those prior positions, it therefore did not establish that the beneficiary had achieved progressively responsible positions to indicate recognition of expertise in the pertinent specialty, as the provisions at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)( 4)(iii)(C)( 4) include as an essential element for establishing a beneficiary's qualifications through a combination of education, training, and/or experience. The AAO held that the letter provided an insufficient basis for the evaluators to make any conclusions about the nature and level of college-course-equivalent knowledge that the beneficiary gained throughout his employment.

The AAO also took issue with what it described as a “misinterpretation and misapplication of the so-called “three-for-one” rule” which evaluators use to recognize any three years of work experience in a relevant specialized field as equivalent to attainment of one year of college credit in that specialty. The AAO stated that only one segment of the H-lB beneficiary-qualification regulations provides for the application of the three-for-one ratio, and that is the provision at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(D)(5), which reserves the application exclusively for USCIS agency-determinations and moreover, that portion of the regulations requires substantially more than simply equating any three years of work experience in a specific field to attainment of a year's worth of college credit in that field or specialty. The AAO pointed out that evaluators seem to have adopted as their standard of measure only the numerical portion of the ratio segment of the regulation at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(D)(5), that is, "three years of specialized training and/or work experience must be demonstrated for each year of college-level training the alien lacks" and neglected to recognize the rest of the test which limits application of the “three-for-one” rule to only when USCIS finds that the evidence about the "the alien's training and/or work experience" has (1) “clearly demonstrated” that it included the theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge required by the specialty occupation; (2) “clearly demonstrated” that it was gained while working with peers, supervisors, or subordinates who have a degree or its equivalent in the specialty occupation; AND (3) “clearly demonstrated” that the alien has recognition of expertise in the specialty evidenced by at least one type of documentation such as:
(i) Recognition of expertise in the specialty occupation by at least two recognized authorities in the same specialty occupation;
(ii) Membership in a recognized foreign or United States association or society in the specialty occupation;
(iii) Published material by or about the alien in professional publications, trade journals, books, or major newspapers;
(iv) Licensure or registration to practice the specialty occupation in a foreign country; or
(v) Achievements which a recognized authority has determined to be significant contributions to the field of the specialty occupation.

Finding that the beneficiary’s experience letter failed to meet these three criteria, the AAO held that such evidence did not qualify for recognition of any years of college-level credit.

The decision also points out that under 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(D)(3), only a “reliable credentials evaluation service that specializes in evaluating foreign education credentials” can evaluate a foreign national’s education. In the instant case, the AAO therefore dismissed two evaluations prepared by individuals and not by credentials evaluation services as having no probative weight. 

The AAO also found fault with one evaluation of the beneficiary’s experience/training since the proof of the evaluator’s own credentials qualifying him to provide the evaluation included an endorsement letter from the Chairman of the Department of Computer Science at the education institution where the evaluator was employed, dated four years prior to the evaluation and a letter from the Registrar which stated that the evaluator had the authority to “recommend college-level credit for training and experience” and did not state that he had the power to “grant” college-level credit or go into any detail as the specific extent of his authority in this regard. The letter from the Registrar was also dated a year prior to the evaluation. 

The AAO decision also touched on the fact that two evaluations mentioned that the beneficiary had completed “professional development programs in a variety of computer technology and accounting-related subject[s]” and provided no concrete explanatory information about the substantive nature of those programs and what their completion may have contributed in terms of equivalent U.S. college-level coursework.

With regard to any use of a foreign national’s resume as evidence of his work experience, the AAO decision pointed out that  a resume represents a claim by the beneficiary, rather than evidence to support that claim.

This is one non-precedent decision and the AAO seems to be taking a very hard line in denying a case where the beneficiary provided evidence of his work experience. Immigration practitioners who file H-1B petitions may feel that USCIS has not been taking such an extreme stance in previous petitions. It is up to each practitioner to discuss the issue with the prospective H-1B employer and decide on whether to submit a wealth of documentation with the initial H-1B petition or take the chance that the USCIS could issue an RFE. So what can we take away from this AAO decision?
  • Most importantly, the “three-for-one” rule cannot be taken for granted. It is important that the foreign national obtain extremely detailed experience letters from former employers, which describe each position that the foreign national has held such that the progressively responsible nature of the positions is evident and indicates the foreign national’s level of expertise in the specialty. The description of the foreign national’s duties and responsibilities should make it clear that his work included the theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge required by the specialty occupation. The letters should also mention the foreign national’s peers, supervisors and subordinates who have degrees in the specialty occupation. The H-1B petitioner must also demonstrate that the foreign national has recognition of expertise in the specialty evidenced by at least one type of a list of five types of documentation described above. This can be accomplished by submitting two expert opinion letters from two college professors along with contemporaneous evidence of their ability to grant college-level credit.
  • Only a foreign credentials evaluation service may evaluate a foreign national’s education. Accordingly, if the foreign national has a combination of education and work experience, the submission to the USCIS cannot contain only expert opinions from professors but must also include an evaluation from a foreign credentials evaluation service. 
  • Any evidence of the foreign national’s training must be accompanied by transcripts and a discussion about the nature of the program and what each program is worth in equivalent U.S. college level coursework. Again, if relying on a college professor to do an equivalency, the evaluation must be corroborated with evidence from the college authorities that the professor has the authority to grant credits and must provide further details under what circumstances this professor is authorized to grant those credits.
  • The foreign national’s resume should never be used as documentation of his experience.

February 18, 2015

IGNORING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: AN INITIAL REACTION TO JUDGE HANEN’S DECISION ENJOINING DAPA AND EXPANDED DACA


On February 16th, as the holiday weekend was coming to an end, Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order in the case of State of Texas, et al., v. United States, et al.,  granting the motion of the plaintiff States for a preliminary injunction against the “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” program, known as DAPA, and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, that were set out in a November 20, 2014 Memorandum from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.  (The original DACA program, as instituted in 2012 by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, was not challenged by the plaintiff States, and is not affected by the injunction.)  According to Judge Hanen, the plaintiff States have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that DAPA and the DACA expansion were authorized in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), as well as meeting the other requirements for a preliminary injunction.
The Memorandum Opinion and Order is more than 120 pages long, so a full analysis is not feasible in a blog post, especially one being published just two days after the Memorandum Opinion and Order itself.  In this blog post, however, I will focus on what I think is one of the most important conceptual flaws in the Memorandum Opinion and Order.  It appears to overlook key sources of statutory and regulatory authority for DAPA and expanded DACA, particularly the portions of DAPA and expanded DACA which relate to the grant of employment authorization and related benefits.
In the Memorandum Opinion and Order, Judge Hanen accepts that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and in particular the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has the authority to set priorities regarding whom to remove from the United States.  “The law is clear that the Secretary’s ordering of DHS priorities is not subject to judicial second-guessing.”  Memorandum Opinion and Order at p. 69.  “The States do not dispute that Secretary Johnson has the legal authority to set these priorities,” Judge Hanen writes, “and this Court finds nothing unlawful about the Secretary’s priorities.”  Memorandum Opinion and Order at 92. 
Judge Hanen asserts in his Memorandum Opinion and Order, however, that DHS’s statutorily granted authority to set enforcement priorities does not go so far as to authorize DAPA because of the affirmative benefits which are to be granted under the program.  He similarly holds that the usual presumption against APA review of decisions not to enforce a statute, as set out by the Supreme Court in Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985), does not apply in this case because DAPA is not merely a determination not to enforce: 

Instead of merely refusing to enforce the INA’s removal laws against an individual, the DHS has enacted a wide-reaching program that awards legal presence, to individuals Congress has deemed deportable or removable, as well as the ability to obtain Social Security numbers, work authorization permits, and the ability to travel. 

