TOP 10 POSTS ON THE INSIGHTFUL IMMIGRATION BLOG IN 2011

Thank you for reading and supporting The Insightful Immigration Blog.  Listed below are the top 10 most viewed blogs in 2011. We will continue to provide insightful commentary on contemporary immigration issues in 2012, and wish all of our supporters and well wishers a very happy New Year! 

1. PREVAILING WAGE DETERMINATIONS SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: HOW DO I FILE A PERM LABOR CERTIFICATION? http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/08/prevailing-wage-determinations.html

2. IF EVEN THE CHIEF JUSTICE CAN MISUNDERSTAND IMMIGRATION LAW, HOW CAN WE EXPECT STATES TO ENFORCE IT PROPERLY? REMOVAL ORDERS AND WORK AUTHORIZATION http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/06/if-even-chief-justice-can-misunderstand.html

3. RIGHT TO APPOINTED COUNSEL IN REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS? THE SUPREME COURT MAY HAVE OPENED THE DOOR IN TURNER v. ROGERS http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/06/right-to-appointed-counsel-in-removal.html

4.VISA OPTIONS FOR FOREIGN ENTREPRENEURS IN THE US – WHILE KEEPING AN EYE ON THE POTENTIAL TRAPS AND PITFALLS http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/11/visa-options-for-foreign-entreprenuers.html

5. DO WE HAVE A START-UP VISA FOR ENTREPRENEURS EVEN WHEN CONGRESS HAS NOT LIFTED A FINGER? http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/08/do-we-have-start-up-visa-for.html

6.THE ABSURDITY OF THE BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP ACT OF 2011 http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/01/absurdity-of-birthright-citizenship-act.html

7. HOW FAIR IS THE FAIRNESS FOR HIGH-SKILLED IMMIGRANTS ACT? http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-fair-is-fairness-for-high-skilled.html

8. BALCA GETS IT RIGHT!! RECRUITMENT AND THE PREVAILING WAGE DETERMINATION’S VALIDITY PERIOD http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/06/balca-gets-it-right-recruitment-and.html (but see update, BALCA EN BANC SPEAKS ON RECRUITMENT AND THE PREVAILING WAGE VALIDITY PERIOD http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/12/balca-en-banc-speaks-on-recruitment-and.html)

9. B-1 IN LIEU OF H-1B VISA IN JEOPARDY: DON’T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/05/b-1-in-lieu-of-h-1b-visa-in-jeopardy.html

10. IT’S 9:OO A.M.- DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR H-1B EMPLOYEE IS? AN OVERVIEW OF FDNS SITE VISITS http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2011/12/its-9oo-am-do-you-know-where-your-h-1b.html

IT’S 9:OO A.M.- DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR H-1B EMPLOYEE IS? AN OVERVIEW OF FDNS SITE VISITS

By Myriam Jaidi

U.S. companies employing foreign workers in H or L nonimmigrant status are increasingly subjected to random, surprise site visits by the USCIS. This article provides an overview of such visits.

The site visits occur under the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP) conducted by the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate.  The purpose of the visits, according to USCIS, is to “verify information contained in certain visa petitions.”  Visits are conducted pre- and post-adjudication on randomly selected applications and petitions.  Interestingly, ASVVP site inspections are not performed in cases where fraud is suspected, although they are part of the fraud detection process, geared toward enhancing the “integrity of the immigration benefit process.”

Many of those who have experienced such site visits are thrown into a state of worry and sometimes panic, convinced that there must be a huge problem with their petition and ability to employ foreigners in H-1B or L status.  Beneficiaries get worried because they see their H-1B status (and perhaps the green card process they have been waiting so long to come to completion) flash before their eyes, as if it might disappear.  There is a great deal riding on these site visits:  if an officer is unable to find a beneficiary or verify the information in a petition, the petitioner may receive a denial on a pending case or a notice of intent to revoke an approved petition.  If derogatory information is discovered during a site visit, this may lead to further investigation or even civil or criminal penalties.

Our advice?  Nothing earth shattering:  Be prepared.  If you employ foreign nationals in H or L status, be sure that if an officer from FDNS comes to conduct a site visit, your employees (such as the receptionist, HR team, etc.) know to contact a specific person (such as the signatory on the petition) who can accompany the officer throughout the visit and answer his or her specific questions about the petitioner, the details of the petition, and the beneficiary.  The officer will usually want to speak with the signatory and the beneficiary.  If those individuals are not available, the officer should be asked to provide contact information for a follow up discussion.  The officers may also want to verify details with the signatory or beneficiary by phone or via email after conducting the site visit, if they are not available at the time of the visit.  If the beneficiary is not available at the worksite, for example because he or she is out sick or tending to a family member, the company should have clear proof that the individual has taken a sick day, otherwise revocation could result.  If the beneficiary is employed at a third-party worksite, it is important that the receptionist or other first-contact employees are aware of the person’s placement and can direct the officer to the beneficiary.

