August 21, 2015

WHY BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP IS MOST WONDERFUL FOR AMERICA

Donald Trump advocating that the United States should end birthright citizenship in his immigration reform plan is nothing new. Politicians have frequently brought up the so called dangers of birthright citizenship to pander to their base. Recently in 2011, Steve King (R-IA), one of the most anti-immigrant members of Congress, proposed the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011, which did not go anywhere because of its absurdity.  Future attempts too will similarly fail since birthright citizenship is too entrenched in the fabric of this nation. It is also good for America.
The granting of automatic citizenship to a child born in the US is rooted in the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.”
Lost in the heated political rhetoric of Trump and other Republican presidential contenders who are parroting him is that it is next to impossible to amend the hallowed Fourteenth Amendment, which was enacted to ensure birthright citizenship to African Americans after the Civil War, and following the infamous Dred Scott decision that held that African Americans could not claim American citizenship.   In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), the Supreme Court  extended the Fourteenth Amendment to an individual who was born to  parents of Chinese descent and during a time when Chinese nationals were subjected to the Chinese exclusion laws:

The Fourteenth Amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on foreign public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single additional exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owning direct allegiance to their several tribes. The Amendment, in clear words and in manifest intent, includes the children born within the territory of the United States, of all other persons, of whatever race or color, domiciles here, is within the allegiance and the protection, and consequently subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. 

Although in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94 (1984), those born within Native American tribes were not born “subject to the jurisdiction” of this country because they owed allegiance to their tribal nations rather than the United States,  this preclusion was  eventually eliminated by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. 
Even the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of Cantu, Interim Decision #2748, broadly held that one who was born on a territory in 1935, the Horton Tract, where the United States had impliedly relinquished control, but had not yet ceded it to Mexico until 1972, was born “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States and thus a US citizen. 
One can also pick a leaf from the State Department’s book on birthright citizenship. Contrary to the common notion -that parents come to the US to give birth to children so that they may become US citizens - some non-US citizen parents do not desire that their minor children remain US citizens, notwithstanding their birth in the US. Their main motivation is that if they choose not to live in the US permanently, they would rather that the child enjoys the citizenship of their nationality so that he does not suffer any potential impediments later on in that country, such as the inability to vote, attend educational institutions or stand for elected office. This may not be possible if the child is born in the US, since the State Department’s regulation provides that “[i[t is unlawful for a citizen of the United States, unless excepted under 22 CFR 53.2, to enter or depart, or attempt to enter or depart, the United States, without a valid passport.” See 22 CFR §53.1.
The relevant extract from the State Department’s 7 FAM 1292 is worth noting to show how difficult it is for a child born in the US not to be considered an American citizen:
  1. Occasionally, CA/OCS or a post abroad will receive an inquiry from the parent of a child born in the United States who acquired US citizenship at birth protesting the “involuntary” acquisition of US citizenship.
  1. Jus soli (the law of the soil) is the rule of common law under which the place of a person’s birth determines citizenship. In addition to common law, this principle is embodied in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the various U.S. citizenship and nationality statutes. The 14th Amendment states, in part, that: All persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
  1. In U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), the U.S. Supreme Court examined at length the theories and legal precedents on which U.S. citizenship laws are based and, in particular, the types of persons who are subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
  1. Children born in the United States to diplomats accredited to the United States are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and do not acquire U.S. citizenship under the 14th Amendment or the laws derived from it [citation omitted].
  1. Parents or guardians cannot renounce or relinquish the U.S. citizenship of a child who acquired U.S. citizenship at birth.
Since a Constitutional amendment requires a favorable vote of two thirds of each house of Congress and ratification by three quarters of the states or the holding of conventions in three quarters of the states, efforts will be made, like H.R. 140 did, to tinker with section 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which replicates the 14th amendment. H.R. 140 strove to narrowly limit birthright citizenship to a person born in the US to parents who were either citizens of the United States or lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Assuming that such a bill got enacted into law, it would deprive the child of a nonimmigrant parent from automatically becoming a US citizen who is lawfully in the US in H-1B status, and approved for permanent residence but for the fact that she is stuck in the employment-based preference backlogs for many years. What would be the status of such a child who was not born of parents of the pedigree prescribed in such a law? Would the child be rendered deportable the minute it is born by virtue of being an alien present in the US without being admitted or paroled under INA section 212(a)(6)(A)(i)? Moreover, would such a law also have retroactive application? It is likely to have retroactive effect since a Constitutional provision ought to only be interpreted in one way for all times. If a new statute interprets the Fourteenth Amendment’s “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” to not include children of parents who were undocumented, or who were not citizens or permanent residents, and this interpretation is upheld by a court,  then children who were born as US citizens will no longer be considered citizens. How far would one have to go then to strip people of citizenship? Parents, grandparents and even great grandparents will no longer be considered citizens, in addition to the child. Millions upon millions of Americans ensconced in comfortable suburbia will overnight be deemed to be non-citizens, perhaps even illegal aliens and deportable.  The repealing of birthright would certainly have unintended consequences of a nightmarish quality, and it is quite likely that some of the repeal’s most strident champions might be declared as “illegal aliens” and unfit to run for office!
The only historic exceptions to those subject to the jurisdiction of the US are diplomats and enemies during the hostile occupation of a part of US territory.  A diplomat, in accordance with Wong Kim Ark, is not subject to the jurisdiction of the US as a diplomat enjoys immunity from US law, but a child of such a diplomat born in the US is at least deemed to be a permanent resident. See Matter of Huang, Interim Decision #1472 (BIA May 27, 1965). Congress even passed legislation to ensure that children of all Native Americans are US citizens. See INA section 301(b). An undocumented immigrant is undoubtedly subject to the jurisdiction of the US. If he commits a crime, he will surely be prosecuted. He can sue and be sued in US courts, and Uncle Sam gleefully collects his taxes as well as his contributions to social security (even if he is unable to claim it later on). One cannot liken an immigrant who has entered the US without inspection with the objective of finding work to a member of a hostile force occupying a part of the US. When a hostile force occupies any part of the US, the laws of the US are no longer applicable in the occupied territory. Thus, children of an occupying enemy alien have not been considered to be born "subject to the jurisdiction" of the US as they did not derive protection from or owe any obedience or allegiance to the country. Inglis v. Sailor's Snug Harbor, 28 U.S. 99 (1830). By contrast, a terrorist who enters the US in a nonimmigrant status, such as on an F-1 student visa with an ulterior motive to commit an act of terrorism, unlike a member of a hostile occupying force, is subject to the jurisdiction of the US as she can be convicted or treated as an enemy noncombatant, and if she gives birth to child here, the child ought to be a US citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment.

