By Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta

 Article II, Sec. 3 of the Constitution provides that the President “shall take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.”   That being so, can President Obama grant deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) whose presence here represents a violation of US law? Professors Robert Delahunty and John Yoo offer a scholarly and resounding “ No” to this question in their paper, The Obama Administration, the DREAM Act and the Take Care Clause(hereinafter cited as Delahanty & Yoo).  They argue that the President must enforce the removal provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Absent either express or implied authority to the contrary, the Obama Administration has violated its constitutional duty.  No presidential prerogative exists that would sustain such non-enforcement nor has the President put forward a cogent excuse that would make his DACA decision constitutionally permissible.  Professors Delahunty and Yoo offer up George Washington’s famous reminder in his Proclamation of September 15, 1702 that “it is the particular duty of the Executive ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Such a serious charge requires an answer. That is why we write.

We agree with Professors Delahunty and Yoo that President Obama must enforce all provisions of the INA, including the removal sections contained in Section 235.  We do not agree, however, that DHS Secretary Napolitano’s June 15, 2012 memorandum, or ICE Director John Morton’s June 17, 2011 directive on prosecutorial discretion, instructed or encouraged ICE officers to violate federal law.  At current levels of funding, it is manifestly impossible for ICE to deport most undocumented persons in the United States.  Even at the historically high levels of removal under President Obama, some 400,000 per year, this amounts to only 3-4% of the total illegal population. Delahanty & Yoo n.21.   That is precisely why the Obama Administration has focused its removal efforts on “identifying and removing criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety and national security, repeat immigration law offenders and other individuals prioritized for removal.” Delahanty & Yoo n. 22,  citingLetter from Janet Napolitano, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, to Senator Richard Dubin (D-Ill.)(Aug. 18, 2011). Far from refusing to enforce the law, President Obama is actually seeking to honor his constitutional obligation by creating a scheme that removes some while deferring the removal of others without granting anyone legal status, something only Congress can do.

Professors Delahanty and Yoo’s characterization of DACA relief as detached, even radical, suffers from a lack of an informed appreciation of the extent to which it has deep roots in existing immigration law. The truth is that deferred action is neither recent nor revolutionary. Widows of US citizens have been granted this benefit. Battered immigrants have sought and obtained refuge there.  Never has the size of a vulnerable population been a valid reason to say no. The extension of DACA relief is less a leap into the unknown arising out of a wild, lawless ideology divorced from a proper respect for the Take Care Clause than a sober reaffirmation of an existing tool for remediation in prior emergencies. Professor Delahanty and Yoo conveniently omits any mention of INA Section 103(a)(1), which charges the DHS Secretary with the administration and enforcement of the INA. This implies that the DHS can decide when to and when not to remove an alien. They also fail to consider INA Section 274A(h)(3)(B) which excludes from the definition of “unauthorized alien” any alien “authorized to be so employed …by the Attorney General.” After all, 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(14), which grants employment authorization to one who has received deferred action, has been around for several decades. The only new thing about DACA is that the Secretary Napolitano’s guidance memorandum articulates limiting criteria without endowing deferred action grantees with any legal status, something reserved solely for the Congress. In fact, the Congress has also recognized “deferred action” in Section 202(c)(2) (B)(viii) of the REAL ID Act as a status sufficiently durable to allow the extension of driving license privileges.

Courts are loath to review any non-enforcement decisions taken by federal authorities. See,e.g., Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182, 191-92 (1993); Massachusetts v. EPA, 127 S. Ct. 138, 1459 (2007).  It is up to DHS, rather than to any individual, to decide when, or whether, to initiate any enforcement campaign. Heckler v. Chaney,  470 US 821, 835 (1985). During the last Supreme Court term, Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012)  articulated the true reason why: “(a) principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials…Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all…”

