Federal Court Reverses Unreasonable H-1B Denial For Market Research Analyst

Employers who file perfectly bonafide H-1B petitions for certain occupations face unreasonable denials from the USCIS. One H-1B occupation that is especially vulnerable to a denial is  Market Research Analyst. The USCIS’s rationale for the denial is that the occupation must require a degree in the actual position and not in closely related fields. Thus, even if it is acknowledged that a Market Research Analyst requires a degree in closely related fields such as business, marketing, economics, sociology or psychology,  but not  specifically in market research analysis, that can provide a basis for the USCIS to arbitrarily deny the H-1B petition. There is clearly no requirement that the specialized degree for entry into the occupation needs to be in a single academic discipline. This may be true for occupations such as law or medicine, but if the USCIS applies such narrow criteria, a lot of occupations will not qualify for the H-1B visa.

In Tapis Int’l v. INS, 94 F Supp. 2d 172 (D. Mass 2000), the beneficiary was sponsored for H-1B classification as a showroom manager  The petition was denied because the employer could not demonstrate that the position required a degree in showroom management, although the position required a degree in business administration, marketing or related field  as well as additional training or experience in the field of interior design.  In that case, the court reversed the denial on the ground that such a narrow agency interpretation would preclude any position from satisfying the “specialty occupation” requirements where a specific degree is not available in that field.

Yet, the USCIS continues to use this faulty interpretation in denying H-1B petitions. This is precisely what recently happened to an employer who sought H-1B visa classification for a foreign national in the specialty occupation of Market Research Analyst who had a degree in marketing and finance.  In Residential Finance Corporation v. USCIS2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32220, decided on March 12, 2012, Judge Gregory L. Frost of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Eastern Division) chided U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for denying an H-1B petition to a market research analyst with a bachelor’s degree in closely related fields.

The issue before the court in Residential Finance Corporation was whether USCIS was incorrect in concluding that there was not a”specialty occupation” involved.  The court noted that a specialty occupation is one that requires attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.  A related definition provides that a specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge.

Among other things, USCIS argued that although the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) recognizes a baccalaureate degree as the minimum educational requirement for many market and survey research jobs, the OOH does not indicate that such a degree need be in a specific specialty directly related to market research.

In this case, the beneficiary had obtained a bachelor of science degree in marketing and finance.  The record indicated that a minimum requirement for entry into the position of market research analyst is the specialized course of study in which the beneficiary had engaged.

“Perhaps most bewildering is that Defendant rejected the evidence that [the beneficiary] would actually be performing these job duties if hired, despite no evidence to the contrary and no other apparent reason for failing to credit the evidence on this record,” the judge said.

Judge Frost continued: “Defendant continues to reject this record in favor of supporting a flawed denial. What Defendant overlooks is that the illogical leaps about which Plaintiff complains in its thorough briefing cannot be separated from the process in which Defendant engaged in its decision making.  Stated simply, Defendant did a poor job of keeping the record straight and its focus on the actual inquiry involved.”

The judge pointed out that USCIS expressly admitted “inexplicable errors” in its briefing, such as references to the wrong sections of the OOH, and that the agency’s decision appeared to identify the proffered position incorrectly as a marketing manager rather than a marketing analyst.

Judge Frost said that these errors were not the essentially inconsequential lapses that USCIS suggested.  Instead, he said, they constituted “a litany of incompetence that presents [a] fundamental misreading of the record, relevant sources, and the point of the entire petition.” If USCIS wants to deny a petition that will send the beneficiary to another country after 21 years of living in the United States, the judge said, “it should afford Plaintiff and [the beneficiary] a bare minimum level of professionalism, diligence, and reasoning.”  Noting that the record indicated that a market and survey researcher is a distinct occupation with a specialized course of study that includes multiple specialized fields, that the beneficiary had completed such specialized study in the relevant fields of marketing and finance, and that Residential Finance Corporation had sought to employ him in such a position, Judge Frost said that USCIS had ‘ignore[d] the realities of the statutory language involved and the obvious intent behind them.  The knowledge and not the title of the degree is what is important. Diplomas rarely come bearing occupation-specific majors.”

Judge Frost concluded that USCIS failed to meet the “fundamental threshold for rational decision making and has instead engaged in conduct that cannot be separated from the taint of the foregoing errors.”  He thus found that the denial of the petition was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, and ordered that USCIS grant the petition and change the beneficiary’s status to H-1B nonimmigrant.