It has also become fashionable for politicians to refer to such children born in the US as “anchor babies,” on the assumption that the US citizen children will legalize their undocumented parents. While this is theoretically possible, the parent will have to wait until the US citizen child turns 21 before the parent can be sponsored for permanent residence. If the parent came into the US without inspection, the parent will have to depart the US and proceed overseas for processing at a US consulate, and will likely have to wait for an additional 10 years. The waiting time is rather long under such a game plan: 21 years, if the parent was inspected;  or 31 years, if the parent crossed the border without inspection.

The repeal of birthright citizenship will result in absurd and disastrous results. Birthright citizenship  renders all born in this country to be treated equally as Americans no matter who their parents are or where they came from, and it also prevents a permanent underclass from taking root that will continue for generations.  
Now, as a nation, we don't promise equal outcomes, but we were founded on the idea everybody should have an equal opportunity to succeed. No matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, you can make it. That's an essential promise of America. Where you start should not determine where you end up.
Barack Obama


August 14, 2015

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS IN DISAPPOINTING DECISION VACATING STEM OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING RULE FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS

Adversity is the mother of progress
Mahatma Gandhi
I was at first greatly disappointed to find out that a federal district court judge vacated the 2008 STEM Optional Practical Training rule that extended practical training to F-1 students by an additional 17 months. However, if one reads Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) v. DHS closely, the decision does not look so bad and provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to further expand STEM practical training, as promised in the November 20, 2015 executive actions for skilled workers. 
Foreign students can receive up to 12 months of OPT upon graduation. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security under President Bush’s administration published regulations authorizing an additional 17-months extension of the OPT period for foreign students who graduated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical) fields. Plaintiffs WashTech challenged both the 12 month OPT and the STEM OPT. The challenge to the original 12 month OPT rule was dismissed, but on August 12, 2015, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle vacated the rule that extended OPT by 17 months for a total period of 29 months for STEM graduates. The 2008 rule was published without notice and comment, and the court agreeing with the plaintiffs ruled that the DHS had not shown that it faced a true emergency situation that allowed the agency to issue the rule without notice and comment. 
It is disappointing that Judge Huvelle granted plaintiffs standing in the first place on the flimsy ground that they were currently employed as computer programmers, who were a subset of the STEM market. [Contrast this with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Arpaio v. Obama  two days later dismissing Sherriff Arpaio’s standing claim on the spurious grounds that the executive actions would serve as a magnet for attracting more undocumented immigrants to Arizona and fewer people would be deported as a result of these executive actions.] Although the plaintiffs in WashTech were not unemployed, Judge Huvelle speculated that “[a]n influx of OPT computer programmers would increase the labor supply, which is likely to depress plaintiffs’ members’ wages and threaten their job security, even if they remained employed.” It is also somewhat amusing that the judge found the F-1 and H-1B interrelated in order to justify that plaintiffs also had standing under the “zone of interests” doctrine. Without considering that the F-1 visa requires a non-immigrant intent while the H-1B allows for dual intent, the judge held that “F-1 and H-1B perform the interlocking task of recruiting students to pursue a course of study in the United States and retaining at least a portion of those individuals to work in the American economy.” 
While this is the bad part of WashTech, the good news is that Judge Huvelle left intact the legal basis for the OPT rule on the ground that the DHS is entitled to deference under Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Pursuant to the oft quoted Chevron doctrine, courts will pay deference to the regulatory interpretation of the agency charged with executing the laws of the United States when there is ambiguity in the statute. The courts will step in only when the agency’s interpretation is irrational or in error. The Chevron doctrine has two parts. Step 1 requires an examination of whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If Congress had clearly spoken, then that is the end of the matter and the agency and the court must give effect to the unambiguous intent of the statute. Step 2 applies when Congress has not clearly spoken, then the agency’s interpretation is given deference if it is based on a permissible construction of the statute, and the court will defer to this interpretation even if it does not agree with it. 