Memorandum Opinion and Order at 85-86.  A similar theme is sounded later in the opinion when contrasting DHS’s statutory authority to set priorities, of which Judge Hanen approves, with the benefits conferred under DAPA:

The [Homeland Security Act]’s delegation of authority may not be read, however, to delegate to the DHS the right to establish a national rule or program of awarding legal presence—one which not only awards a three-year, renewable reprieve, but also awards over four million individuals, who fall into the category that Congress deems removable, the right to work, obtain Social Security numbers, and travel in and out of the country.
Memorandum Opinion and Order at 92.
Setting aside for the moment the ability to travel internationally, which is offered only as part of a subsequent application by those already granted DAPA or DACA and is granted when appropriate pursuant to the discretionary parole authority of INA §212(d)(5)(A), 8 U.S.C. §1182(d)(5)(A), the core of Judge Hanen’s concern (or at least a key portion of it) appears to be with the grant of employment authorization and the related documentation, such as a Social Security number, for which one who is granted employment authorization becomes eligible.  It is certainly true that those who receive Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), and are thereby able to receive Social Security numbers, become in an important sense “documented” where they were previously “undocumented”.  But it is not true that DHS has acted without statutory authority in giving out these important benefits.  
It is at this point in the analysis that Judge Hanen appears to have overlooked a very important part of the legal landscape, what one might term the elephant in the room.  The statutory authority for employment authorization under the INA is contained in section 274A of the INA, otherwise known as 8 U.S.C. §1324a.  That section lays out a variety of prohibitions on hiring and employing an “unauthorized alien”, and concludes by defining the term as follows:
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. 

8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3). 
That is, the Attorney General – whose functions have now been in relevant part taken over by the Secretary of Homeland Security – is statutorily empowered to authorize an alien to be employed, thus rendering the alien not an “unauthorized alien” under the INA.  There are a few restrictions on this authority noted elsewhere in the INA: for example, 8 U.S.C. §1226(a)(3) states that an alien who is arrested and placed in removal proceedings may not be provided with work authorization when released from custody unless he or she is otherwise eligible for such work authorization “without regard to removal proceedings”.  But overall, the authority provided by 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3) is quite broad. 

Moreover, it is not as though this authority has gone unremarked upon in the context of DAPA and DACA expansion.  The November 20, 2014 Memorandum from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson regarding DAPA and DACA (or “Johnson DAPA Memorandum” for short)  states that “Each person who applies for deferred action pursuant to the criteria above shall also be eligible to apply for work authorization for the period of deferred action, pursuant to my authority to grant such authorization reflected in section 274A(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”  Johnson DAPA Memorandum at 4-5.  Nonetheless, other than a quote from this section of the Johnson DAPA Memorandum at page 13 of the Memorandum Opinion and Order, Judge Hanen’s Memorandum Opinion and Order does not appear to address the authority provided by INA §274A(h)(3), 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3)

Pursuant to the authority contained in 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3), the Attorney General and then the Secretary of Homeland Security have promulgated regulations for many years listing various categories of people who are authorized to accept employment by virtue of their status, or who can apply (initially to the INS, and now to USCIS) for authorization to accept employment.  The list is currently contained in 8 C.F.R. §274a.12, and as noted in earlier versions of that regulatory section, it has existed in substantively similar form since at least 1987, when it was put in place by 52 Fed Reg. 16221.  Included on the list are not only such obvious categories as Lawful Permanent Residents, asylees, and refugees, but also those with various sorts of pending applications for relief, certain nonimmigrants, and many other categories.

One subsection of the 8 C.F.R. §274a.12 list that is particularly relevant here is 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), the existence of which is acknowledged in passing by the Memorandum Opinion and Order at page 15 and footnote 66 of page 86 but is not discussed elsewhere.  That provision has long included among the list of those who may apply for employment authorization: “An alien who has been granted deferred action, an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority, if the alien establishes an economic necessity for employment.” 
As noted in footnote 11 of the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum regarding the legal basis for DAPA, which also addresses much of the authority discussed in the foregoing paragraphs, a prior version of this regulation authorizing employment for deferred-action recipients actually dates back to 1981.  But for present purposes, it is sufficient to point out that the 1987 version of the employment-authorization regulations has continued in force, with various modifications not relevant here, for over 35 years.  The validity of 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) as it has been in effect for over three decades does not appear to have been challenged by the plaintiff States or by Judge Hanen, nor is it clear how it could be, given the broad authority provided by 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3). 

This long-existing regulation, grounded firmly in explicit statutory authorization, clearly states that an alien beneficiary of “an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority,” 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), which is called “deferred action,” id., may be granted employment authorization upon a showing of economic necessity.  (Such a showing of economic necessity is, in fact, required when seeking employment authorization under DACA, the instructions for which require the filing of the Form I-765 Worksheet regarding economic necessity; the instructions for DAPA, when they are published, will presumably have the same requirement.)  Thus, the regulation at 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) authorizes the very features of DAPA and DACA which so troubled Judge Hanen as explained in the Memorandum Opinion and Order: the jump from the setting of enforcement priorities to the granting of affirmative benefits.  The notion that those whose cases are given lower priority as a matter of administrative convenience to the government, should potentially be granted employment authorization as a consequence, is not some new idea created for DAPA and DACA without notice and comment, but has been set out in regulations for many years. 

One might say that DAPA and DACA are composed of two logically separable components: first, the designation of certain cases as lower priority, and second, the tangible benefits, principally employment authorization and related benefits, which flow from that designation.  Judge Hanen has found the designation of certain cases as lower priority to be unobjectionable, and has held the provision of tangible benefits in those cases to be in violation of the APA.  But according to a long-existing regulation which no one has challenged, the second component of DAPA and DACA may permissibly flow from the first. 

It is therefore logically problematic to say, as Judge Hanen has done in his Memorandum Opinion and Order, that the provision of benefits under DAPA violates the APA even though the prioritization of cases would not.  The bridge from the first step to the second was, as it were, installed a long time ago.  Although Judge Hanen refers to “a new rule that substantially changes both the status and employability of millions,” Memorandum Opinion and Order at 112, it is in fact a very old rule that has provided that those who are treated, as a matter of convenience, as being lower priority, should be made employable if they can demonstrate economic necessity.  Since the prioritization is concededly acceptable, it follows that the employment authorization and related benefits should be acceptable as well.

The only thing which Secretary Johnson’s November 2014 Memorandum really added to the pre-existing rules governing deferred action and its consequences was a set of criteria for DHS officers to use in determining whether to grant deferred action.  But since the grant of deferred action, as it has long been described in regulation, is merely “an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority,” 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), it can hardly be less permissible under the APA, or for that matter under the Constitution (the basis of another challenge which Judge Hanen did not reach), to grant deferred action than it is to give certain cases lower priority.  If DHS is indeed free to give certain cases lower priority, a proposition which is difficult to seriously dispute given basic background norms of prosecutorial discretion, then pursuant to 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) as promulgated under the authority of 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3), DHS is also free to grant employment authorization to those whose cases it has given lower priority and who can show economic necessity for employment.