What kinds of information are FDNS officers looking for? Some typical areas of inquiry include:

To the petitioner, about the petitioner

  • Verify the signatory of the petition, his or her position within the organization
  • Whether the signatory is aware that an H-1B petition was filed for the beneficiary
  • Check the ID of the petitioner’s signatory
  • Total number of employees at the petitioner’s company
  • Number of employees on H-1B status
  • Number of employees with LPR status
  • Gross annual income
  • Net annual income

To the petitioner, about the beneficiary:

  • Start date with the organization
  • Current salary
  • Whether the petition signatory is aware that the beneficiary is on H-1B status

To the beneficiary:

  • Name of the employer/petitioner
  • Offer letter for the position with the petitioner
  • W2 for the most recent year
  • Most recent paystubs
  • Description of job duties
  • Photocopies of qualifying degrees
  • Who paid petition filing fees and attorney fees?

To a third-party/end-client worksite representative:

  • Describe the relationship between end client and the petitioner
  • Does the end client anticipate receiving the services of the beneficiary?
  • If the answer is yes, the end client may be asked to provide
    • beginning and ending dates of beneficiary’s employment;
    • job description/duties;
    • beneficiary’s physical work location
    • project description of the task to which beneficiary has been assigned; and
    • name and title of the beneficiary’s supervisor
  • Is end client aware that the beneficiary is an employee of petitioner?
  • Who assigns work to the beneficiary?
  • Who does the end client contact about employee related issues for the beneficiary?
You may recognize that these questions go to the issues not only of verifying details in a petition but also of verifying the existence of an employer-employee relationship and whether the employer controls the employment of the beneficiary.  We discussed this issue in former articles about guidance issued by USCIS in January 2010, providing a general overview of the guidance, and  advice on using the guidance

Once this information is provided, the parties are often greeted with silence, in large part because the officers conducting the site visits report their results to FDNS for review, but do not themselves make decisions regarding the validity of an application or petition.  After the site visit is over, FDNS reviews the information and determines whether further inquiry is necessary.  As USCIS summarizes: “If FDNS cannot verify the information on the petition or finds the information to be inconsistent with the facts recorded during the site visit, the ISO may request additional evidence from the petitioner or initiate denial or revocation proceedings.  When indicators of fraud are identified, the FDNS Officer may conduct additional administrative inquiries or refer the case to ICE for criminal investigation.”

Most petitioners have an attorney prepare their immigration filings for them.  Where is the attorney in this process?  Unless the petitioner or the beneficiary gets the attorney on speakerphone in a conference room during a site visit, or asks the attorney to take the lead on following up with the officer, the attorney will be absent from the process.  Site visits are surprise visits of the petitioner’s offices or the beneficiary’s worksite (if not at the beneficiary’s offices).  Attorneys are not informed of the visit, and a petitioner’s (and beneficiary’s) right to counsel in this context is basically ignored.  USCIS takes the position that petitioners have consented to the visits by signing the Form I-129, Petitioner for Nonimmigrant Worker, which in Part 7 includes the following statement:  “I also recognize that supporting evidence submitted may be verified by USCIS through any means determined appropriate by USCIS, including but not limited to, on-site compliance reviews.”  Thus, the burden is on the petitioner and/or beneficiary in a particular case to get counsel involved in the on-going process.

BALCA EN BANC SPEAKS ON RECRUITMENT AND THE PREVAILING WAGE VALIDITY PERIOD

By Myriam Jaidi

U.S. companies employing foreign workers in H or L nonimmigrant status are increasingly subjected to random, surprise site visits by the USCIS. This article provides an overview of such visits.

The site visits occur under the Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP) conducted by the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate.  The purpose of the visits, according to USCIS, is to “verify information contained in certain visa petitions.”  Visits are conducted pre- and post-adjudication on randomly selected applications and petitions.  Interestingly, ASVVP site inspections are not performed in cases where fraud is suspected, although they are part of the fraud detection process, geared toward enhancing the “integrity of the immigration benefit process.”

Many of those who have experienced such site visits are thrown into a state of worry and sometimes panic, convinced that there must be a huge problem with their petition and ability to employ foreigners in H-1B or L status.  Beneficiaries get worried because they see their H-1B status (and perhaps the green card process they have been waiting so long to come to completion) flash before their eyes, as if it might disappear.  There is a great deal riding on these site visits:  if an officer is unable to find a beneficiary or verify the information in a petition, the petitioner may receive a denial on a pending case or a notice of intent to revoke an approved petition.  If derogatory information is discovered during a site visit, this may lead to further investigation or even civil or criminal penalties.