Judge Huvelle in WashTech agreed that under Step 1 of Chevron, the provision pertaining to F-1 students at INA 101(a)(15)(F)(i) is  ambiguous and that Congress has not clarified the word “student”. It prescribes the eligibility criterion for a student to enter the United States, but does not indicate what a student may do after he or she has completed the educational program. Under Step 2 on Chevron, the 2008 rule was held to be a reasonable interpretation of the ambiguous statutory provision.  For over 50 years, Judge Huvelle acknowledged, the government has allowed students to engage in practical training relating to their field of studies, which Congress has never altered. Indeed, in the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress included a three-year pilot program authorizing F-1 student employment for positions that were “unrelated to their field of study.” Congress would only do this, Judge Huvelle reasoned, because Congress recognized that practical training regulations long existed that allowed students to engage in employment in fields related to their studies. The decision goes into fascinating detail describing the history of practical training from at least 1947. Even after Congress overhauled the law in 1952, practical training continued, and still continued even after the Immigration Act of 1990 overhauled the H-1B visa by setting a numerical limit and imposing various labor protections. The decision also cites old Board of Immigration Appeals decisions recognizing practical training such as Matter of T-, 1 I&N Dec. 682 (BIA 1958), which noted that the “length of authorized practical training should be reasonably proportionate to the period of formal study in the subject which has been completed by the student” and only in “unusual circumstances” would “practical training…be authorized before the beginning of or during a period of formal study.”   
Judge Huvelle finally and unfortunately, agreeing with the plaintiffs,  held that there was no emergency to justify the promulgation of the 2008 rule without notice and comment. H-1B oversubscription as a reason for the emergency in 2008 was “old hat” as the government conceded that the H-1B program has been consistently oversubscribed since 2004. Fortunately, Judge Huvelle sensibly realized that vacating the rule immediately would force “thousands of foreign students with work authorizations…to scramble to depart the United States.” Hence, the court stayed vacatur till February 12, 2016 during which time the DHS can submit the 2008 rule for proper notice and comment.  In the meantime, foreign students in STEM OPT have some respite, and those who are eligible for STEM OPT should be able to apply for a 17 month extension so long as they do so before February 12, 2016, although we need some affirmative guidance from the USCIS on this. 
The DHS now has a golden opportunity to expand practical training through notice and comment even beyond a total of 29 months, and must do so on or before February 12, 2016 in compliance with the WashTech decision. Despite the protestations of Senator Grassley, who like WashTec stridently opposes the notion of foreign student practical training, Judge Huvelle’s decision has blessed the legal authority of the DHS to implement practical training under Chevron deference. As discussed in my prior blog, Senator Grassley in his angry missive to the DHS had leaked that the DHS was  moving on new regulations to allow foreign students with degrees in STEM fields to receive up to a 24 month extension beyond the original 12 month OPT period even prior to the final Washtech decision.  If a student obtains a new degree, he or she can again seek a 24 month extension after the original 12 month OPT period. The proposed regulations would further authorize foreign graduates of non-STEM  degree programs to receive the 24-month extension of the OPT period, even if the STEM degree upon which the extension is based is an earlier degree and not for the program from which the student is currently graduating (e.g. student has a bachelor’s in chemistry and is graduating from an M.B.A. program). 
While this will put tremendous pressure on the DHS to propose a rule for notice and comment before February 12, 2016, it would be well worth it before all talented foreign students who would otherwise benefit the United States are forced to leave. As a result of the H-1B cap, it is the STEM OPT that has allowed foreign students to be employed in the United States. The prospect of no STEM OPT combined with the limited number of H-1B visas annually would be devastating not only for the tech sector, but for American universities, foreign students and for the overall competitiveness of the United States.  WashTech may have successfully been able to obtain a vacatur of the 2008 rule effective February 12, 2016, but theirs is only a Pyrrhic victory since the court has essentially endorsed the legality of both the 12 month practical training periods and any extensions beyond that.  

      

August 11, 2015

BALCA, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SO FAR IN 2015?