In a world of finite resources, deciding which cases are worth pursuing necessarily implies deciding which cases are not worth pursuing.  Every dollar of funding or hour of officer time that DHS were to spend seeking to remove someone who meets the DAPA criteria would be a dollar of funding or hour of time that it could not spend seeking to remove a more worthy target.  The DAPA criteria are flexible by their nature, including a final criterion of “present[ing] no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, makes the grant of deferred action inappropriate,” Johnson Memorandum at 4.  But where no such negative factors exist, DHS has reasonably determined that parents of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents who meet the other DAPA criteria are likely to be appropriate candidates for deferred action—which is, to repeat, simply “an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority,” 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14).  Having made that determination, DHS is authorized by both statute and regulation to confer employment authorization on those whose cases it has given this lower priority.  In ruling otherwise, without addressing either 8 C.F.R. §1324a(h)(3) or the implications of 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) promulgated under its authority, Judge Hanen appears to have overlooked the proverbial elephant in the room.

February 8, 2015

WHO IS 'LAWFULLY PRESENT' UNDER THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT?

Had I been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.
Alphonse X the Wise of Castile
Many non-citizens will be subject to additional payment to the Internal Revenue Service if they do not maintain “minimum essential healthcare coverage” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act – ACA).  This is known as the “individual mandate” or the “individual shared responsibility provision.”  By the same token, eligible non-citizens can also access health plans on the health exchanges or Marketplace. The last day to enroll is February 15, 2015 for the current year.  Our first blog discussed the impact of the ACA on lawful permanent residents or green card holders who reside outside the United States.  This blog focuses on non-citizens who are lawfully present in the United States. Section 1411(a) (1) of the ACA renders non-citizens lawfully present in the United States subject to the individual mandate.
The ACA is linked to immigration issues, just as it is joined at the hip with tax law, and it behooves the careful practitioner to consider the commonality   of all these issues and how each of them can inform our understanding of the others when advising non-citizen clients. While an immigration practitioner need not be an expert in other disciplines, he or she must be aware of the eligible statuses for coverage under the ACA, the deadlines for enrollment, and the potential for the client to being subject to an additional payment to the IRS for failing to obtain coverage, unless the client can qualify for an exemption.
The definition of “lawfully present” in 45 CFR 155.2 tracks the prior definition, as it applied to pre-existing condition insurance plans, under 45 CFR 152.2.  A summary of the definitions of “lawfully present” is posted on healthcare.gov, which we reproduce below:

Immigrants with the following statuses qualify to use the Marketplace:

  • Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR/Green Card holder)
  • Asylee
  • Refugee
  • Cuban/Haitian Entrant
  • Paroled into the U.S.
  • Conditional Entrant Granted before 1980
  • Battered Spouse, Child and Parent
  • Victim of Trafficking and his/her Spouse, Child, Sibling or Parent
  • Granted Withholding of Deportation or Withholding of Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention against Torture (CAT)
  • Individual with Non-immigrant Status (includes worker visas, student visas, and citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau)
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)
  • Deferred Action Status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not an eligible immigration status for applying for health insurance)
  • Lawful Temporary Resident
  • Administrative order staying removal issued by the Department of Homeland Security
  • Member of a federally-recognized Indian tribe or American Indian Born in Canada
  • Resident of American Samoa

Applicants for any of these statuses qualify to use the Marketplace:

  • Temporary Protected Status with Employment Authorization
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
  • Victim of Trafficking Visa
  • Adjustment to LPR Status
  • Asylum (see note below)
  • Withholding of Deportation, or Withholding of Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention against Torture (CAT) (see note below)
Applicants for asylum are eligible for Marketplace coverage only if they’ve been granted employment authorization or are under the age of 14 and have had an application pending for at least 180 days.

People with the following statuses and who have employment authorization qualify for the Marketplace:

  • Registry Applicants
  • Order of Supervision
  • Applicant for Cancellation of Removal or Suspension of Deportation
  • Applicant for Legalization under Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA)
  • Legalization under the LIFE Act
Note that undocumented aliens are not included in the above definitions, including beneficiaries of the 2012 DACA program as well as future recipients of the November 20, 2014 Obama Executive Actions that expand DACA as well as the Deferred Action for Parents Accountability program (DAPA). 
While the above list provides a comprehensive summary and quick reference, some analysis of the actual regulatory definitions is warranted under 45 CFR 152.2.
A nonimmigrant is only considered “lawfully present” if he or she “has not violated the terms of the status under which he or she was admitted or to which he or she has changed after admission.” See 45 CFR 152.2(2). This is unclear as a nonimmigrant may have technically violated his or her status unwittingly in many ways, but may have still have eventually cured it. For example, if a person on an H-1B visa was mistakenly admitted into the United States for a lesser period of time than the validity period in the H-1B approval notice, and does not realize this, he or she has potentially technically violated status. Still, this person can hope to correct it by filing a late extension of status in the US, or leaving the US and returning, or at times, asking the CBP to extend the date within the US.  An individual who is presently in lawful status should be considered “lawfully present” in order to access a health plan on the exchange. The larger point is that maintenance of status may now have a wider significance beyond the more modest confines of the INA. In turn, this commends the value of an inter-disciplinary approach to the whole question of ACA jurisprudence. Interestingly, while 45 C.F.R. 152.2 gives a precise definition of “lawfully present” it does not contemplate nor define “unlawful presence” thus reflecting a refreshing preference for inclusion as opposed to exclusion, something the INA would do well to emulate.
Under 45 CFR 152.2(4) (vii), only an applicant for adjustment of status whose visa petition has been approved is subject to the ACA. However, it is possible to file an adjustment of status application concurrently with an I-130 or I-140 immigrant visa petition, without the need for such a petition to be approved. Thus, one who has filed an adjustment of status application concurrently with an I-130 or I-140 petition cannot have access to a plan under the health exchange until the petition is approved. Still, once the person is issued employment authorization after filing an adjustment application pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c) (9) he or she can access the ACA even if the I-130 or I-140 petition has not been approved. 45 CFR 152.2(4) (iii) renders one who has been granted employment authorization under 8 CFR 274a.12(c) (9), (10), (16), (18), (20), (22), or (24) as lawfully present. This means that someone in a period of stay authorized by the Attorney General (POSABAG), such as a timely extension filed by the same employer, could take advantage of the ACA. Even if a noncitizen is lawfully present, he or she has to also be a tax resident. IRS regulations at 26 CFR 1.5000A-3(c) exempt noncitizens who are nonresident tax aliens from the individual mandate. So while a non-citizen may be lawfully present and can access the health exchange, he or she will not be subject to the individual mandate under the IRS rules. It is also worth noting that one who is lawfully present may not be eligible to access health insurance who is here in the United States briefly. 45 CFR 155.305, which establishes eligibility criteria for enrolling exchange, requires the applicant to be a “citizen or national of the United States, or is a non-citizen who is lawfully present in the United States, and is reasonably expected to be a citizen, national, or a non-citizen who is lawfully present for the entire period for which enrollment is sought.” See 45 CFR 155.305(a) (1).This durational requirement reinforces our understanding that the ACA is not a new form of government welfare nor can we view such a durational requirement as denying or abridging a fundamental constitutional right. Compare this to the lesson taught by the Supreme Court in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969) that struck down waiting periods for public assistance.
 Being a “resident” for immigration purposes is not the same as being a “resident” for tax purposes. Tax law uses many of the same terms as immigration but the identical words or concepts can have dramatically different meaning. It is a measure of the ever-growing extent to which immigration has become inextricably interconnected to so many other areas of American life that we are increasingly prone to use immigration terms such as “lawfully present” when discussing non-immigration topics, sometimes with significantly different meanings. Definition therefore is inherently contextual and the relationship of the ACA to our immigration law is a fluid and dynamic one. INA § 101(a)(33) states: “The term ‘residence’ means the place of general abode; the place of general abode of a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.” Note that the concept of domicile, which considers the applicant’s intent rather than the place where he or she actually lives, is absent from this definition. Remember, in the naturalization context,  if your client did not stay away one year, he or she must be considered a resident of the same state where they lived before leaving. 8 C.F.R. 316.5 (b) (5). See Accardi V. Shaughnessy, 347 US 260 (1954); Morton v. Ruiz, 415 US 199, 235 (1974) (“Where the rights of individuals are affected, it is incumbent upon agencies to follow their own procedures”).
Nonimmigrants are considered to be resident aliens for tax purposes if they meet the “substantial presence” test. Non-citizens are considered residents through the substantial presence test if they are physically present in the US for 31 days during the current year; and a total of 183 days during a 3-year period by counting all the days of the current calendar year, 1/3 days of the previous calendar year, and 1/6 days of the second previous calendar year. See IRC §7701(b) (1) and (3).
Even those who become tax residents under the substantial presence test may continue to remain non-residents if they meet a closer connection to a foreign country test. However, not all may be able to meet this test. A frequent tourist to the US in B-2 status can potentially become a tax resident under the substantial presence test, and thus subject to the ACA. If this tourist is the subject of an immigrant visa petition, such as an I-130 petition filed by a sibling, whose date has not become current, he or she can no longer meet the closer connection test. At the time of filing the 1040 return, this individual will be subject to the shared responsibility payment.
Most students lawfully present in the US in F, J, M or Q status, or their dependents, are exempt for 5 years from counting days of presence under the substantial presence test. Even after five years and having become subject to the substantial presence test, they can continue to be treated as nonresident aliens if they meet the closer connection to a foreign country test. Teachers or trainees present in the US in J or Q status (and their dependents) are exempt from counting days towards substantial presence only for the first two years in the United States. This includes all Js and Qs who are not students, such as research scholars, professors, short-term scholars, specialists, physicians, trainees, interns, au pairs, and camp counselors. Even if these students are not subject to the individual mandate, they can still qualify for coverage through the health exchanges in the event that the school does not provide equivalent coverage
It is hard today to harken back to a time when immigration was less central to the rhythm of American life than it is now. Yet, before the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), most employers did not need to worry about immigration nor was immigration policy a matter of white-hot national debate. The lasting importance of IRCA was to bring immigration and immigrants in from the shadows, a process that continues to the present day.   The ACA continues this process of inclusion and the extent to which the marriage of immigration with health care can be a lasting and meaningful one will go far towards assuring the success of both. 

(Guest author Gary Endelman is the Senior Counsel at Foster)



February 2, 2015

MYTH OR REALITY: IS THE DHS TRULY SERIOUS ABOUT VISA MODERNIZATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY?

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

We cannot teach people.  We can only help them discover it within themselves.  
Galileo Galilei
On November 21, 2014, as part of President Obama’s Executive Actions, the President issued a memorandum to modernize and streamline the U.S. immigrant and nonimmigrant visa system for the 21st century. The DHS followed up by publishing a notice in the Federal Register on December 30, 2014 inviting responses to 18 questions relating to visa modernization. We responded in great depth to 2 of the 18 questions as they relate to what we have been advocating for several years to administratively fix the immigration system though big picture and out of the box ideas. Our ideas are also included in the more expansive comments provided by the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, and we salute all of the lawyers who were part of the comment team and who came up with the most innovative suggestions to modernize the visa system. We  hope not without reason that this is not an exercise in futility, and that the DHS will seriously consider our ideas and those of our colleagues, including the weighty comments from the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other stakeholders in the immigration advocacy community. There is no escaping the fact that our visa system designed decades ago to accommodate much less sustanined and far lower levels of migration  urgently needs to be brought into alignment with 21st century needs and challenges. If Congress is unable or unwilling to reform the system, it is incumbent upon the Administration to find ways to reinterpret provisions within the existing INA to ensure that we have an immigration system that can help US employers remain globally competitive and that can attract the best talent to our shores.  It remains to be seen whether all the wonderful ideas in the Supporting US High Skilled Business and Workers memo will ever see the light of the day.  One way for the Administration to demonstrate that it means what it says is to promptly promulgate the rule that would allow H-4 dependent spouses to work. This rule was proposed in May 2014, and it is about time for the rule to be finalized. If the H-4 rule is still pending approval from the powers that be within the governmental bureaucracy, one wonders how much longer would it take for the DHS to lengthen the time period for STEM Optional Practical Training or establish a parole policy to attract entrepreneurs into the US. 
At the end of the day, immigration policy is not only, or even primarily, about the immigrants but about how the United States can attract and retain the best and the brightest regardless of nationality who wish to join us in writing the next chapter of our ongoing national story. There are two ways to achieve progress. Congress can change the law, which it persists in refusing to do, or the President can interpret the existing law in new ways, which he has done. Immigration reform should not be viewed as only a Latino issue, it is an American issue. The view that reform is a Latino issue is not surprising due to two reasons. First, most Americans continue to think that immigration benefits the immigrants not themselves. Second, because of that, business immigration is not deemed to have the ethical legitimacy the same way that family migration has. For that to change, for sweeping CIR to become reality, all of us must realize that immigration is not a problem to be controlled but an asset to be maximized.
We reproduce, below, our comment:
January 28, 2015
Attn: Laura Dawkins
Chief of the Regulatory Coordination Division
USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy
20 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20529-2140

Re:  Notice of Request for Information: Immigration Policy
7
9 Fed. Reg. 78,458 (December 30, 2014)
Docket ID: USCIS-2014-0014 