Our advice?  Nothing earth shattering:  Be prepared.  If you employ foreign nationals in H or L status, be sure that if an officer from FDNS comes to conduct a site visit, your employees (such as the receptionist, HR team, etc.) know to contact a specific person (such as the signatory on the petition) who can accompany the officer throughout the visit and answer his or her specific questions about the petitioner, the details of the petition, and the beneficiary.  The officer will usually want to speak with the signatory and the beneficiary.  If those individuals are not available, the officer should be asked to provide contact information for a follow up discussion.  The officers may also want to verify details with the signatory or beneficiary by phone or via email after conducting the site visit, if they are not available at the time of the visit.  If the beneficiary is not available at the worksite, for example because he or she is out sick or tending to a family member, the company should have clear proof that the individual has taken a sick day, otherwise revocation could result.  If the beneficiary is employed at a third-party worksite, it is important that the receptionist or other first-contact employees are aware of the person’s placement and can direct the officer to the beneficiary.

What kinds of information are FDNS officers looking for? Some typical areas of inquiry include: To the petitioner, about the petitioner

  • Verify the signatory of the petition, his or her position within the organization
  • Whether the signatory is aware that an H-1B petition was filed for the beneficiary
  • Check the ID of the petitioner’s signatory
  • Total number of employees at the petitioner’s company
  • Number of employees on H-1B status
  • Number of employees with LPR status
  • Gross annual income
  • Net annual income

To the petitioner, about the beneficiary:

  • Start date with the organization
  • Current salary
  • Whether the petition signatory is aware that the beneficiary is on H-1B status

To the beneficiary:

  • Name of the employer/petitioner
  • Offer letter for the position with the petitioner
  • W2 for the most recent year
  • Most recent paystubs
  • Description of job duties
  • Photocopies of qualifying degrees
  • Who paid petition filing fees and attorney fees?

To a third-party/end-client worksite representative:

  • Describe the relationship between end client and the petitioner
  • Does the end client anticipate receiving the services of the beneficiary?
  • If the answer is yes, the end client may be asked to provide
    • beginning and ending dates of beneficiary’s employment;
    • job description/duties;
    • beneficiary’s physical work location
    • project description of the task to which beneficiary has been assigned; and
    • name and title of the beneficiary’s supervisor
  • Is end client aware that the beneficiary is an employee of petitioner?
  • Who assigns work to the beneficiary?
  • Who does the end client contact about employee related issues for the beneficiary?

You may recognize that these questions go to the issues not only of verifying details in a petition but also of verifying the existence of an employer-employee relationship and whether the employer controls the employment of the beneficiary.  We discussed this issue in former articles about guidance issued by USCIS in January 2010, providing a general overview of the guidance, and  advice on using the guidance

Once this information is provided, the parties are often greeted with silence, in large part because the officers conducting the site visits report their results to FDNS for review, but do not themselves make decisions regarding the validity of an application or petition.  After the site visit is over, FDNS reviews the information and determines whether further inquiry is necessary.  As USCIS summarizes: “If FDNS cannot verify the information on the petition or finds the information to be inconsistent with the facts recorded during the site visit, the ISO may request additional evidence from the petitioner or initiate denial or revocation proceedings.  When indicators of fraud are identified, the FDNS Officer may conduct additional administrative inquiries or refer the case to ICE for criminal investigation.”

Most petitioners have an attorney prepare their immigration filings for them.  Where is the attorney in this process?  Unless the petitioner or the beneficiary gets the attorney on speakerphone in a conference room during a site visit, or asks the attorney to take the lead on following up with the officer, the attorney will be absent from the process.  Site visits are surprise visits of the petitioner’s offices or the beneficiary’s worksite (if not at the beneficiary’s offices).  Attorneys are not informed of the visit, and a petitioner’s (and beneficiary’s) right to counsel in this context is basically ignored.  USCIS takes the position that petitioners have consented to the visits by signing the Form I-129, Petitioner for Nonimmigrant Worker, which in Part 7 includes the following statement:  “I also recognize that supporting evidence submitted may be verified by USCIS through any means determined appropriate by USCIS, including but not limited to, on-site compliance reviews.”  Thus, the burden is on the petitioner and/or beneficiary in a particular case to get counsel involved in the on-going process.

How Fair is the Fairness For High-Skilled Immigrants Act?

H.R. 3012, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, was passed in the House on November 29, 2011 by a landslide 389-15 vote. Introduced by Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT), it eliminates the employment-based per country cap entirely by 2015 and raises the family-sponsored per-country cap from 7% to 15%. If H.R. 3012 does become law, it will significantly decrease the wait times for certain countries in the employment-based preferences, especially India and China. Even wait times in the family-based preferences will get reduced.