By Cora-Ann V. Pestaina

I’m sure all PERM practitioners would agree that it’s always good (in fact necessary!) to check in with the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA). One never knows what issues BALCA will comment on next and as we navigate those often treacherous PERM waters, we need all the help we can get! Here are a couple of recent BALCA tidbits. 
BALCA applies Matter of Symantec
In Computer Sciences Corporation, 2012-PER-00642 (Jul 9, 2015) the Certifying Officer (CO) denied the PERM on the grounds that the Employer’s inclusion of the language, “Willingness to travel; may require work from home office” in its recruitment advertisements posted on its website and on a job search website, constituted terms and conditions of employment that exceeded those listed on the ETA Form 9089 in violation of 20 C.F.R. §656.17(f)(6). 
As background, employers recruiting under PERM for a professional position must complete the mandatory recruitment steps required by 656.17(e)(1)(i) as well as three additional recruitment steps provided in 656.17(e)(1)(ii).
The Employer’s advertisements posted on its website and on the job search website were in satisfaction of two of the three required additional recruitment steps. In reversing the CO’s decision, BALCA simply cited its en banc decision in Symantec Corp., 2011-PER-1856 (July 30, 2014) which I previously blogged about in greater detail here, and held that 656.17(f) does not apply to additional forms of recruitment. The Employer dodged a bullet here.
BALCA finds that Employer’s letter was within the record and can be considered on appeal
Once a PERM is denied, if the Employer files a motion for reconsideration, under 656.24(g)(2), this motion can only include (i) documentation that the Department actually received from the employer in response to a request from the CO to the employer; or (ii) documentation that the employer did not have an opportunity to present to the CO, but that existed at the time the PERM was filed and was maintained by the employer to support the PERM application in compliance with 656.10(f).
In New York City Department of Education, 2012-PER-02753 (June 19, 2015), the CO first denied the PERM application on the grounds that the Employer failed to provide a recruitment report that accurately accounted for the number of applicants for the job opportunity. The Employer filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that it properly accounted for all applicants. The CO, ignoring this request for reconsideration, issued a second denial letter, finding that the Employer did not provide job-related reasons for its rejection of US workers. Based on the documentation the Employer had submitted with the audit response, it appeared that US workers were rejected because they expressed disinterest in the position but the CO also reviewed the Employer’s interview notes that stated the candidates were available “immediately” or “soon.” The Employer filed a second motion for reconsideration explaining, not only that the CO cannot ignore the first motion and issue a second denial, but, moreover, that it had indeed lawfully rejected the US workers. Along with its motion the Employer provided a letter from its Executive Director explaining the company’s interview process and the fact that the Employer made the determination to reject the applicants after they expressed their disinterest at a second interview. 
Since the Employer failed to properly explain its interview process and reasons for rejection in its audit response, BALCA found that the CO was justified in his denial of the case. However, in forwarding the case to BALCA, the CO acknowledged the letter that the Employer submitted along with its second motion explaining its hiring process. The CO did not refuse to accept it on the grounds that it was barred under 20 CFR 656.24(g)(2). Under that regulation, since the Employer’s had previously had a chance to submit this letter with its audit response but did not and since this letter was not documentation that existed at the time the PERM was filed, the CO would have been justified in refusing to accept it. But since the CO did not, the letter became part of the record that BALCA had to consider upon appeal. With the letter fully explaining the Employer’s interview process, BALCA had no choice but to find that the US workers had been lawfully rejected. 
The take away from this case is how important it is to fully respond to an audit request. Had the CO rejected the Employer’s letter, the denial would have been upheld.  As BALCA pointed out, the CO’s audit letter very clearly requested a report that lists the date(s) the employer contacted the US worker; the dates the employer interviewed the US worker; the specific reasons the US worker was rejected; and information that documents the employer contacted the applicant(s). In its audit response, the Employer failed to provide this detailed information.
BALCA held that an original signature is not required on the recruitment report but the report must be signed
In another case involving New York City Department of Education, BALCA upheld the denial of three PERMs finding that the typed name of the Executive Deputy Director at the bottom of the recruitment report did not constitute a valid signature. The CO had denied the Employer’s PERM after audit for failure to submit a signed report as required under 656.17(g)(1). The Employer, in its request for reconsideration, explained that it had a physically signed recruitment report in its audit file and this report, due to administrative error, simply was not included in the audit response. The Employer alternatively argued that the regulations do not require a handwritten signature and the typed name of the Employer’s Deputy Executive Director was satisfactory.  The CO transferred the file to BALCA where each of the Employer’s arguments were shut down.
BALCA held that the fact that the Employer had a physically signed copy of the recruitment report speaks to the fact that the typed name on the bottom of the report submitted with the audit response was not intended to be a signature. The Employer argued that “original signatures” are not required. BALCA agreed that 656.17(g)(1) does not require an original signature but again stated that the typed name on the bottom of the report was not intended to be a signature – original or otherwise. The Employer argued that fundamental fairness ought to prevail as it had only failed to submit the physically signed report due to administrative error. BALCA held that the Employer had been given an opportunity to submit the signed report with the audit response and failed to do so. Finally, the Employer argued that each statement in the recruitment report was verified by other documentation submitted with the audit response and therefore the omission of the physically signed report was immaterial. BALCA, using one of its favorite quotes, held that “PERM is…an exacting process.” Essentially, because a signature is a regulatory requirement under 656.17(g)(1), then there must be a signature, no matter how unfair it may seem in light of all the facts of the case.
It’s really a shame whenever something so simple and unintended leads to a PERM denial or in this case, three PERM denials. But it highlights the importance of checking and rechecking an audit response before it is submitted and the importance of having, if possible, more than one pair of eyes review the response prior to submitting it. PERM can be a very unforgiving process.