Employers and their attorneys should use these decisions to advocate for their clients in case the USCIS absurdly asserts that the position does not require a degree in a single academic discipline.  INA § 214(i) defines a specialized occupation as requiring “(A) theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge; and (B) attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”  While it is true that INA § 214(i) requires a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty for the position to qualify under the H-1B visa classification, it should be argued that this section does not restrict it to a degree in a single specialty.  For instance, a position for a computer programmer analyst could require a bachelor’s degree in specialties such as computer science, management information systems, mathematics, engineering or closely related fields. All of these specialties could qualify a person for this specialty occupation.  Congress could not have intended that INA § 214(i) be restricted to a single specialty, namely, computer science, and preclude the demonstration of other specialties, such as mathematics or engineering disciplines, that could also qualify a nonimmigrant for the specialty occupation of computer programmer analyst.

If your case is denied, do not lose hope.  You can always litigate a good case in federal court and try to get the same favorable outcome as in Residential Finance Corporation and Tapis International.


By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

Since the issuance of the January 8, 2010 guidance memorandum by Donald Neufeld, concerning the employer-employee relationship in H-1B petitions (Neufeld Memo), especially when an employer places an H-1B worker at a third party client site, workers at IT consulting and staffing companies have been the most adversely impacted.  Indeed, it seems that the Neufeld Memo was designed to kill the staffing company.

The adverse effects of the Neufeld Memo have been felt most keenly by Indian nationals on H-1B visas who make up most of the workforce at such companies.  This legitimate IT business model, which has been readily embraced by US corporations, is associated with a distasteful term in immigration parlance, namely the “job shop,” whose presence has become ubiquitous with Indian beneficiaries of employment visa petitions. The heightened scrutiny, often leading to an arbitrary denial, is exercised even if the USCIS has approved the H-1B petition previously on the exact same facts. Most problematically, H-1B visa applicants face unreasonable and arbitrary treatment at US Consulates in India, and are subject to unnecessary demands for the same documentation even after they were submitted to the USCIS, resulting in denials or recommendations for revocation of their petitions. Most Indian H-1B visa holders are fearful of travelling to India presently out of fear that they will be denied a visa based on an approved petition.   CBP at ports of entry has also exercised this subjective scrutiny over Indian H-1B entrants in the IT consulting field at ports of entry.

On March 12, 2012, the USCIS issued a revised Q&A on the Neufeld Memo containing helpful language under Questions 5 and Question 13, which did not exist in the prior guidance dated August 2, 2011.

Q5: Am I required to submit a letter or other documentation from the end-client that identifies the beneficiary to demonstrate that a valid employer-employee relationship will exist between the petitioner and beneficiary if the beneficiary will perform services at an end-client/third-party location?

A5: No. While documents from the end-client may help USCIS determine whether a valid employer-employee relationship will exist, this type of documentation is not required. You may submit a combination of any documents to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the required relationship will exist. The types of evidence listed in the memorandum are not exhaustive. Adjudicators will review and weigh all the evidence submitted to determine whether you have met your burden in establishing that a qualifying employer-employee relationship will exist.

Q13:  The memorandum provides an example of when a computer consulting company had not established a valid employer-employee relationship. Are there any situations in which a consulting company or a staffing company would be able to establish a valid employer-employee relationship?

A13:  Yes. A consulting company or staffing company may be able to establish that a valid employer-employee relationship will exist, including where the beneficiary will be working at a third-party worksite, if the petitioning consulting or staffing company can demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that it has the right to control the work of the beneficiary. Relevant factors include, but are not limited to, whether the petitioner will pay the beneficiary’s salary; whether the petitioner will determine the beneficiary’s location and relocation assignments (i.e. where the beneficiary is to report to work); and whether the petitioner will perform supervisory duties such as conducting performance reviews, training, and counseling for the beneficiary. The memorandum provides a non-exhaustive list of types of evidence that could demonstrate an employer-employee relationship.