H.R. 3012 only redistributes the allocation of visas, it does not increase the visas that are fixed in number each year. As a result of the existence of the per country limits, those born in India and China have been drastically affected by backlogs. Each country is only entitled to 7 percent of the total allocation of visas under each preference. Thus, a country like Iceland with only 300,000 people has the same allocation as India or China with populations of more than a billion people. For instance, in the Employment-based second preference (EB-2), those born in India and China have to wait for over 5 years to obtain green cards while all other nationalities do not have any wait times. The situation is even more dire in the Employment-based third preference for India (EB-3). Under the per country limit for India in the EB-3, only 2,800 visas can be allocated each year while an estimated 210,000 Indians, along with their dependants, are eligible for green cards. As a result, according to a report of the National Foundation For American Policy, the waiting time for a green card for an Indian under the EB-3 has been estimated to be 70 years, while it may be over 5 years for others.

As a result of such unmanageable waiting times, skilled foreign nationals in the pipeline for a green card, especially from India and China, have no incentive to stay in the US even though they may be invaluable to their employers who have sponsored them by demonstrating that there were no US workers available for the position. Many of these skilled immigrants have graduated with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), vital to US growth and innovation. Such skilled workers are generally on H-1B visas, but many are on other nonimmigrant visas such as the L visa too. Even though they are able to extend their H-1B visas beyond the six year limit while waiting for the green card under provisions in the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21) (and many are already past 10 years on the H-1B visa), they are generally bound to the same employer during the green card process and their spouses cannot work. If their children turn over 21, they lose the ability to remain on the H-4 dependent status and most likely will also be unable to derivatively get the green card along with the parent.

The passage of H.R. 3012 has been met with jubilation by Indians and Chinese, but those from the rest of the world may not be so happy. While Indians and Chinese may still need to wait, the waiting times will get more tolerable, but others who did not have to wait in the EB-2 will now need to wait. While it is hard to predict, there may eventually be waiting times of 1-2 years for all countries in the EB-2. While everyone in the EB-3 is subject to unreasonable waiting times, upon the elimination of the per country limits, Indians may still need to wait but it will not be for 70 years. Instead, it may be 10-12 years for all EB-3 nationals, according to the NFAP report. Those who have priority dates prior to November 2005 in the EB-3, according to the NFAP report, will need to wait only 1 to 2 more years instead of an additional torturous 11-18 years. While waiting times for Indian and Chinese may likely lessen, waiting times for all others may go up in both the EB-2 and the EB-3.

H.R. 3012 is thus not a perfect bill. It also has to be passed by the Senate before it becomes law, and there is an identical version introduced in the Senate. At present, Senator Grassley (R-1A), who has been a foe to skilled immigrant from India, including H-1Bs used by Indian IT companies, has placed a hold on legislation in the Senate. Senate procedures allow any member of the Senate to place such a hold on legislation, and it is uncertain whether Grassley will release his hold in the near future, although he is being persuaded to do so by colleagues and advocates. What is so significant about H.R 3012 is that it received bipartisan support and that too by a landslide, especially in a time when such bipartisan support on other measures is rare or non-existent. The easy passage of H.R. 3012 also shows that there is concern about the unfairness and imbalance in the system towards certain countries, especially India and China. Indeed, although the country limits were originally enacted for all countries, it has resulted in invidious discrimination within the immigration system for Indians and Chinese.

Things may work out better than expected if H.R. 3012 became law, though, as we have lived without per country limits in recent times. Prior to Jan 1, 2005, the EB numbers were always current because AC 21, enacted in 2000, recaptured 130,000 numbers from 1998 and 1999, and the per country limits were postponed under a formula until the demand in the EB outstripped the supply. The lack of per country limits helped, but we also had the additional unused numbers. However, at that time, we also had a surge under the 245(i) program, which we do not have today. The notes in the January 1, 2005 Visa Bulletin, when there was retrogression in the EB-3 for the first time after AC21, explains it all.

In conclusion, even if H.R. 3012 imposes waiting times on others who were hitherto not affected in an unfair system while decreasing the wait times for Indians and Chinese, it is consistent with principles of fairness.

The words of Justice Jackson ring true with respect to H.R. 3012 too:

“The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected.”Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York, 336 U.S. 106, 112—113 (1949) (concurring opinion).

Of course, H.R. 3012 ought to be viewed as a first baby step towards more comprehensive immigration reform. Even if it does become law, and skilled immigrants continue to wait, who may not only be Indians or Chinese, Congress will realize that the ultimate solution is to increase the visa numbers, rather than to maintain fossilized quotas that never change and are oblivious to economic and global realities. If there is no consensus for an overall increase in the 140,000 visas that are allocated each year to EB immigrants, Congress can exempt certain people from the numbers such as graduates with STEM degrees, or better still, dependent family members. Such carve outs too could restore further balance and integrity to the US immigration system.