Professors Delahanty and Yoo do not feel constrained by the wide deference that has traditionally characterized judicial responses to executive interpretation of the INA. Under the oft-quoted Chevron doctrine that the Supreme Court announced in Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 US 837(1984), federal courts will pay deference to the regulatory interpretation of the agency charged with executing the laws of the United States when there is ambiguity in the statute. The courts will intrude only when the agency’s interpretation is manifestly irrational or clearly erroneous. Similarly,  the Supreme Court in Nat’l Cable & Telecomm. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 US 967 ( 2005),while affirming Chevron, held that, if there is an ambiguous statute requiring agency deference under Chevron, the agency’s understanding will also trump a judicial exegesis of the same statute.  Surely the “body of experience” and the “informed judgment” that DHS brings to INA § 103 provide its interpretations with “ the power to persuade.”  Skidmore v. Swift& Co., 323 US 134,140(1944). As Justice Elena Kagan famously noted when she served as the Dean of the Harvard Law School, the increasingly vigorous resort to federal regulation as a tool for policy transformation  by all Presidents since Ronald Reagan has made “ the regulatory activities of the executive branch agencies more and more an extension of the President’s own policy and political agenda.” Elena Kagan, Presidential Administration, 114 Harv.L.Rev. 2245, 2246  (2001).Indeed, the very notion of Chevron-deference is “premised on the theory that a statute’s ambiguity constitutes an implicit delegation from Congress to the agency to fill in the statutory gap.” FDA v Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 US 120, 159 ( 2000).  That is precisely what the President and DHS have done with respect to their power to enforce the immigration laws.

This is precisely why 100 law professors argued that the President had the discretionary authority to extend such relief, which Professors Delahunty and Yoo have acknowledged in their paper:

Through no statutes or regulations delineate deferred action in specific terms, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that decisions to initiate or terminate enforcement proceedings fall squarely within the authority of the Executive. In the immigration context, the Executive Branch has exercised its general enforcement authority to grant deferred action since at least 1971

            Delahanty & Yoo n. 38.

It is also worth mentioning that while there is no express Congressional authorization for the Obama Administration to implement such measures, the President may act within a “twilight zone” in which he may have concurrent authority with Congress. See Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring). Unlike Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, where the Supreme Court held that the President could not seize a steel mill to resolve a labor dispute without Congressional authorization, the Administration under through the Morton Memo and DACA is well acting within Congressional authorization. We agree with Professors Delahunty and Yoo when they cite Youngstown Sheet, Delahunty & Yoo n 185. as a rejection of the idea that the President has “prerogative” power, but the President has not used any “prerogative power” with respect to DACA relief; he has indeed acted pursuant to Congressional authorization. In his famous concurring opinion, Justice Jackson reminded us that, however meritorious, separation of powers itself was not without limit: “While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government. It enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity.” Id. at 635.  Professors Delahanty and Yoo look in vain for explicit authority in the INA that supports DACA relief, and delve into instances when Presidents have been able to use “prerogative” power, which they argue cannot be applied in the context of DACA. They can stop searching:

Congress …may not have expressly delegated authority to…fill a particular gap. Yet,it can still be apparent from the agency’s generally conferred authority that Congress will expect the agency to speak with the force of law when it addresses ambiguity in the statute…even one about which Congress did not actually have an intent as to a particular result.   United States v. Mead, 533 U.S. 218, 229 (2001)

Even if arguendo discretion is too weak a foundation for DACA relief, the equitable merits of such remedial action should be strong enough to withstand constitutional scrutiny.  Indeed, as the Supreme Court’s  Arizona opinion recognized,  it is frequently the case that “ Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns.” Delahanty & Yoo, n. 222.  That is why Section 240A of the INA endows the Attorney General with discretion to cancel removal.  Contrary to what Professors Delahanty and Yoo argue, the exercise of executive compassion in the Dream Act context is not a constitutionally prohibited expression of misplaced sentiment floating without anchor in a sea of ambiguity but a natural out-growrth of prior initiatives when dealing with deferred action. Such initiative is entirely consistent with the Take Care Clause while scrupulously respectful of Congressional prerogatives to make new law. While Professors Delahanty and Yoo argue that equity in individual cases may be justified as an exception to the President’s duty under the Take Care Clause, they claim that the  DACA program is not a judgment in equity but more as a statement of law. We disagree. The President has made clear under DACA that each case merits an exercise of individual discretion. Each application has to be supported by voluminous evidence of not just an applicant’s eligibility, but also evidence as to why the applicant merits an exercise of favorable discretion.  Professors Delahanty and Yoo claim that equity divorced from reliance on another statute or treaty must be opposed as a breach of the President’s sworn oath. No such worry here need trouble them for the Administration not only acts in reliance on its well-settled authority under the INA but precisely and primarily to infuse such authority with relevance made ever more insistent by the lack of Congressional action.