It is heartening to know that the failure to submit direct document from the end client will not be fatal. It is often times very difficult to obtain such a letter from the end client, especially when there are multi-vendor arrangements between the end client and the H-1B petitioner. Moreover, the end client may not want to be involved in any way in the visa petitioning process, without realizing that its reluctance to submit a letter can result in a denial of the H-1B petition and deprive it of a crucial worker for its project. The revised Q & A states that the petitioner “may submit a combination of any documents to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the required [employer-employee] relationship will exist.” It is hoped that USCIS will not willfully ignore this guidance. Also, consuls should note that the absence of direct documentation from the end client should not cause them to refuse the H-1B visa, and recommend to the USCIS that the H-1B petition be revoked.

Also welcome is the absence of the pejorative term “job shop” in the answer to Question 13, and the fact that the Q&A states that a consulting or staffing company can still demonstrate through the preponderance of the evidence that it has the right to control the work of the beneficiary, even though he or she may be at a third party client site. It also provides helpful tips on how the consulting or staffing firm can demonstrate a right of control through conducting performance reviews, training and counseling for the beneficiary. While the USCIS would doubtless prefer the daily assertion of actual control by the H-1B petitioner even though it has professed that the H-1B employer only exercise the right of control, it is encouraging to note that this latest guidance does indeed provide concrete examples that are truly indicative of “the right to control.” It would appear that, so long as the indicia of ultimate supervision are present, the absence of day-to-day review will not be fatal.  Such flexibility will not only restore a utilitarian suppleness to the H-1B but to other non-immigrant visa categories, notably the off-site L-1B intra-company transferee, where artificial notions of rigid control have also proved consistently at variance with contemporary business practice.

Beyond that, while the H-1B petitioner must always retain primary control, Neufeld redux does not demand total or exclusive control. This could mean, for example, that input from end users as part of performance reviews would not only be tolerated but sanctioned.  While the selection of locations and assignments remain the province of the H-1B petitioner, as they should, there is no reason why daily on-the-job consultations with end user management cannot take place consistent with retention of H-1B status. A distinction between first and last decisions as compared to every day tactical adjustments is good news for an economy still struggling to get back on its feet. Though this may not have been their intent, the drafters of this update have brought the Neufeld memorandum closer to what Judge Kessler had in mind when she dismissed the Broadgate complaint:

To summarize, the Court concludes the Memorandum establishes interpretive guidelines for the implementation of the Regulation, and does not bind USCIS adjudicators in their determinations of Plaintiffs’ H-1B visa applications

This latest guidance represents an unspoken but nonetheless enlightened attempt to align the Neufeld Memorandum with the way America works. If followed, it can help save H-1B petition requests from impending doom. The only remaining issue is whether this revised Q&A will be seriously followed by the USCIS officers, and in turn, by the US Consulates. Regardless,  an H-1B petitioner whose business model involves placing H-1B workers at third party client sites should actively rely on this revised Q&A when filing H-1B petitions or when responding to requests for evidence to assert its right of control over the beneficiary.

There is a larger reason why those of us who have so strenuously attacked the Neufeld Memorandum should welcome this revision. The absence of guidance is the lawyer’s worst nightmare. Without knowing how the game is played, the lawyer does not know when to advance or when to retreat. He or she is prone to putting in too much or not enough, placing undue emphasis on what is tangential while glossing over the truly essential. Some cases take an excessive amount of time to prepare while others are filed prematurely. Law becomes a high stakes poker game, justice by ambush. The USCIS adjudicator is also at sea. Uncertain what standards to employ, frustrated by  nagging suspicion that agile advocacy by an unscrupulous bar will win benefits for clients who do not deserve them, the line analyst at the Vermont or California Service Center faced with a subtle H-1B fact pattern looks in vain to Washington for clarity that does not come. The process becomes complex, complicated and expensive. Conflict replaces cooperation leading to litigation and micromanagement. There seems no exit. When nothing is certain, almost anything can happen.

That is where the Neufeld Memorandum and the August 2011 guidance left us (although the earlier guidance consistent with DHS’s policy to welcome entrepreneurs clarified how an owner of a company could get an H-1B visa). Not really knowing how the USCIS would interpret the third party placement of an H-1B temporary worker, we were left with a Hobson’s choice between bedlam and litigation. The only thing that was certain was the absence of certainty itself. That is why this most recent Neufeld Q&A is so welcome for it has within it the potential to restore clarity and stability to a singularly important question of law in the increasingly contentious H-1B debate at a time when both qualities were singularly lacking. Rhetoric is not reality, however, and the possibility that skeptical USCIS adjudicators will simply ignore this most recent guidance remains a disturbing possibility. We all know from bitter experience the gap between promise and performance. Good intentions in Washington DC can be frustrated quite well by sustained resistance in the trenches. If the wisdom of good men and women will prevail, this will not happen. Hopefully, the deliberate deployment and informed application of this newly minted wisdom will turn the Neufeld Memo from a symbol of intransigence into a  tool for nuanced adjudication. That will deserve the genuine approbation of all those who doubtless will wonder why the USCIS did not think of this earlier.