BALCA says US workers can be lawfully rejected for “lack of experience”
In Presto Absorbent Products, Inc., 2012-PER-00775 (May 26, 2015), the CO denied the PERM finding that the Employer failed to provide lawful reasons for rejection. The Employer’s recruitment report stated that the Employer received eight resumes and that the applicants lacked experience. The Employer also stated that “All applicants were reviewed to determine if they would be able and qualified to perform the duties of the position within a reasonable amount of on-the-job training. All applicants were determined not to have been able and qualified for the position even with a reasonable amount of on-the-job training.” BALCA held that the regulation does not indicate a level of specificity beyond what the Employer provided and that “lack of experience” is a lawful reason for rejecting applicants.
While it is indeed heartening anytime BALCA errs on the side of reason, I don’t think PERM practitioners ought to rely too heavily on this decision and it’s always best to be as specific as possible in providing the reasons for rejection of US workers. For instance, instead of “lacks the technological experience” it would be clearer to state, “lacks experience in the required technologies such as C++, Java & PL/SQL” and instead of “lacks experience” it might be better to say “applicant possesses only 2 years of experience but the position requires 5 years of experience.” Even if it may appear silly to have to spell out the obvious, it might be valuable time and money saved by preventing an erroneous denial.
BALCA comments on newspaper circulation and distance to the area of intended employment
In Pentair Technical Products, 2011-PER-01754 (Aug. 5, 2015), the Employer used the San Antonio Express newspaper (the “Express-News”) for its first Sunday newspaper advertisement to recruit for a professional position in Pharr, Texas. The CO denied the PERM on the grounds that the Express-News is circulated in San Antonio, Texas and not in the area of intended employment – Pharr, Texas. 
Under 20 CFR § 656.17(e)(1)(i)(B)(1), one option for an employer’s mandatory print advertisements for a professional position is “[p]lacing an advertisement on two different Sundays in the newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment most appropriate to the occupation and the workers likely to apply for the job opportunity and most likely to bring responses from able, willing, qualified, and available US workers.”
In a motion for reconsideration, the Employer argued that the Express-News is circulated in Pharr, Texas. The Employer argued that it chose the Express-News as it is the largest newspaper with general circulation in Pharr in order to reach the largest number of US workers. The Employer’s attorney also argued that he had personally contacted the Express-News and a representative at the newspaper had verified that the paper is circulated in Pharr, Texas. The CO nevertheless found that his denial was valid because San Antonio is four hours away from Pharr, well outside commuting distance and so the Employer had failed to advertise in the area of intended employment.
BALCA found that the issue of whether or not San Antonio is outside normal commuting distance from Pharr is relevant only if the Express-News were only available in San Antonio and not in Pharr. However, the record established that the Express-News is a newspaper of general circulation in Pharr. Accordingly, the fact that it is published in San Antonio is of no legal consequence. 
BALCA pointed out that when a single area of intended employment is served by multiple newspapers, the CO ought not to be concerned with which paper reaches the most people but rather with whether the newspaper reached the intended audience and is a “newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment.” As an example, BALCA stated that if Trenton, NJ is the area of intended employment, whether The New York Post is more “appropriate” than The Trenton Times because it has more readers is irrelevant and there is nothing in the regulations that requires an employer to utilize the newspaper with the highest circulation in the area of intended employment or the newspaper published closest to the area of intended employment.
At first look, the case appears to be very encouraging. As long as the newspaper reaches its intended audience, all is well. Not so fast. This is another one of those cases where BALCA’s decision is expressly limited to the precise facts of the case. BALCA takes time to point out that in this case the CO did not deny the PERM based on a finding that the Employer had failed to utilize the “most appropriate” newspaper. The only issue raised in the denial was whether the Employer placed a newspaper advertisement in the area of intended employment so that is the only issue that BALCA has addressed. As to whether Express-News was the newspaper “most appropriate” to the occupation for which the Employer was recruiting, we will never know.
It can be very difficult for employers to decide where to advertise. This case answers the question of whether it is permissible to advertise in The New York Times for a position in New Jersey. Yes, it is permissible because The New York Times is a newspaper of general circulation in New Jersey. But this case does not provide any guidelines for an employer struggling to determine which newspaper is “most appropriate.” For instance, in recruiting for a professional position in New York City, how does an employer decide between The New York Post vs. The New York Times? It is significantly more expensive to advertise in The New York Times and so an employer may not want to do that unless that newspaper is the only newspaper that would be permissible under the regulations. What statistics would that employer need to examine? Should that employer just assume that The New York Times is the newspaper most read by professionals and therefore The New York Times will always be “most appropriate” in recruiting for any professional position? In a footnote, BALCA mentioned that the Employer utilized The Monitor as the newspaper for the second Sunday advertisement and that this was not challenged by the CO. BALCA pointed out that the regulations refer to “newspaper” in the singular in requiring advertisements to be placed “in the newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment.” BALCA commented that the regulations do not appear to contemplate a situation where more than one newspaper is circulated in the area of intended employment and the newspapers are equally appropriate given the employment at issue and the workers likely to apply for the job. BALCA conveniently declined to comment on that issue. So while it is great that employers can choose any newspaper as long as it is one of general circulation in the area of intended employment, employers need to remain concerned about ensuring that the paper chosen is the “most appropriate” paper and it’s probably just best to use the same paper for both of the Sunday ads. 
These recent cases highlight the “little” things that can lead to a big denial of a PERM. Just reading these cases creates heightened awareness of potential issues and naturally leads to better and more focused reviews of documentation prepared during the PERM process and documentation submitted to the Department of Labor.