Dear Ms. Dawkins:
Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta have advocated for administrative fixes to improve the immigration system for several years. In The Tyranny of Priority Dates[1] and Why We Can’t Wait: How President Obama Can Erase Immigrant Visa Backlogs with the Stroke of a Pen,[2] we  advocated that the President had broad authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to ameliorate the plight of many who were caught in the crushing immigrant immigrant visa backlogs, along with many widely disseminated blogs[3] that further fine-tuned and refined the proposals made in our original articles. We are thankful for the opportunity to respond to selected questions in the above referenced Request for Information relating to Visa Modernization which we believe will greatly improve our immigration system. We respond specifically to two of the questions based on arguments we have previously made in our articles and blogs.
5. What are the most important policy and operational changes that would streamline and improve the process of applying for adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident while in the United States?
We propose that aliens caught in the employment-based (EB) or family-based (FB) backlogs could file an adjustment of status application, Form I-485, based on a broader definition of visa availability. It would promote efficiency, maximize transparency and enhance fundamental fairness by allowing someone to file an I-485 application sooner than many years later if all the conditions towards the green card have been fulfilled, such as labor certification and approval of the Form I-140, Form I-130 or Form I-526. The EB-5 for China has reached the cap, and there will be retrogression in the EB-5 in the same way that there has been retrogression in the EB-2 and EB-3 for India. Systemic visa retrogress retards economic growth, prevents family unity and frustrates individual ambition all for no obvious national purpose. The current priority date system has become a de facto national origin quota perpetrating a continuing injustice against China and India. Rather than regulating immigration, it now serves to prevent it, making the opportunity to migrate permanently to the United States a cruel joke and frustrating the objective of geographic neutrality that we all thought had been achieved by enactment of the Immigration Act of 1965.
Upon filing of an I-485 application, one can enjoy the benefits of “portability” under INA § 204(j) in some of the EB preferences, and children who are turning 21 can gain the protection of the Child Status Protection Act if their age is frozen below 21. Moreover, the applicant, including derivative family members, can also obtain employment authorization. We acknowledge that INA §245(a)(3) only allows the filing of an I-485 application when the visa is “immediately available” to the applicant, and this would need a Congressional fix. What may be less well known, though no less important, is the fact that the INA itself offers no clue as to what “visa availability” means. While it has always been linked to the monthly State Department Visa Bulletin, this is not the only definition that can be employed nor is there any indication that Congress preferred or mandated this intepretation. Therefore, we propose a way for USCIS to allow for an I-485 filing before the priority date becomes current, and still be faithful to §245(a)(3).
The only regulation that defines visa availability is 8 C.F.R. §245.1(g)(1), which provides:

An alien is ineligible for the benefits of section 245 of the Act unless an immigrant visa is immediately available to him or her at the time the application is filed. If the applicant is a preference alien, the current Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Bulletin will be consulted to determine whether an immigrant visa is immediately available. An immigrant visa is considered available for accepting and processing the application Form I-485 [if] the preference category applicant has a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier than the date shown in the Bulletin (or the Bulletin shows that numbers for visa applicants in his or her category are current). An immigrant visa is also considered immediately available if the applicant establishes eligibility for the benefits of Public Law 101-238. Information concerning the immediate availability of an immigrant visa may be obtained at any Service office.
Under 8 C.F.R. §245.1(g)(1), why must visa availability be based solely on whether one has a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier shown in the Visa Bulletin? Why can’t “immediately available” be re-defined based on a qualifying or provisional date? We are all so accustomed to paying obeisance to the holy grail of “priority date” that we understandably overlook the fact that this all-important gatekeeper is nowhere defined. Given the collapse of the priority date system, an organizing  principle that was never designed to accommodate the level of demand that we have now and will likely continue to experience,   all of us must get used to thinking of it more as a journey than a concrete point in time. The adjustment application would only be approved when the provisional date becomes current, but the new definition of immediately available visa can encompass a continuum: a provisional date that leads to a final date, which is only when the foreign national can be granted lawful permanent resident status but the provisional date will still allow a filing as both provisional and final dates will fall under the new regulatory definition of immediately available. During this period, the I-485 application is properly filed under INA §245(a)(3) through the new definition of immediately available through the qualifying or provisional date.
We acknowledge that certain categories like the India EB-3 may have no visa availability whatsoever. Still, the State Department can reserve one visa in the India EB-3 like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than consumed by the alien beneficiary.   So long as there is one visa kept available, our proposal to allow for an I-485 filing through a provisional filing date would be consistent with INA §245(a)(3).
We propose the following amendments to 8 C.F.R. §245.1(g)(1), shown here in bold, that would expand the definition of visa availability:
An alien is ineligible for the benefits of section 245 of the Act unless an immigrant visa is immediately available to him or her at the time the application is filed. If the applicant is a preference alien, the current Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Bulletin will be consulted to determine whether an immigrant visa is immediately available. An immigrant visa is considered available for accepting and processing the application Form I-485 [if] the preference category applicant has a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier than the date shown in the Bulletin (or the Bulletin shows that numbers for visa applicants in his or her category are current) (“current priority date”). An immigrant visa is also considered available for provisional submission of the application Form I-485 based on a provisional priority date without reference to current priority date. No provisional submission can be undertaken absent prior approval of the visa petition and only if visas in the preference category have not been exhausted in the fiscal year. Final adjudication only occurs when there is a current priority date. An immigrant visa is also considered immediately available if the applicant establishes eligibility for the benefits of Public Law 101-238. Information concerning the immediate availability of an immigrant visa may be obtained at any Service office.
Once 8 C.F.R. §245.1(g)(1) is amended to allow adjustment applications to be filed under INA § 245(a)(3), we propose similar amendments in the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual to even the playing field for beneficiaries of approved I-140 and I-130 petitions who are outside the U.S. so as not to give those here who are eligible for adjustment of status an unfair advantage. Since the visa will not be valid when issued in the absence of a current priority date, it will be necessary for USCIS to parole such visa applicants in to the United States. The authors suggest the insertion of the following sentence, shown here in bold and deletion of another sentence, in 9 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 42.55 PN 1.1, as follows:
9 FAM 42.55 PN1.1 Qualifying Dates
“Qualifying dates” are established by the Department to ensure that applicants will not be officially informed of requisite supporting documentation requirements prematurely, i.e., prior to the time that the availability of a visa number within a reasonable period can be foreseen. Therefore, post or National Visa Center (NVC) will not officially and proactively notify applicants of additional processing requirements unless the qualifying date set by the Department (CA/VO/F/I) encompasses the alien’s priority date. Otherwise, it is likely that some documents would be out-of date by the time a visa number is available and delay in final action would result. An immigrant visa is also considered available for provisional submission of the immigrant visa application on Form DS 230 based on a provisional priority date without reference to current priority date. No provisional submission can be undertaken absent prior approval of the visa petition and only if visas in the preference category have not been exhausted in the fiscal year. Issuance of the immigrant visa for the appropriate category only occurs when there is a current priority date. 
We believe our proposal would not be creating new visa categories, but simply allowing those who are already on the pathway to permanent residence, but hindered by the crushing priority date backlogs, to apply for adjustment of status or be paroled into the U.S. It would be within the discretion of the USCIS to allow such submissions on a provisional basis in the absence of a current priority date under the current traditional definition of visa availability so that, in a strictly technical sense, actual “filing” and final approval would be deferred until the actual availability of an immigrant visa number did present itself. Allowing time for the perfection of such a provisional submission is based upon well-established patent law procedure which allows for a 12 month period following initial filing to finalize the skeletal patent application. Another proposal that has been suggested is to allow the beneficiary of an approved I-140 to remain in the United States, and grant him or her an employment authorization document (EAD) if working in the same or similar occupation. While such a proposal allows one to avoid redefining visa availability in order to file an I-485 application, as we have suggested, we do not believe that a stand- alone I-140 petition can allow for portability under INA §204(j) or protection under the CSPA. Portability can only be exercised if there is an accompanying I-485 application. Still, at the same time, the government has authority to grant open market EADs to any category of aliens pursuant to INA §274A(h)(3). Under the broad authority that the government has to issue EADs pursuant to §274A(h)(3), the validity of the underlying labor certification would no longer be relevant.
Allowing early adjustment of status with companion work authorization, travel permission, and AC 21-like adjustment portability  will make possible the green card on a provisional basis in all but name. However, this is not all. The most important benefit may be the freezing of children’s ages under the formula created by the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). If the White House will only grant EAD and Parole to I-140 beneficiaries, but stop short of allowing adjustment, then, on a massive scale, their children will turn 21, thereby aging out, long before the magic time for I-485 submission ever arrives.  This is because Section 3 of the CSPA only speaks of freezing the child’s age when the petition has been approved and the visa number has become available. Also,  the child must seek to acquire lawful permanent resident status within one year following petition approval and visa availability. Since Matter of O.Vazquez,  25 I&N Dec. 817 (BIA 2012) absent extraordinary circumstances, only the filing of the I-485 can do that. Under the current definition of visa availability, joined at the hip to the Visa Bulletin, they have no hope. Only through a modified definition coupled with the notion of provisional adjustment can they retain the CSPA age. This is why invocation of early adjustments themselves, not merely EAD and Parole, to beneficiaries of I-140 petitions is so manifestly necessary. However, precisely as in the INA, the CSPA contains no definition of visa availability. A change in the applicable regulatory meaning along the lines we suggest will apply to CSPA and prevent the children of I-140 beneficiaries from aging out.  Granting the EAD and advance parole will sadly have no such effect.  Only early adjustment can do that. This is especially relevant now since the Supreme Court in Scialabba v. Cuellar De Osorio, 134 S. Ct. 2191, 573 US __, 189 L. Ed. 2d 98 substantially narrowed the utility of priority date retention. The redefinition of visa availability that we propose not only provides the legal underpinning for early adjustment of status but also allows the children of I-140 petition beneficiaries to derive a priceless immigration benefit through this family relationship that would otherwise be lost. Given the importance of preserving the age of a child under the CSPA, why only restrict early I-485 filings to beneficiaries of I-140 petitions? Our proposed redefinition of visa availability ought to also apply uniformly to beneficiaries of family based I-130 petitions too. Not only can children who age out not benefit from the CSPA, how many parents will want to remain in the United States if their children cannot? 
15. What are the most important policy and operational changes, if any, available within the existing statutory framework to ensure that administrative policies, practices, and systems fully and fairly allocate all of the immigrant visa numbers that Congress provides for an intends to be issued each year going forward?
Unitary Counting of Derivatives
There is nothing in the Immigration and Nationality Act that requires each derivative family member to be counted on an individual basis against the worldwide and country caps.  That being so, President Obama tomorrow can issue an executive action providing that this long-established practice be stopped.  That single stroke of the pen would revolutionize United States immigration policy and, at long last, restore balance and fairness to a dysfunctional immigration system badly in need of both. If all members of a family are counted together as one unit, rather than as separate and distinct individuals, systemic visa retrogression will quickly become a thing of the past. The issue is not whether family members should be exempt but rather how they should be counted.
We proposed this idea in  The Tyranny of Priority Dates, supra,  and How President Obama Can Erase Immigrant Visa Backlogs with the Stroke of a Pen, supra,  long before it achieved the intellectual acceptance in many quarters that it now enjoys.[4] We are pleased to now find that President Obama is considering this proposal as part of the package of administrative reform measures he announced on November 20, 2014. That this is so suggests the broad possibilities for change when the vigorous and disciplined exercise of executive initiative allows genuine progress to overcome the paralysis of political stalemate.
We know of no explicit authorization for derivative family members to be counted under either the Employment Based or Family Based preference in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The treatment of family members is covered by an explicit section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Section 203(d). Let us examine what INA §203(d) says:
A spouse of child defined in subparagraphs (A), (B), (C), (D), or (E) of section 1101(b) of this title shall, if not otherwise entitled to an immigrant status and the immediate issuance of a visa under subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section, be entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration provided in the respective subsection, if accompanying or following to join, the spouse or parent.
The EB and FB numbers ought not to be held hostage to the number of family members each principal beneficiary brings with him or her. Nor should family members be held hostage to the quotas. We have often seen the principal beneficiary being granted permanent residency, but the derivative family members being left out, when there were not sufficient visa numbers under the preference category during that given year. If all family members are counted as one unit, such needless separation of family members will never happen again.  Should only the principal become a permanent resident while everyone else waits till next year? What if visa retrogression sets in and the family has to wait, maybe for years? This does not make sense. Is there not sufficient ambiguity in INA §203(d) to argue that family members should not be counted against the cap? We do not contend that they should be completely exempted from being counted. As stated in INA §203(d), family members should be given the “same status and the same order of consideration” as the principal. Hence, if there is no visa number for the principal, the rest of the family does not get in. If, on the other hand, there is a single remaining visa number for the principal, the family members, however many there are, ought to be “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration as the principal.” Viewed in this way, INA §203(d) operates in harmony with all other limits on permanent migration found in INA both on an overall and a per country basis.
There is no regulation in 8 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) that truly interprets INA §203(d). Even the Department of State’s regulation at 22 CFR §42.32 fails to illuminate the scope or purpose of INA §203(d). It does nothing more than parrot INA § 203(d). The authors recall the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v Oregon, 546 US 243, 257 (2006) reminding us that a parroting regulation does not deserve deference:
Simply put, the existence of a parroting regulation does not change the fact that the question here is not the meaning of the regulation but the meaning of the statute. An agency does not acquire special authority to interpret its own words when, instead of using its expertise and experience to formulate a regulation, it has elected merely to paraphrase the statutory language.
It is certainly true that family members are not exempted from being counted under INA § 201(b) as are immediate relatives of US citizens, special immigrants, or those fortunate enough to merit cancellation of their removal. Yet, we note that the title in INA §201(b) refers to “Aliens Not Subject to Direct Numerical Limitations.” What does this curious phrase mean? Each of the listed exemptions in INA §201(b) are outside the normal preference categories. That is why they are not subject to direct counting. By contrast, the INA § 203(d) derivatives are wholly within the preference system, bound fast by its stubborn limitations. They are not independent of all numerical constraints, only from direct ones. It is the principal alien through whom they derive their claim who is and has been counted. When viewed from this perspective, there is nothing inconsistent between saying in INA §203(d) that derivatives should not be independently assessed against the EB or FB cap despite their omission from INA §201(b) that lists only non-preference category exemptions.
We do not claim that derivative beneficiaries are exempt from numerical limits. As noted above, they are indeed subject in the sense that the principal alien is subject by virtue of being subsumed within the numerical limit that applies to this principal alien. Hence, if no EB or FB numbers were available to the principal alien, the derivatives would not be able to immigrate either. If they were exempt altogether, this would not matter. There is, then, a profound difference between not being counted at all, for which we do not contend, and being counted as an integral family unit rather than as individuals. For this reason, INA §201(b) simply does not apply. We seek through the simple mechanism of an Executive Order not an exemption from numerical limits but a different way of counting them.