(The views expressed by guest author, Gary Endelman, are his and not of his firm, FosterQuan LLP)


In its decision earlier this month in the case of Vera v. Attorney General of the U.S., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a woman who had entered the United States at the age of 12 under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) could be removed without a hearing before an immigration judge, even though the government could not produce proof that she had actually waived her right to such a hearing. The Third Circuit in Vera relied on a presumption that the waiver must have been properly executed since this was required by statute in order for Ms. Vera to be admitted under the VWP, and also on the argument, first accepted by the Third Circuit in the case of Bradley v. Attorney General of the U.S., 603 F.3d 235 (3d Cir. 2010), that there was no prejudice to Ms. Vera from any lack of a knowing and voluntary waiver because the summary removal that she now faced was the same consequence that she would have faced if she had refused to sign the waiver. This second argument, similar to one made by the en banc Seventh Circuit in Bayo v. Napolitano, 593 F.3d 495 (7th Cir. 2010), appears to be based on a misunderstanding regarding the consequences of the different types of summary removals that can occur under the VWP.

Additional background details regarding the VWP, as well as regarding the original decision by the Seventh Circuit in Bayo (preceding the en banc decision relied upon by Bradley), are available in a March 23, 2009 article by this author on our firm’s website. For present purposes, it suffices to note that VWP entrants are required by statute, as noted in Vera and its predecessors, to waive their rights to contest removal other than on the basis of an application for asylum, or similar relief from removal based on the threat of persecution or torture. If a VWP entrant who has waived these rights is found inadmissible at the time of applying for admission, or is later found to be deportable, he or she may be summarily removed without a hearing, absent an application for asylum or related relief. There are, however, important differences between the consequences of summary removal upon initial application for admission under the VWP, and summary removal after admission under the VWP.

The procedures regarding determinations of inadmissibility and deportability under the VWP are set forth in the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a)-(b), available online from the Government Printing Office. The provision regarding “Determinations of inadmissibility” at 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a) addresses the procedure by which “[a]n alien who applies for admission under [INA § 217], who is determined . . . not to be eligible for admission under that section or to be inadmissible to the United States . . . will be refused admission into the United States and removed.” 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a)(1). Relevant here, 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a)(3) provides that “Refusal of admission under paragraph (a)(1) of this section shall not constitute removal for purposes of the Act.”

With regard to those admitted under the VWP, on the other hand, 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b)(1) lays out the procedures for summary deportation of “[a]n alien who has been admitted to the United States under [the VWP] who is determined by an immigration officer to be deportable from the United States under one or more of the grounds of deportability listed in section 237 of the Act.” The immediately following paragraph, 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b)(2), makes clear that “Removal by the district director under paragraph (b)(1) of this section is equivalent in all respects and has the same consequences as removal after proceedings conducted under section 240 of the Act.”

The key distinction between an initial refusal of admission under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a) and a later summary deportation under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b), then, is that the former “shall not constitute removal for purposes of” the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), but the latter has the same consequences as removal after full-fledged removal proceedings under INA section 240, 8 U.S.C. § 1229a. This distinction is important because removal under the INA has long-term consequences.

Most notably, one who has been removed is inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(A), for a period of time varying between five years and indefinitely, depending on the circumstances of removal. In the ordinary course, when a removal order is issued after proceedings that were not initiated upon the arrival of the person removed, and there is no question of a second removal or an aggravated felony conviction, the period of inadmissibility is ten years pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(A)(ii)(I). One who wishes to seek readmission before this period has lapsed must obtain special consent to reapply for admission, pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(A)(iii). Such permission to reapply for admission can be sought from USCIS by filing an application on Form I-212, but will be granted only in the exercise of discretion and not automatically.

