DIFFERENT STROKES: USING DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS ON A LABOR CERTIFICATION AND I-140 PETITION

by Cora-Ann V. Pestaina

We’ve pretty much gotten used to (but not accepted!) the vast inconsistencies that exist in degree-equivalency requirements with regard to filing an H-1B, a PERM or an I-140. We’ve been forced to cope with (though we will never understand!) the fact that the degree-equivalency regulations that govern EB-2 and EB-3 professionals are inconsistent with the degree-equivalency regulations that govern H-1B specialty occupations and that USCIS degree-equivalency regulations and the DOL’s SVP scheme applied to labor certifications widely differ. We’ve come to understand how vital it is that we map out the entire green card process prior to filing a PERM application and that we anticipate every potential pitfall and make early strategic decisions to prevent them. Yet, despite all our hard-earned knowledge and efforts, most of us will, at some point, be forced to deal with an unanticipated snag on an equivalency issue especially when the government changes its interpretation on an particular foreign degree.

Ronald Y. Wada, who many of us turn to for guidance through the frustratingly obscure law of degree-equivalency, has written a new article, The Nth Degree – Issues and Case Studies in Degree Equivalency: Crossing the Borderland Between DOL and USCIS Requirements, 15 Bender’s Immigr. Bull. 863 (June 15, 2010). The article addresses the differences between the reviewing practices of the DOL and USCIS. While we’ve always focused on degree-equivalency requirements, the article highlights a different issue – experience.

The PERM program established a “substantially comparable” standard when considering whether prior experience gained on-the-job with the same employer may be used to qualify a foreign national for the job offered. Specifically, under the PERM regulations, a sponsoring employer is permitted to consider experience gained with that employer in instances where it establishes that the position in which the alien gained the qualifying experience is not “substantially comparable” to the job for which labor certification is being sought. Substantially comparable is defined by the regulations as a job or position requiring performance of the same job duties more than 50 percent of the time. 20 C.F.R. § 656.17(i)(5)(ii). Then, there is the USCIS rule, established in Matter of Wing’s Tea House, 16 I&N Dec. 158 (Acting Reg’l Comm’r 1977), a precedent decision, which holds simply that the foreign national must possess the qualifications specified on the labor certification as of the priority date.

In his article, Mr. Wada writes, “Since the AAO has stated in numerous nonprecedent decisions (and federal courts have affirmed) that USCIS has the authority to determine whether the beneficiary meets the job requirements shown on the PERM application, once the labor certification is approved by the DOL the rule regarding what experience can be counted shifts to the USCIS rule.” This circumstance could provide the escape from the snare of a badly designed PERM, provide another option when the foreign national presents new information at the I-140 phase (“Sorry, I guess I can’t get all those experience letters after all!”) or even help in instances where the USCIS attempts to revoke a previously approved I-140.

The Wada article presents the case where a PERM was designed with a Master’s degree requirement and was certified. At the I-140 phase, the USCIS refuses to accept the foreign national’s Master’s degree deeming his credentials equivalent to only a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree plus five years of post-baccalaureate progressive experience equates to a Master’s degree. If the foreign national is able to demonstrate five years of progressive, post-degree work experience prior to the priority date of the PERM application, then under the USCIS policy in Matter of Wing’s Tea House, the foreign national may yet qualify for the offered position and for EB-2. Importantly, the foreign national may even utilize experience gained on the job with the sponsoring employer – something he could not do during the labor certification phase especially if the two positions with the same employer were not more than 50% different! He may combine experience gained with a previous employer and experience gained with the sponsoring employer to arrive at the requisite 5 years of post-degree experience. It is only necessary that the foreign national meet the job requirements prior to the priority date, which is established when the labor certification is filed. USCIS does not set forth any “substantially comparable” standard à la the DOL.

Matter of Wing’s Tea House could also work in instances where, whether it’s an EB-2 or an EB-3 I-140, the foreign national belatedly discovers that her previous employer still harbors ill-will toward her and thus refuses to issue her an experience letter. If the foreign national is left short 1 year of experience and she had been employed with the sponsoring employer for at least 1 year before the labor certification was filed on her behalf, under Matter of Wing’s Tea House, the foreign national could combine experience gained with the sponsoring employer and her previous experience to qualify her for the offered position despite the fact that her on-the-job experience would not have qualified her for the offered position at the labor certification phase due to the DOL’s “substantially comparable” rule.