We are properly reminded that INA §§201(a)(1) and 201(a)(2) mandate that “family sponsored” and “employment based immigrants” are subject to worldwide limits. Does this not cover spouses and children? True enough but all is not lost. While the term “immigrant” under INA §101(a)(15) includes spouse and children, they were included because, in concert with their principal alien family member, they intended to stay permanently in this their adopted home. No one ever contended they were or are non-immigrants. However, this does not mean that such family derivatives are either “employment based” or “family sponsored” immigrants. No petitioner has filed either an I-140 or I-130 on their behalf. Their claim to immigrant status is wholly a creature of statute, deriving entirely from INA §203(d) which does not make them independently subject to any quota.
INA §203(d) must be understood to operate in harmony with other provisions of the INA. Surely, if Congress had meant to deduct derivative beneficiaries, it would have plainly said so somewhere in the INA. The Immigration Act of 1990 when modifying INA §§201(a)(1) and 201(a)(2) specifically only referred to family sponsored and employment-based immigrants in §203(a) and §203(b) respectively in the worldwide cap. This was a marked change from prior law when all immigrants save for immediate relatives and special immigrants, but including derivative family members, had been counted. In this sense, the interpretation of INA §203(d) for which we contend should be informed by the same broad, remedial spirit that characterizes IMMACT 90’s basic approach to numerical limitation of immigration to the United States As already noted, these immigrants ought to only be the principal beneficiaries of I-130 and I-140 petitions. Derivative family, of course, are not the beneficiaries of such sponsorship. At no point did Congress do so. Under the theory of expressio unius est exclusio alterius, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that Congress had not authorized such deduction.[5] Surely, if this was not the case, Congress would have made its intent part of the INA.  If the Executive Branch wanted to reinterpret §203(d), there is sufficient ambiguity in the provision for it do so without the need for Congress to sanction it. A government agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984)—often abbreviated as “Chevron deference”.  When a statute is ambiguous in this way, the Supreme Court has made clear in National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005), the agency may reconsider its interpretation even after the courts have approved of it.  Brand X can be used as a force for good. Thus, when a provision is ambiguous such as INA §203(d), the government agencies charged with its enforcement may reasonably interpret it in the manner that we suggest.
Skeptics who contend that the INA as written mandates individual counting of all family members point to two provisions of the INA, §§202(a)(2) and 202(b). Neither is the problem that supporters of the status quo imagine.  Let’s consider §202(a)(2) first. In relevant part, it teaches that not more than 7% of the total number of family and employment-based immigrant visas arising under INA §203(b) may be allocated to the natives of any single foreign state. Eagle eyed readers will readily notice that this does not apply to derivative family members whose entitlement comes from INA §203(d) with no mention of §203(b). Also, but no less importantly, INA §202(a)(2) is concerned solely with overall per country limits. There is no reason why the number of immigrant visas cannot stay within the 7% cap while all members of a family are counted as one unit. There is no reason why monitoring of the per country family or employment  cap should require individual counting of family members. The per country cap is, by its own terms, limited to the named beneficiaries of I-130 and  I-140 petitions and there is no express or implied authority for any executive interpretation that imposes a restriction that Congress has not seen fit to impose.
What about cross-chargeability under INA §202(b)? Even if §202(b) has language regarding preventing the separation of the family, it does not mean that the derivatives have to be counted separately. If an Indian-born beneficiary of an EB-2 I-140 is married to a Canadian born spouse, the Indian born beneficiary can cross charge to the EB-2 worldwide rather than EB-2 India. When the Indian cross charges, the entire family is counted as one unit under the EB-2 worldwide by virtue of being cross charged to Canada. Such an interpretation can be supported under Chevron and Brand X, especially the gloss given to Chevron by the Supreme Court in the recent Supreme Court decision in Scialabba v. de Osorio, supra,  involving an interpretation of the provision of the Child Status Protection Act.[6]  Justice Kagan’s plurality opinion, though seeking to clarify the Child Status Protection Act, applies with no less force to our subject: “This is the kind of case that Chevron was built for. Whatever Congress might have meant… it failed to speak clearly.” Kagan slip op. at 33. Once again, as with the per country EB cap, the concept of cross-chargeability is a remedial mechanism that seeks to promote and preserve family unity, precisely the same policy goal for which we contend.
Expansion of Parole in Place
The very idea of “parole” in §212(d)(5) of the INA is linked to  allowing deserving aliens to come to the United States for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” In most cases, we think this only applies to people who are not yet here. Not so. Digging a bit deeper into the INA, we find in §235(a)(1) this golden nugget: an applicant for admission is “an alien present in the United states who has not been admitted…” Putting all of this together, there is nothing in law or logic that prevents the full embrace and unfettered application of parole to those already in the United States outside the color of law. The invocation of ‘parole in place” is another example of using new interpretive techniques to mine the existing law for greater benefits. It is the antidote to the inability of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. There should be no concern over a possible infringement of separation of powers for the authority of Congress over the legislative process is being fully respected.  Part of the responsibility of the President to enforce the laws is to adopt an understanding of them that best promotes what Congress had in mind when it passed the law in the first place. Parole in place does precisely that. This is not amnesty. The requirements for obtaining legal status on a permanent basis apply in full. It is merely an attempt to think of the law we have not purely or primarily as an instrument of enforcement but as a platform for remediation of the human condition. Indeed, is this not how law in the American tradition is meant to function? The expansion of parole in place would reduce the burden on American consular posts abroad so that their limited resources could be more properly deployed within more narrowly targered objcctives that would thus expedite visa issuance and promote national security by allowing more in-depth examination of visa applicants.
The creation of new solutions by federal agencies has become the norm rather than the exception in our system of governance if for no other reason that the sheer multiplicity of issues, as well as their dense complexity, defies traditional compromise or achievable consensus which are the hallmarks of Congressional deliberation. They require timely and directed executive action as a formula for keeping present problems from getting worse. This is exactly why Congress authorized the Attorney General to grant employment authorization without terms or limitations pursuant to INA §274A(h)(3)(B), a provision that should be linked with the robust exercise of the Executive’s parole power. The INA leaves the granting of parole completely up to the discretion of the Attorney General, now shifted to the DHS. It is hard to imagine a more open invitation to Executive rule- making to provide when parole can be extended, as there is absolutely nothing in the INA that would contradict a DHS regulation allowing parole in place. Not only is it appropriate for the DHS to formulate immigration policy on highly minute technical issues of surpassing moment such as parole in place, but the Constitution expects that to happen. Indeed, without this, who would do it? Far from crossing the line and infringing the authority of Congress, what we ask the DHS to do augments Congressional prerogative by providing a practical way for them to function.
In addition to not counting derivatives, the Obama Administration can extend parole in place (PIP) that has been granted to military families to all immediate relatives of US citizens, which would allow them to adjust in the US rather than travel abroad and risk the 3 and 10 year bars of inadmissibility under §§212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) and (II) of the INA. Such administrative relief would be far less controversial than granting deferred action since immediate relatives of US citizens are anyway eligible for permanent residence. The only difference is that they could apply for their green cards in the US without needing to travel overseas and apply for waivers of the 3 and 10 year bars.
The concept of PIP can be extended to other categories, such as beneficiaries of preference petitions, which the authors have explained in The Tyranny of Priority Dates. However, they need to have demonstrated lawful status as a condition for being able to adjust status under INA §245(c)(2) and the current USCIS memo granting PIP to military families states that “[p]arole does not erase any periods of unlawful status.”[7] There is no reason why this policy cannot be reversed. The grant of PIP, especially to someone who arrived in the past without admission or parole, can retroactively give that person lawful status too, thus rendering him or her eligible to adjust status through the I-130 petition as a preference beneficiary. The only place in INA §245 where the applicant is required to have maintained lawful nonimmigrant status is under INA §245(c)(7), which is limited to employment-based immigrants. Family-based immigrants are not so subject. For purposes of §245(c) of the INA, current regulations already define “lawful immigration status” to include “parole status which has not expired, been revoked, or terminated.” 8 C.F.R. §245.1(d)(v). Indeed, even if one has already been admitted previously in a nonimmigrant visa status and is now out of status, the authors contend  that this person should be able to apply for a rescission of that admission and instead be granted retroactive PIP. Thus, beneficiaries of I-130 petitions, if granted retroactive PIP, ought to be able adjust their status in the US.
There is also no reason why PIP cannot extend to beneficiaries of employment I-140 petitions. If this is done, would such persons be able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident without leaving the USA? In order to do that, they not only need to demonstrate lawful status, but also  to have maintained continuous lawful nonimmigrant status under INA §245(c)(7), as noted above.  Is there a way around this problem? At first glance, we consider the possibility of using the exception under INA §245(k) which allows for those who have not continuously maintained lawful nonimmigrant status to still take advantage of section 245 adjustment if they can demonstrate that they have been in unlawful status for not more than 180 days since their last admission. We would do well to remember, however, that 245(k) only works if the alien is “present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission.”  Is parole an admission? Not according to INA §101(a)(13)(B). So, while retroactive PIP would help satisfy the 180 day requirement imposed by INA §245(k)(2), it cannot substitute for the lawful admission demanded by section §245(k)(1). Even if an out of status or unlawfully present I-140 beneficiary who had previously been admitted now received nunc pro tunc parole, the parole would replace the prior lawful admission. Such a person would still not be eligible for INA §245(k) benefits and, having failed to continuously maintain valid nonimmigrant status,  would remain unable to adjust due to the preclusive effect of §245(c)(7). Similarly, an I-140 beneficiary who had entered EWI and subsequently received retroactive parole would likewise not be able to utilize 245(k) for precisely the same reason, the lack of a lawful admission. Still, the grant of retroactive PIP should wipe out unlawful presence and the 3 and 10 year bars enabling this I-140 beneficiary to still receive an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post without triggering the bars upon departure from the US. Thus, while the beneficiary of an employment-based petition may not be able to apply for adjustment of status, retroactive PIP would nevertheless be hugely beneficial because, assuming PIP is considered a lawful status, it will wipe out unlawful presence and will thus no longer trigger the bars upon the alien’s departure from the US.
Our proposal to grant PIP retroactively so that it erases unlawful presence can also assist people who face the permanent bar under §212(a)(9)(C) of the INA. If PIP can retroactively erase unlawful presence, then those who entered the country without inspection after accruing unlawful presence of more than 1 year will not trigger the bar under this provision if the unlawful presence has been erased.
One of the biggest contributors to the buildup of the undocumented population in the US has been the 3 year, 10 year and permanent bars.  Even though people are beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions, they do not wish to risk travelling abroad and facing the bars.  Extending PIP to people who are in any event in the pipeline for a green card would allow them adjust status in the US or process immigrant visas at consular posts, and become lawful permanent residents. These people are already eligible for permanent residence through approved I-130 and I-140 petitions, and PIP would only facilitate their ability to apply for permanent residence in the US, or in the case of I-140 beneficiaries by travelling overseas for consular processing without incurring the 3 and 10 year bars. PIP would thus reduce the undocumented population in the US without creating new categories of relief, which Congress can and should do through reform immigration legislation. 
Achieving Something Close to Comprehensive Immigration Reform Under the INA
Not counting family members and expanding parole in place can be a potent combination for nearing comprehensive immigration reform administratively in the face of Congressional inaction. The waits in the EB and FB preferences will disappear, and family members waiting abroad can unite with their loved ones more quickly and need not be forced to take the perilous path across the Southwest border in desperation. The expansion of PIP to beneficiaries of approved I-130 and I-140 petitions would allow them to obtain lawful permanent residence, rather than being stuck in permanent limbo due to the 3 and 10 year bars. After removing the obstacle of the bars, the grant of lawful permanent residence would be more rapid as there would be no backlogs in the FB and EB preferences, and loved ones from abroad can unite with newly minted immigrants in the United States through an orderly and legal process. 
These proposals too fall squarely within the mainstream of the American political tradition, animated by the spirit of audacious incrementalism that has consistently characterized successful reform initiatives. We acknowledge that immigration reform passed by Congress would solve more problems in a fundamental way. We seek less dramatic but no less meaningful advances through the disciplined invocation of executive initiative only because these are the ones that can be achieved sooner and with greater predictability. Our justifiable zeal for immigration reform must not blind us to the benefit of more moderate proposals. We are confident that future progress will follow in a way that minimizes disruption and maximizes acceptance. We hold fast to the distinction between prudence and absolutism, between incremental reform and revolutionary upheaval. In the long run, the American experience has been characterized more by the former than the latter and it has led to a fruitful stability that has been the envy of the world.
Yours truly,
Gary Endelman
Cyrus D. Mehta