Summary refusal of admission to a VWP applicant, under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a), is not an order of removal for purposes of the INA according to 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a)(3), and thus does not lead to a requirement that the refused applicant seek special permission to reapply for admission. Summary removal of a VWP applicant subsequent to admission under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b), on the other hand, has the same consequences as removal following ordinary removal proceedings according to 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b)(2), which is to say that it will lead to at least a ten-year bar on readmission under 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(A)(ii)(I) absent special, discretionary permission to reapply.

Thus, it was incorrect for the Third Circuit to say in Bradley and again in Vera that “Had Bradley known the contents of the waiver and refused to sign, he would be in the same position as he is now – subject to summary removal without a hearing” and thus unable to obtain status based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. Bradley, 603 F.3d at 241; Vera, slip op. at 20. The summary removal without a hearing that Mr. Bradley and Ms. Vera would have faced at the time of their initial applications for admission, if they had refused to sign the VWP waiver based on a true understanding of what it meant, carried no collateral consequence of future inadmissibility to the United States. The summary removal that they faced after admission, on the other hand, carried a penalty of inadmissibility for 10 years.

Had Ms. Vera been refused admission when she came to the United States as a minor because she refused to sign the VWP waiver or was found unable to understand it, she would not have faced any bar on readmission to the United States. Now, however, she will, if removed under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b), be inadmissible under INA § 212(a)(9)(A) for a period of ten years. That alone would constitute the prejudice that the Third Circuit claimed was absent. Ms. Vera will also, if she is removed, likely be inadmissible for ten years under INA § 212(a)(9)(B), given her unlawful presence subsequent to admission, which she and Mr. Bradley would not have accrued if they had been refused admission because of refusal to sign a waiver—and which, even after they had accrued it, would not have precluded her or Mr. Bradley from adjusting status under INA § 245(a) based on a petition by a U.S. citizen immediate relative (such as a spouse) in the absence of the order of removal under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b) that is at issue here, so that there is indeed prejudice in this regard as well from subjecting Ms. Vera and Mr. Bradley to the strictures of the summary removal process despite the asserted lack of a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights by either of them. The Third Circuit’s suggestion that there was no prejudice in Vera and Bradley appears to have been based on the assumption that refusal of VWP admission under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(a) and subsequent summary deportation under 8 C.F.R. § 217.4(b) are legally identical procedures with identical consequences, but this is not the case.

With this erroneous argument out of the way, the Third Circuit’s ruling in Vera appears to rest solely on the notion that a twelve-year-old girl must be presumed to have executed a knowing, voluntary, and meaningful waiver of her due process rights with regard to future removal from the United States simply because the governing statute and regulations indicate that the government ought to have required such a waiver prior to allowing her to enter the United States. That is a slender reed indeed, as discussed in a recent posting on the AILA Slip Opinion Blog. The Second Circuit’s decision in Galluzzo v. Holder, which the Third Circuit in Vera declined to follow and which held that a VWP entrant’s due process rights would have been violated (if prejudice were shown) when he was subjected to summary removal without any actual waiver, is significantly more convincing on that subject, and should be followed by other courts in the future. Indeed, it would make sense for even the Third Circuit, in the event of future panel or en banc reconsideration of Vera (or en banc reconsideration of its precedential value in a future case), to follow Galluzzo once the prejudice to someone in Ms. Vera’s situation has been explained.

Stop the Assault on Employment Immigration to the USA

At the behest of Senator Grassley (R-IA), the DHS Office of Inspector General recently issue a controversial report, The Effects of USCIS Adjudication Procedures and Policies on Fraud Detection by Immigration Service Officers. I wonder about the intentions of Senator Grassley who put a hold on the Fairness For High Skilled Immigrants Act, which passed the Republican controlled House of Representatives by a landslide on November 29, 2011. More recently, Senator Grassley also put a hold on the Startup Visa Act, which has also received bipartisan support. Is he truly concerned about the integrity of the system or is there a deeper hidden agenda. Mind you, he has also been a foe of immigration from India with his recent opposition to the use of the H-1B and B-1 visas by Indian IT professionals. It is amazing how one Senator, who has only one vote among 100 Senators, can have so much influence over immigration policy. It is time to speak out.The report stems from a pet concern of Senator Grassley, as expressed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith in a February 15, 2012 hearing  before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, about whether “senior [USCIS] leaders are putting pressure on employees to approve more visa applications, even if the applications might be fraudulent or the applicant is ineligible.”