Notwithstanding our rebuttal, the deep scholarship and sincere reservations voiced by Professors Delahanty and Yoo must not be cavalierly ignored nor summarily dismissed. Indeed, they are a powerful justification of the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Only Congress can solve this problem, even though we have shown that the President did have authority to roll out DACA.  The nation waits.

PERM Audits Request Sworn Declarations Regarding Improper Payments

Recently, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) published its factsheet with statistics on the PERM program for FY2012 covering the period from October 2011 to September 16, 2012. Of the 67,400 PERM applications received during that period, 45% were audited for review. While audit notifications discussing the employer’s use of an employee referral program, roving employees, or bearing requests for the resumes of all applicants are so frequently issued that they have almost become par for the course, the newest audit request came as quite the surprise. The latest audits now request declarations from the employer and the foreign worker, each signed under penalty of perjury, stating whether the employer received payments of any kind by the foreign worker or a third party for any activity related to obtaining permanent labor certification. Specifically, the audit request states:

Please provide declarations from the employer and the foreign worker, each signed by the respective individual under penalty of perjury, stating whether the employer received payments of any kind by the foreign worker or a third party for any activity related to obtaining permanent labor certification, including payment of the employer’s attorney’s fees, whether as an incentive or inducement to filing, or as a reimbursement for costs incurred in preparing or filing a permanent labor certification application. Such payments include but are not limited to legal fees; administrative fees; advertising costs and/or any other costs or fees related to the filing of the application; wage concessions, such as deductions from wages, salary, or benefits; kickbacks, bribes or tributes; in-kind payments; free labor; and/or any other form of payment for services essential to the labor certification process.  Note that any payment of fees by the foreign worker or third party for the benefit of the employer constitutes a “receipt of payment” by the employer, despite the fact that such payments may have been made directly to a party other than the employer – e.g., the employer’s attorney, Department of State, etc.

If any such payments were made, please provide a list outlining the payment amount, who made the payment, to whom payment was made, dates, and the purpose of the payment.

If payments were received from a third party to whose benefit work to be performed in connection with the job opportunity would accrue, please provide documentation explaining both the business relationship between the employer and the third party and the benefit of the work performed, or to be performed, in accordance with the Department’s regulations at 20 CFR § 656.12(c).

If payments were made to the employer by the foreign worker as a result of an agreement/contract entered into prior to July 16, 2007, please provide documentation evidencing both that an agreement existed and that it was entered into prior to July 16, 2007. Examples include the contract, the agreement or a declaration signed by both the employer and the foreign worker under penalty of perjury, in the case of oral agreements.

The issue of payments for activity related to obtaining permanent labor certification first came up when the DOL published its final rule to “enhance program integrity and reduce the incentives and opportunities for fraud and abuse related to the permanent employment of aliens in the United States” which took effect on July 16, 2007. See 72 Fed. Reg. 27,903-27,947 (May 17, 2007). The rule revised the regulations found at 20 CFR §656 and implemented substantial changes to the labor certification process, including prohibition on the sale, barter, or purchase of labor certification applications and a requirement that employers pay all attorney’s fees and costs associated with labor certification. The rule also made unenforceable any employer agreements requiring employees who leave within a certain time period to pay reimbursement costs associated with the labor certification. In passing this rule, the DOL rationalized that a prohibition against the transfer of labor certification costs from sponsoring employers to foreign national beneficiaries keeps legitimate business costs with the employer, minimizes improper financial involvement by aliens in the labor certification process, and strengthens the enforceability of the bona fide job opportunity requirement. All reasoned opposition to the rule prior to its promulgation fell on deaf ears.