July 27, 2015

TO AMEND OR NOT TO AMEND: USCIS ISSUES FINAL GUIDANCE ON MATTER OF SIMEIO SOLUTIONS

By Cyrus D. Mehta

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued final guidance on July 21, 2015, instructing when an employer should  file an amended or new H-1B petition following Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC (Simeio). In Simeio, a precedent decision issued on April 9, 2015, the Administrative Appeals Office concluded that changes in the H-1B beneficiary’s places of employment, resulting in the obtaining of a new Labor Condition Application (LCA), constituted a material change to the terms and conditions of employment as specified in the original petition, thus necessitating the filing of an amended petition.
What is significant about the final guidance is that it extended the deadline to file an amended H-1B petition to January 15, 2016 from the previously suggested deadline of August 15, 2015. It also sends a mixed signal about whether USCIS will take punitive action regarding moves prior to Simeio that were not followed by the filing of an amended H-1B petition.
USCIS applies Simeio in its final guidance, by confirming that a petitioner must file an amended or new H-1B petition if the H-1B employee is changing his or her place of employment to a geographical area requiring a corresponding LCA to be certified to USCIS, even if a new LCA is already certified by the U.S. Department of Labor and posted at the new work location.  Prior to Simeio, employers relied on informal USCIS guidance indicating that so long as a new LCA was obtained prior to placing an H-1B worker at a new worksite, an amended H-1B petition was not required. See Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. And Trade Branch, USCIS, to Lynn Shotwell, Am. Council on int’l Pers., Inc. (October 23, 2003). The AAO explicitly stated in Simeio, footnote 7, that the Hernandez guidance has been superseded. Once a petitioner properly files the amended or new H-1B petition, the H-1B employee can immediately begin to work at the new place of employment, provided the requirements of section 214(n) of the INA are otherwise satisfied. The petitioner does not have to wait for a final decision on the amended or new petition for the H-1B employee to start work at the new place of employment.
The final guidance also notes, as the draft guidance did, regarding when a petitioner does not need to file an amended or new H-1B petition. If a petitioner's H-1B employee is moving to a new job location within the same area of intended employment, for example, a new LCA is not generally required. Therefore, provided there are no changes in the terms and conditions of employment that may affect eligibility for H-1B classification, the petitioner does not need to file an amended or new H-1B petition. The petitioner must still post the original LCA in the new work location within the same area of intended employment.
The language in the USCIS guidance is similar, whether by design or by coincidence,  to what I had suggested in prior blogs entitled When An Amended Petition Is Not Required Even After Matter Of Simeio Solutions and AAO Firmly Tethers H-1B Workers To An LCA Like Dog Is To A Leash, and this is encouraging since the USCIS can be receptive to a lawyer’s blog relating to important immigration policy. Here is the example that I provided regarding when a new move would not trigger a new LCA and thus obviate the filing of an H-1B amendment:  
So a move to a new job location within New York City would not trigger a new LCA, although the previously obtained LCA would need to be posted at the new work location. This could happen if an entire office moved from one location to another within NYC, or even if the H-1B worker moved from one client site to another within NYC.
The final guidance similarly states:
For example, an H-1B employee presently authorized to work at a location within the New York City metropolitan statistical area (NYC) may not trigger the needs for a new LCA if merely transferred to a new worksite in NYC, but the petitioner would still need to post the previously obtained LCA at the new work location. See 20 CFR 655.734. This is required regardless of whether an entire office moved from one location to another within NYC, or just the one H-1B employee.
Similarly, with respect to short-term placements under certain circumstances and as suggested in my prior blog, a petitioner may place an H-1B employee at a new worksite for up to 30 days, and in some cases 60 days (where the employee is still based at the "home" worksite) without obtaining a new LCA or having to file an amended or new H-1B petition.
Also, if an H-1B employee is only going to a non-worksite location and there are no material changes in the authorized employment, the petitioner does not need to file an amended or new H-1B petition. A location is considered "non-worksite" if: (1) the H-1B employee is going to a location to participate in employee developmental activity, such as a management conference or staff seminar; (2) the H-1B employee spends little time at any one location; or (3) the job is "peripatetic in nature," such as in a situation where the employee's job is primarily at one location but he or she occasionally travels for short periods to other locations "on a casual, short-term basis, which can be recurring but not excessive (i.e., not exceeding 5 consecutive workdays for any one visit by a worker who spends most work time at one location and travels occasionally to other locations.)"