The Inspector General interviewed 147 managers and staff, received 256 responses to an online survey, and reviewed USCIS policies related to the effort to detect benefit fraud. The report was based on testimonials, not empirical data. The report recommended process improvements, such as instituting more training and collaboration to improve the fraud referral process; developing additional quality assurance or supervisory review procedures to strengthen identification of names and aliases of those seeking an immigration benefit; performing nationwide onsite outreach efforts to discuss the performance management system with Immigration Service Officers (ISOs); developing standards to permit more time for an ISO’s review of case files; revising policy on requests for evidence (RFEs) to clarify the role that the requests play in the adjudication process; and developing a policy to “establish limitations for [USCIS] managers and attorneys when they intervene in the adjudication of specific cases.” The report stated that “special treatment of complainants fosters a sense among ISOs that USCIS inappropriately grants benefits in certain cases.”

The report noted that “[t]here may be a basis for clarifying adjudication policy for O visa petitions. A low approval rate is not one of them.” The Inspector General found that O visa petitions are granted at a high rate. “Quality assurance information we examined demonstrates that excessive O visa approvals are more likely than denials.” The report stated, “From January 2008 through March 2011, the California and Vermont service centers approved 40,719 of 44,386 O visa petitions (91.7%). This approval rate exceeds the approval rate for many other nonimmigrant worker petitions. During the same time period, the two centers approved 78.5% of H-1B (specialty occupations) and 76.1% of L-1B (specialized knowledge worker) petitions.”

The Inspector General’s report noted, however, that: (1) the testimonial evidence shared by interviewees may not represent views shared by other employees; (2) USCIS has taken action to diminish threats to the immigration benefits system; (3) general employee concerns about the impact of production pressure in the quality of ISO decisions “do not mean that systemic problems compromise the ability of USCIS to detect fraud and security threats; (4) “[n]o ISOs presented us with cases where benefits were granted to those who pose terrorist or national security threats”; and (5) “[e]ven those employees who criticized management expressed confidence that USCIS would never compromise national security on a given case.”

The report concluded, however, that “[e]ven with the additional security checks and process improvements USCIS has made in the past several years, national security and fraud concerns may require more thorough review of immigration applications and petitions.” The OIG noted that “[a]dditional documentation, or further insight gained through more interview questions, would ensure that ISOs have greater confidence before making a decision.” Also, the report suggests that “Congress may wish to raise the standard of proof for some or all USCIS benefit issuance decisions.”

As an immigration practitioner, the Inspector General’s conclusions about applications being granted  too easily have no bearing with reality.  A filing of an H-1B or L petition, especially in certain industries such as IT consulting, results in a lengthy and detailed RFE asking for every aspect of the job duties, elaborate itineraries and unrealistic work schedules (such as the percentage of time performing each duty)  and other unnecessarily and trivial information about the employer and the employment. This is true even if the USCIS has been approving an H-1B petition previously on the exact facts for the very same worker who must be now be on his 10th year in H-1B status. Also, in the case of an H-1B worker in an IT consulting company who is placed at a third party client, the employer has to repeatedly demonstrate that it has a right of control  under the Neufeld Memo over this worker’s employment even if the employer demonstrated this in great detail when it last filed a request for an H-1B extension.

Senator Grassley, I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of this H-1B worker who has an approved I-140 immigrant visa petition for the green card, but is still waiting endlessly for it, along with his family, only because of the long waits in the EB-2 or EB-3 for India. If you did not put a hold on the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, this H-1B worker may have received a green card by now or close to receiving one. He now needs to wait nervously each year for an approval, with the fear that the H-1B may be denied this time around even though it got approved under the same facts the year before and the year before that. If the H-1B gets denied this time under some arbitrarily invented heightened scrutiny standard,  he and his family will fall out of status and will have to most likely need to leave the US after working in the US legally for 10 years, paying taxes and otherwise contributing to the productivity of his employer and clients. He will also be forced to yank his brilliant children out of school disrupting their lives and causing great turmoil in their young  impressionable minds.