[1]See 15 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 469, April 1, 2010. Another version of The Tyranny of Priority Dates article is available online at https://www.scribd.com/doc/45650253/The-Tyranny-of-Priority-Dates-by-Gary-Endelman-and-Cyrus-D-Mehta-3-25-10
[2] See 17 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 3, January 1, 2012.

[3] See e.g, Two Aces Up President Obama’s Sleeve To Achieve Immigration Reform Without Congress – Not Counting Family Members And Parole In Place, http://blog.cyrusmehta.com/2014/06/two-aces-up-president-obamas-sleeve-to_29.html;  The Family That Is Counter Together Stays Together:  How To Eliminate Immigrant Visa Backlogs, http://blog.cyrusmehta.com/2014/09/the-family-that-is-counted-together.htmlDo We Really Have To Wait For Godot?:  A Legal Basis For Early Filing Of An Adjustment Of An Adjustment of Status Application,             http://blog.cyrusmehta.com/2014/08/do-we-really-have-to-wait-for-godot.html
[4] See e.g. Stuart Anderson, Executive Action and Legal Immigration, National Foundation for American Policy, September 2014, available at http://nfap.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NFAP-Policy-Brief.Executive-Action.Sept-2014.pdf
[5] In §1244(c) of the Defense Authorization Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-181, Congress explicitly stated that only principal aliens would be charged against the 5,000 visas allocated to Iraqi translators. Even if Congress imposed a numerical limit on principal applicants and exempted derivative applicants in special emergency legislation, this provision does not dictate how derivative beneficiaries who are subject to the general family or employment-based caps should be counted under §203(d).  
[6] See Mehta, Isaacson and Endelman, Scialabba v. de Osorio: Does the Dark Cloud Have a Silver Lining? 19 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 1021, September 15, 2014.
[7] Policy Memorandum,  Parole of Spouses, Children and Parents of Active Duty Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, and Former Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve and the Effect of Parole on Inadmissibility under Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(a)(6)(A)(i),  PM-602-0091, November 15, 2013.