On July 16, 2007, the DOL also issued a FAQ to clarify certain aspects of the rule. The FAQ explained that pursuant to §656.12(b), an employer may not seek or receive payment of any kind for any activity (including recruitment activity and the use of legal services) related to obtaining permanent labor certification, except from a party with a legitimate, pre-existing business relationship with the employer, and when the work to be performed by the foreign national beneficiary will benefit that party. The preamble to the rule provided the example of physicians who frequently have split appointments between a Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and an affiliated institution of higher education. In these cases, although there is one “employer of record” who files the labor certification application, the university, as a legitimate third party, could reimburse the VAMC for costs associated with the labor certification.“Payment” includes, but is not limited to, monetary payments; deductions from wages or benefits; kickbacks, bribes, or tributes; goods, services, or other “in kind” payments; and free labor.  This includes the prohibition against the alien paying the employer’s attorneys’ fees in connection with the labor certification application.

The FAQ clarified that an employer, or attorney representing an employer, who entered into a contract where payments from the foreign national are either owned after July 16, 2007 or owed prior to July 16, 2007 but not paid until after that date, have the right to seek the payment provided the payment obligation accrued prior to July 16, 2007. The employer must answer YES to Question I.e.23 on the ETA Form 9089 which asks, “Has the employer received payment of any kind for the submission of this application?” Then, the employer must explain and provide supporting details in I.e.23-A which states, “If Yes, describe details of the payment including the amount, date and purpose of the payment.”

The FAQ also explained another exception to the rule which provides that “attorneys may represent aliens in their own interests in the review of a labor certification (but not in the preparation, filing and obtaining of a labor certification, unless such representation is paid for by the employer), and may be paid by the alien for that activity.” The rule also did not prohibit the alien from paying fees associated with the subsequent visa petition (Form I-140) and the adjustment of status application (Form I-485).

Pursuant to §656.20(a), an audit letter may be issued by the DOL if a labor certification is randomly selected for quality control purposes, or if, after reviewing the application, the certifying officer finds more information is needed before a determination can be made. Neither of these reasons justifies this new request for declarations. Questions I.e.23 and I.e.23-A on the ETA Form 9089 already address the issue. In response to an audit, the employer must submit a copy of the submitted ETA Form 9089 with original signatures in Section L (Alien Declaration),  Section M (Declaration of Preparer (if applicable)), and Section N (Employer Declaration) to affirm that the information listed is true and accurate. As clearly stated on the ETA Form 9089, each declaration must be signed under penalty of perjury.  In light of this, it is not clear why additional sworn declarations are now being requested. In any event, it is important to respond truthfully.

If the employer did not receive payments from the foreign national or a third party, the employer may submit a signed and notarized statement as follows:

[Employer name] did not receive payment of any kind from the [foreign national] or from a third party for any activity related to obtaining permanent labor certification. 

[Employer name] did not receive payment for the legal fees; administrative fees; advertising costs and/or any other costs or fees related to the filing of the labor certification application; wage concessions, such as deductions from wages, salary, or benefits; kickbacks, bribes or tributes; in-kind payments; free labor; and/or any other form of payment for services essential to the labor certification process. 
I swear under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

The foreign national may submit a signed and notarized statement as follows:

I did not pay [Employer name] any fees in relation to the filing of a labor certification application on my behalf.  

[Employer name] did not receive payment from me for the legal fees, administrative fees, advertising costs and/or any other costs or fees related to the filing of the application. Also, [Employer name] did not ask me for any wage concessions, such as deductions from wages, salary, or benefits; kickbacks, bribes or tributes; in-kind payments; free labor; and/or any other form of payment for services essential to the labor certification process. 
I swear under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