Although in its prior draft guidance, USCIS said that Simeio would apply retroactively, the final guidance is more equivocal and sends a mixed signal. On the one hand, the final guidance states that the USCIS would “generally” not take adverse actions against employers that fail to file amended petitions based on moves that may have triggered a new LCA prior to April 9, 2015. On the other hand, the USCIS gives employers a “safe harbor period” in which they may choose to file amended H-1B petitions by January 15, 2016. With respect to moves that have taken place after April 9, 2015 but prior to August 19, 2015, amended H-1B petitions must be filed by the new deadline of January 15, 2016. Regarding any moves after August 19, 2015, the employer must file an amended or new H-1B petition before the H-1B employee starts working at the new place of employment not covered by an existing approved H-1B petition, and not subject to any of the above discussed exceptions to filing a new LCA. 
While the USCIS has indicated that it will not generally take adverse action against employers for moves that did not result in the filing of an amended H-1B petition prior to April 9, 2015, employers should file  amended petition out of an abundance of caution. If an employer chooses not to file, and take advantage of the safe harbor period until January 15, 2016 by filing before that deadline, it will be doing so at its own peril, and any adverse action taken, may result in a finding that the H-1B worker did not maintain status. The Department of Labor may also factor the failure to file an amended H-1B petition when penalizing an employer for violations under the LCA regulations at 20 CFR 655. Moreover, neither the Department of State or Customs and Border Protection may be bound by the USCIS final guidance regarding not taking adverse action against an employer. 
If the adverse action is taken against the employer based on a retroactive application of Simeio, can the employer challenge it? Generally, the retroactive application of a rule created through agency adjudication is disfavored. In Velasquez-Garcia v. Holder,  760 F.3d 571 (7th Cir. 2014), the Seventh Circuit considered whether the “sought to acquire” standard for a child’s age to get protected under the Child Status Protection Act by the BIA in Matter of O. Vazquez could be applied retroactively. The Seventh Circuit in Velasquez-Garcia applied the following factors: (1) Whether the particular case is one of first impression, (2) whether the new rule represents an abrupt departure from well-established practice or merely attempts to fill a void in an unsettled area of law, (3) the extent to which the party against whom the new rule is applied relied on the former rule, (4) the degree of burden which a retroactive order imposes on a party, and (5) the statutory interest in applying a new rule despite the reliance of a party on the old standard.
Under the criteria established in Velasquez-Garcia, it can certainly be said that Simeio is a case of first impression under the first consideration and that the retroactive application of Simeio would impose a great burden on an employer under the fourth consideration. What is less clear is whether Simeio represents an abrupt departure from well established past practice under the second consideration and whether there was a former rule that employers relied on. The Efren Hernandez letter of October 23, 2003, was hardly a rule as it did not constitute an agency decision or even a form instruction, and despite the existence of the Hernandez letter, there were many instances when DOS recommended revocation of an H-1B petition where the job location had changed, and the USCIS often went ahead and revoked such petitions. There were also other instances when the the USCIS after a site visit revoked H-1B petitions when the H-1B worker was no longer at the original location.  The Hernandez letter is thus a relatively thin reed to rest on. Under the fifth consideration, the government will probably have success in arguing that there is a general interest in uniformly applying immigration law, and unlike the CSPA that has a remedial purpose in protecting the age of a child, filing amended H-1B petitions ensures that employers have properly accounted for changes in employment not previously disclosed in the original H-1B petition.  In sum, an employer may not have a clear cut basis in challenging the retroactive application of Simeio, and this is all the more reason for employers to take advantage of the safe harbor and file amended H-1B petitions for moves made even prior to  SimeioFurthermore, although publishing a rule through notice and comment under the Administrative Procedures Act would have been more appropriate, the government may be able to successfully argue that the promulgation of a rule was not necessary as the final guidance was a clarification on how to enforce Simeio.
The final guidance is not all doom and gloom, and we can end on a more upbeat note. Although the burdens will be high for employers in filing amendments and Simeo was unnecessary, the final guidance makes clear that an H-1B employee can start working at the new location after the H-1B amendment has been filed. If an amendment is still pending, the final guidance makes reference to the Memorandum from Michael Cronin (June 19, 2001) that allows H-1B employees who have ported to new employers and have only receipt notices, to be admitted into the US based on a valid H-1B visa stamp and that the validity date of the prior H-1B approval. Thus, an H-1B worker who is the subject of an H-1B amended petition can similarly be admitted into the United States on the basis of the receipt notice, and the prior H-1B validity date, provided the individual also has an H-B visa stamp. Also, just as serial H-1B porting is allowed, so can H-1B amendments be filed serially if job locations change before the approval of the prior amendment, although the denial of any H-1B petition will result in the denial of all successive requests to amend. This would only happen if the H-1B beneficiary’s status expired while successive amendments were pending. If an amendment is denied, but the original petition is still valid, the H-1B employee may return to the place of employment covered by the original petition provided that employee is able to maintain valid status at the original place of employment.
(The information contained in this blog is of a generalized nature and doe snot constitute legal advice).