But will it actually work? Having said all that, we should bear in mind that the USCIS is afforded grounds in 20 C.F.R. §656.30(d) to invalidate a labor certification based on a finding of fraud or willful misrepresentation of a material fact involving the labor certification application. While the scenarios outlined above would not compel such a finding, is there a chance that the USCIS could request that the DOL revoke the labor certification? Under 20 C.F.R. §656.32(a) the DOL may revoke an approved labor certification, based on a finding that the certification was not justified. If the foreign national is found not to possess the degree or the experience listed on the PERM, which is not being used consistently at the time of the I-140, could it be held that the certification was not justified? It is interesting food for thought. However, Matter of Wing’s Tea House indeed presents an innovative path that could possibly be used to save an I-140 in trouble.

THE ONLY TRUE TEST OF LEADERSHIP: PRESIDENTIAL INITIATIVE AND IMMIGRATION REFORM

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

Facing the setting sun out beyond the vast confines of the Los Angeles coliseum, John Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1960 by proclaiming that “the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead and lead vigorously.” Doubtless thinking how to respond to the challenges of his own time, President Kennedy has unwittingly showed the way to meaningful immigration reform for our era. While we fondly hope and fervently pray that the Congress will enact comprehensive immigration reform, we must not stand silent while waiting for Godot. There is enormous remedial potential in the current corpus of immigration law that can be realized through the dedicated application of executive initiative if the vision and will to do exists. It was for this purpose and with this intent that we wrote at length in The Tyranny of Priority Dates in BIB Daily, http://scr.bi/i0Lqkz. While our ideas there were audaciously incremental, we did not cite to past examples of innovative executive leadership that expressed profound policy changes through regulatory revision. It is our great good fortune to remedy this troubling omission with a large helping hand from Solicitor General Elena Kagan recently nominated by President Obama to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the United States Supreme Court. What a relief!

In 2001, then Harvard Law School Dean Kagan wrote her most widely cited foray into legal scholarship Presidential Administration in 114 Harvard Law Review 2245, http://www.harvardlawreview.org/issues/114/june01/Article_7038.php We freely admit that Dean Kagan does not mention immigration even once in over a hundred pages. Most of the article analyzes the influence wielded by various Presidents over the federal regulatory process, presenting at length legal arguments for and against such a sweeping exercise of authority. However, deep within the bowels of this robust exegesis, one finds a golden nugget that we hope to polish for our own very different purposes. On pages 2281-2282, we take a deep breath and read the following:

President Clinton treated the sphere of regulation as his own and in doing so
made it his own, in a way no other modern President had done. Clinton came to
view administration as perhaps the single most critical-in part because the
single most available- vehicle to achieve his domestic policy goals ( emphasis
added).

Dean Kagan offers several examples: a rule to curb underage smoking by restricting the marketing and advertising of tobacco products to children; a rule that allowed the states to offer paid family leave to new parents through the mechanism of unemployment insurance and regular issuance of executive memoranda that directed agency heads to take specified actions within the scope of those powers previously delegated to them by the Congress; making public lands off limits from private development as national monuments; prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; barring federal contracts with companies that used strikebreakers or child labor; mandating a minimum level of employment by federal agencies of welfare recipients and those with physical disabilities; compelling the adoption of workplace rules on expanded religious expression and making sure that regulatory agencies honored strict environmental codes. Doubtless, there are many others. See Presidential Administration at 2292. As it turns out, Dean Kagan reminds us that other Presidents had also changed the nation through the stroke of a pen:

Presidents, of course, discovered long ago that they could use executive orders
and similar vehicles(for example, proclamations) to take various unilateral
actions, sometimes of considerable importance. Consider, by no means as typical
examples but as historical highlights., Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase,
Theodore Roosevelt’s reservation of public lands for a system of national parks,
Harry Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces, Lyndon Johnson’s
requirement that federal contractors adopt affirmative action policies, and…
initiation of OMB regulatory review. See Presidential Administration
at
2291.