If the OIG report becomes USCIS policy, it will kill and stifle a US employer’s ability to bring in skilled foreign national workers on H-1B, L-1 and O-1 visas. Despite Senator Grassley placing a hold on the Startup Visa Act, the DHS in August 2011 announced initiatives for entrepreneurs who founded their own startups to be able to have the company file for an H-1B visa on their behalf. This initiative too will get killed because if the government wants to look for fraud for the sake of satisfying certain statistical requirements, it will find it by shifting the goal posts. Look how many times over the past 10 years the USCIS has redefined what it means by the US equivalent of an Indian bachelor’s degree or equivalent education, thus blowing apart I-140 petitions approved after the employer meticulously but unsuccessfully tested the US labor market. Or look how the Neufeld Memo has been aimed against a very successful business model that has served the needs of Fortune 500 US corporations. If we see stricter adjudications, the US will be deprived of the talents and vision of foreign entrepreneurs who have a burning desire to set up startups in the US even in the absence of the Startup Visa Act, which have the potential to do brilliantly well like Google, E-bay or Yahoo.

At the February 15, 2012 Congressional hearing, the testimony of Bo Cooper, former General Counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is worth noting. Summaries of other witnesses at this Congressional hearing can be found in our forthcoming March 2012 Immigration Update.  Mr. Cooper said that USCIS has released official data since the report came out. He noted that recent analysis shows that the data refute concerns “that USCIS may be institutionally biased toward unjustified approvals and that the agency observes policies that would suppress RFE issuance.” The data tell the opposite story, he said: “Particularly with respect to the key nonimmigrant categories for foreign professionals, denial rates and RFE rates have risen very sharply in recent years.”

The “most startling example,” Mr.Cooper said, appears in the L-1 program, which is used by multinational corporations to transfer managers, executives, and specialists into the United States. Noting that such visas “are an essential component of a huge range of productive economic activity in this country,” he said that L-1 visas are critical to attracting foreign investment that supports the creation of jobs for U.S. workers and are critical when U.S. companies acquire companies based oversees and need to have the acquired company’s specialists come to the United States to integrate their expertise and processes. L-1 visas are also critical to companies who need to bring specialists from their overseas affiliates into their research centers and operations in the United States, he noted. “Without predictable, reliable access to these visas, employers find themselves having to move jobs and projects to other countries.”

The data for employees with specialized knowledge in the L-1B program “shows a steep rise in denials and requests for evidence beginning in 2008,” he said, noting that the denial rate for L-1B petitions more than tripled in 2008 and is now at nearly quadruple the pre-2008 rate, at 27 percent in 2011. The RFE rate change is even starker, he said. From 2005 to 2011, the rate soared from 9 percent to 63 percent of L-1B cases.

He also noted that in the L-1A program for managers and executives being transferred within multinational corporations, the RFE rate rose from 10 percent in 2005 to 51 percent in 2011. Denial rates rose 75 percent over five years, from 8 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2011. In the H-1B program for professionals in specialty occupations, the denial rate increased from 11 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2011. Over a quarter of all H-1B filings generated an RFE in 2011.

Seen in the light of this data, Mr. Cooper said “there is no basis for the concern expressed in the OIG report that USCIS has an institutional bias in favor of approvals or against RFEs.” In fact, he said, the data show the opposite trend. Noting that USCIS said in its response to the OIG report that it is reviewing its RFE policy and aims to issue new RFE guidance this year, Mr. Cooper recommended that the new policy reflect “the needs of today’s business environment and the innovation economy,” and that it be monitored carefully once put into practice.

Finally, the Inspector General’s report asks that the standard for adjudicating visa petitions be raised from the “preponderance of evidence standard” to something higher, such as the “clear and convincing evidence” standard or the even higher standard used in criminal proceedings, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Under the preponderance of evidence standard, applicants have to demonstrate that the facts in their case are slightly more true than not true. Even though the preponderance of evidence standard requires a lesser degree of proof than the clear and convincing standard, this does not mean that it provides an invitation for fraud. The preponderance of evidence is the common standard used in civil proceedings, and allows the USCIS examiner to fairly evaluate very nebulous criteria while giving the benefit of doubt to the application, for instance, whether an O-1 visa applicant is extraordinary or not or whether an L-1B worker has specialized knowledge. If the applicant provided patently fraudulent documentation, he or she can be charged with the fraud ground of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(c)(6) and there also exist tough criminal sanctions.  In any event, it does not seem that the USCIS is faithfully adhering to the preponderance of evidence standard even today, and officially raising the bar will surely serve as an invitation for USCIS officials to arbitrarily deny even more case without fairly weighing the evidence. This would further undermine the ability of US employers to use our employment-based immigration system in an effective and rational manner to benefit them and simultaneously make the US prosper.