July 19, 2015

UPDATE ON INDIAN THREE–YEAR DEGREES AND POSTGRADUATE DIPLOMAS

The greatest bane for green card aspirants with Indian degrees is the uncertainty that they will be recognized as single source degrees. If an Indian degree is recognized as the single source equivalent of a US four-year bachelor’s degree, it can provide the basis for an I-140 immigrant visa petition under the employment-based second preference (EB-2) for permanent residency. If an Indian degree cannot be recognized as a single source four-year degree, the potential green card candidate slides into the employment-based third preference (EB-3). While both the India EB-2 and EB-3 are moving at a snail’s pace, there is still a dramatic difference between the EB-2 and EB-3 for India. One sponsored by an employer in the India EB-2 can hope to get a green card  within 10 years, but one caught in the India EB-3 would need to wait for several decades!
A three-year Indian degree on its own will never make it into EB-2 as it is not considered the equivalent of a four-year US degree. See Matter of Shah, 17 I&N Dec. at 244 (Reg. Comm. 1977). Till recently, even a three-year degree combined with a post-graduate diploma (PGD), even if technically equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree,  was not considered a single source degree. To be classified under the EB-2  pursuant to section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the position must require an advanced degree or its equivalent, which the USCIS in 8 CFR section 204.5(k)(2) defines as a foreign four-year single source bachelor’s degree equivalent to a US degree plus five years of post baccalaureate experience. Ron Wada, who is the undisputed guru of degree equivalency issues, reports that in some instances the USCIS has been recognizing that an Indian three year degree followed by a post graduate diploma may qualify as an exception to the “single-source degree rule.” See Wada, The Nth Degree: Issues and Case Studies In Degree Equivalency – 2015 Update, 20 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 475, May 15, 2015.
Not all combinations of three-year bachelor’s degrees and post graduate diplomas will qualify under this exception and thus be found to be comparable to a US bachelor’s degree. The Electronic Database for Global Education (EDGE) created by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) has to confirm that the PGD should either be issued by an accredited university recognized by the University Grants Commission or should be an institution approved by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
In most of the unpublished decision of the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) involving non-university PGDs found through a computerized  search, such as for example Matter of X (identifying information redacted), 2013 Immigr. Rptr. LEXIS 2177, 2013 WL 5296297 (INS), the following extract is worth noting:
According to EDGE, a three-year Bachelor of Science degree from India is comparable to “two to three years of university study in the United States.” EDGE further discusses postgraduate diplomas, for which the entrance requirement is completion of a two- or three-year baccalaureate degree. EDGE states that a postgraduate diploma following a two-year bachelor's degree represents attainment of a level of education comparable to one year of university study in the United States. EDGE also states that a postgraduate diploma following a three-year bachelor's degree represents attainment of a level of education comparable to a bachelor's degree in the United States. However, the “Advice to Author Notes” section states:

Postgraduate Diplomas should be issued by an accredited university or institution approved by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Some students complete PGDs over two years on a part-time basis. When examining the Postgraduate Diploma, note the entrance requirement and be careful not to confuse the PGD awarded after the Higher Secondary Certificate with the PGD awarded after the three-year bachelor's degree.

The evidence in the record on appeal did not establish that the beneficiary's postgraduate diploma was issued by an accredited university or institution approved by AICTE, or that a two- or three-year bachelor's degree was required for admission into the program of study
This AAO decision demonstrates that not only must the PGD be approved by AICTE, but the entrance requirement for a PGD must also be after the completion of a two or three year bachelor’s degree, and not after the completion of high school.
Not all PGDs will qualify and one must carefully check whether it has been recognized by AICTE. For instance, courses at the ever familiar NIIT or Aptech institutes in India are not approved by AICTE. Nor are most of  the programs offered at the Center for Development of Advance Computing (CDAC), unless the CDAC courses are offered in conjunction with universities  and result in degrees.  It is very important to get the PGD assessed by an experienced credential evaluation service, which should check that the PGD has not only been recognized by AICTE but admits students after they have generally completed a three-year degree.  
The USCIS has always been niggardly in recognizing Indian degrees, especially three-year degrees, so as to qualify under the EB-2. The recent recognition of some non-university PGDs, obtained after a three year degree, provides some respite to many who would otherwise be caught in the endless India EB-3 backlogs. A  recent Times of India article reveals that India Inc. invested $15 billion in the United States and created 91,000 jobs. Despite this enormous boost to the US economy, Congress has done nothing to reduce the EB-2 and EB-3 backlogs for India, and the USCIS has been slow to recognize that Indian degrees, or combinations, equate to comparable US four-year degrees. The recognition of certain PGDs  following a three-year degree program is therefore welcome, but the USCIS must still go a long way in being more generous in welcoming skilled Indian nationals to the United States. 
 (The author thanks Natalie Araujo of the The Trustforte Corporation for sharing some of her insights)