There is no reason why Presidents cannot make immigration policy in precisely the same way. Doing so would be yet another reminder that the most long-lasting impact of Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was to bring the whole issue of immigration out of the shadows and into the mainstream of national political conversation and public debate. Immigration as an issue has grown up; what Presidents have done in so many other aspects of governance can now be tried within the confines of the Immigration and Nationality Act. So, for example, until Congress acts to overthrow the tyranny of priority dates and reverse the implosion of the green card category system by revising INA § 245(a)(3) and removing the arbitrary and capricious burden of a current priority date as a condition precedent to application for adjustment of status, the President can give hope to untold thousands, especially from India and China, but also those with no graduate degree, through the simple stroke of a pen. How? By taking a new long look at what “immediate availability” of an immigrant visa number can or should mean, which is one of the central ideas in The Tyranny of Priority Dates.

Would it not be advantageous if those caught in the crushing EB-2 or EB-3 backlogs could file an adjustment of status application, Form I-485, based on a broader definition of visa availability? It would only be more fair to allow 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 immigrant visa petition. Upon filing of an I-485 application, one can enjoy the benefits of occupational mobility or “portability” under INA § 204(j) 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, which they otherwise would not be able to get on an H-4 dependent visa.

Unfortunately, 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. We know that Congress either NEVER makes any sensible fix or takes a very long time to do so. So, why not find a way for the immigration agency, 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(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, 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 Legal 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.

In The Tyranny of Priority Dates we propose the following amendments to 8 C.F.R. § 245(g)(1), shown here in italics, 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), the authors 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. Since parole is not considered a legal admission, they will not be eligible for adjustment of status but will have to depart the United States and use the now-valid visa as a travel document to return when visa availability subsequently presents itself. The authors suggest the insertion of the following sentence, shown here in bold italics and deletion of an other 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. Delete this sentence: [However, should an applicant or agent request information concerning additional processing requirements, this information may be provided at any time with a warning that some documents may expire if obtained too early in the process.]

If Congress wanted to ratify what the USCIS had done, it could certainly do so after the fact. Everything that we now consider to be the adjustment of status process could take place before the priority date becomes current. Similarly, those overseas, can also be paroled into the United States prior to a current priority date. Nothing could be simpler. The reason to seek Congressional modification of INA § 245(a) is not because it is the only way forward but because, by enshrining such a procedural benefit in the INA itself, it will be a much more secure right, one not subject to administrative whim or unilateral repeal. What we propose is not out of the ordinary and without precedent. For instance, the USCIS informally allows spouses of military personnel who would otherwise be unable to adjust under INA § 245(a) if they were neither “inspected and admitted or paroled” to apply for “parole in place.” This administrative solution, where a non-citizen is fictitiously paroled, and thus rendered eligible for adjustment as an immediate relative of a US citizen under § 245, allows our troops to concentrate in the battlefield without being distracted about whether their spouses can or cannot remain in the US. Moreover, as suggested in The Tyranny of Priority Dates, there is nothing to prevent the administration from granting similar parole benefits to undocumented non-citizens in the United States, along with employment authorization, who are waiting for their priority dates to become current or who meet certain sympathetic criteria such as DREAM children. The President can achieve something close to Comprehensive Immigration Reform without going through Congress and without violating the Separation of Powers doctrine, http://www.cyrusmehta.com/News.aspx?SubIdx=ocyrus20105711018&Month=&From=Menu&Page=2&Year=All.

Given the obvious and not insignificant benefits of broad administrative solutions proposed in The Tyranny of Priority Dates, any transitional angst is surely worth the effort. If, as Antonio reminds Sebastian in Act II of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “what’s past is prologue,” the rich history of executive initiative as a mechanism to achieve meaningful change that Solicitor General Kagan has so eloquently brought to our attention can serve as milestones along the march to comprehensive immigration reform so that, when Congress does decide to follow, they will know where to go and how to get there.

Indian Government Backs Down Over Passport Surrender Rule, But Will the New Guidance Lead to Further Confusion?

As a result of pressure from the overseas Indian, the Indian government has backed down. Here is the latest guidance from the Indian Consulate in New York website, http://www.indiacgny.org/php/showHighLightDet.php?h_id=144&key.

In supersession of the rules regarding Surrender/Renunciation Certificate the Government of India have decided as follows:-

Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) who have already acquired foreign citizenship voluntarily till May 31, 2010 shall cease to be Indian citizens upon their acquiring foreign citizenship. However, such persons are required to surrender their Indian passports, whether valid or expired, to the Indian Consulate so that the passport is not misused. Such persons are not required to pay any fee under the Citizenship Act. They will have to pay US$ 20/- for Surrender/Cancellation of the passports.

Those Indian citizens, who intend to acquire foreign citizenship on or after 1st June 2010 will have to submit a declaration of renunciation of their Indian citizenship with payment of US$ 175/- as per fee structure under Rule 23 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009.

The issue of refund of any part of renunciation fee already paid by applicants till 31 May 2010, if applicable, has been taken up with the Government of India. The decision when received will be uniformly applied to those concerned and the information will be put on our website when available. Meanwhile no email/phone queries will be entertained.”

The first point is consistent with what I wrote in my prior blog. One ceases to be an Indian citizen upon taking up the citizenship of another country under Section 9 of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955. A policy requiring renunciation after one automatically ceased to be an Indian citizen made no sense, and then retroactively penalizing the individual for failing to renounce Indian citizen was extremely unfair. On the other hand, those who have taken up US citizenship or a citizenship of another country will still need to surrender their passports, albeit for a lesser fee. This will still result in hardship if the person who got US citizenship decades ago has lost the Indian passport.

It is the second point in the new policy that is most puzzling. It says that those who intend to take up the citizenship of another country after June 1, 2010 must first submit a declaration of renunciation of citizenship under under Rule 23 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009, which stem from Section 8 of the Citizenship Act. Section 8 provides that a citizen of India may renounce Indian citizenship. Rule 23 is reproduced below:

23. Declaration of renunciation of citizenship.- (1) A declaration of renunciation of citizenship of India under sub-section (1) of section 8 shall be made in Form XXII, and shall state-
(a) under which provisions of law, the applicant is an Indian citizen; and
(b) the circumstances in which the applicant intends to acquire foreign citizenship.
(2) On receipt of the declaration of renunciation of citizenship of India under sub-rule (1), an acknowledgement in Form XXIII shall be issued by an officer designated under rule 38.
(3) The declaration shall be registered in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
(4) The Central Government in the Ministry of Home Affairs shall maintain a register in Form XXIV containing the names of persons whose declaration of renunciation of citizenship are registered under this rule.

Rule 23 requires an Indian citizen to renounce Indian citizenship while intending to take up the citzienship of another country, and not after s/he becomes a citizen of another country. How will this play out? What if the US citizenship does not pan out for some reason or is delayed? It quite often happens that one may not become a US citizen, as expected, if a security check has not cleared or if additional evidence is requested. US citizenship may also be denied if an Indian disrupted continuity of residence by spending more than 180 days outside the US during the qualifying 5 year or 3 year period, and is unable to rebut the prsumption of abandonment. Will this person become stateless between the renunciation and the acquistion of the new citizenship? Will this person be deprived of using his or her Indian passport for travel during this period? What if the renuncation has been effectuated and the person is never granted US citizenshp? Strangely, the new policy has been differently announced on the Indian Consulate’s website in San Francisco, which does not incorporate the second point, http://www.cgisf.org/. So what is the correct new policy?

I applaud the Indian government for backing down and eliminating the potential hardship the prior misguided policy would have caused to thousands of overseas Indians who had become US citizens several years ago. Yet, the fact that people may have to surrender lost passports of many years, even decades ago, will still cause hardship. On the other hand, the new policy of requiring renunciation prior to an Indian becoming a citizen of the US or another country, if this is the case, requires immediate clarification as it will cause even more hardship and uncertainty than the withdrawn policy.

Update – 6/3/10

Since the publication of this post, the Indian Consulate in New York has added the following sentence after the first two points in its new guidance: “They may fill the Form and either send it by mail or bring personally to the Consulate. “A perusal through the form suggests that a person is required to renounce Indian citizenship after acquring the citizenship of the US or another country and not before. Thus, it does not seem that one has to renounce Indian citizenship before acquiring the ciitzenship of another country, and the second point in the new guidance is inartfully drafted on the website of the Indian consulate in New York. Although I still question how one can renounce Indian citizenship when it has ceased to exist (although it is perfectly justified to require the surrender of the Indian passport), it is at least better than requiring someone to renounce Indian citizenship before he or she acquires the citizenship of another country.