Only time will tell whether this new request will become another audit standard. It is essential that practitioners inform new clients and remind existing clients of the rule regarding payment of fees in connection with a labor certification. It is understandable why an employer would want to seek some type of protection, e.g. through employer agreements for reimbursements, against spending thousands of dollars to sponsor a foreign national only to have him leave the moment he obtains permanent residence. But employers must also be informed that the DOL, under §656.31(a), may deny any labor certification if the certifying officer finds the application contains false statements, is fraudulent or otherwise submitted in violation of the DOL’s regulations. Under §656.31(b) the DOL may, if it learns that an employer, attorney or agent is involved in possible fraud or willful misrepresentation, refer the matter to the Department of Homeland Security or other appropriate governmental authority and suspend processing of any labor certification involving the employer, attorney or agent until completion of any investigation. Under §656.31(f) the DOL may debar an employer for up to three years upon a determination that the employer has participated in or facilitated “the sale, barter or purchase of permanent labor applications or certifications, or any other action prohibited under §656.12” or “the willful provision or willful assistance in the provision of false or inaccurate information in applying for permanent labor certification” or “a pattern or practice of failure to comply with the terms of the Form ETA 9089.” Finally, the DOL could, under §656.32, take steps to revoke an approved labor certification if it is later found that the certification was not justified.  It is obvious that the issue of improper payments is one that must always be taken very seriously.

Why the Average Traveler Can’t Be Expected to Recognize a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude

By Myriam Jaidi

In a fascinating recent decision (courtesy of attorney Stephen Heller), the Office of Administrative Appeals determined that a visa waiver applicant is not expected to know the meaning of a “crime involving moral turpitude” (“CIMT”), with the welcome recognition that “the term ‘moral turpitude’ is not in common usage and it is unlikely that the average person is aware of its meaning and application in U.S. immigration law.” Amen to that. The case involved an individual who had initially been denied a waiver of inadmissibility for “willfully misrepresenting” on his Form I-94W (the Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record, which requested biographic information and answers to a series of unfortunate questions) that he had not been convicted of a CIMT. Although the AAO determined that the individual had in fact been convicted of a CIMT, it also found that he could not be expected to know that and should therefore not be found inadmissible for not stating it on the form.

Since 2008, instead of having to complete a Form I-94W, travelers from Visa Waiver countries to the United States must answer the same set of bizarre questions to obtain permission to travel to the United States via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”). In his New York Times Op-Ed piece “How Not to Attract Tourists”, writer and airline pilot Mark Vanhoenacker perfectly captures the absurdity of many of the questions on the form quipping, “Naturally, no one with anything to hide will answer honestly.” I would add that with regard to the question “have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude . . . ” it is nearly impossible for the average person to answer at all.

Courts have long recognized that a CIMT is a “nebulous concept” and the determination of whether a crime is a CIMT depends on the judge, the wording of the particular statute at issue , and whether the judge applies the “categorical approach” (which requires consideration of the minimal conduct implicated by a penal law)or “modified categorical approach” (where the categorical approach does not yield an answer because a criminal statute includes offenses that fall outside the generic criminal category, this approach allows consideration of the record of conviction for clarification), among other things.

Take drug possession for example (though note that an arrest or conviction involving drugs will cause you a whole host of problems with trying to gain permission to enter or to remain in the United States outside the CIMT context, see here for an explanation). In its response to the question “How do I correct a mistake on my ESTA application”, ESTA includes “possession of narcotics” in its parenthetical summarizing CIMTs: “If you discover that you are not eligible to come to the U.S. under the visa waiver program because of a CIMT (such as fraud, or possession of narcotics) . . .” As an aside it is funny that the sentence starts with “if you discover” — how one is supposed to make such a discovery is not clear, especially given the extraordinary complexity of CIMTs and the disagreement among Circuit Courts with regard to how to determine whether something is a CIMT. Anyway, back to drug possession. The Board of Immigration Appeals has found that simple drug possession is not a CIMT, see, e.g., Matter of Abreu-Semino, 12 I & N Dec 775 (BIA 1968) – so tossing that general “possession of narcotics” in the parenthetical is inaccurate. On the other hand, drug possession with intent to sell or trafficking in narcotics has been found to be a CIMT. Another example of a CIMT given on the ESTA website is theft – but as noted in a previous blog by Cyrus Mehta, theft is not always a CIMT either!

Mr. Vanhoenacker’s assessment of the “uninviting” nature of the ESTA website rings true, especially with respect to individuals trying to get a sense of what a CIMT might be so that they can try to answer the question if they have been arrested or convicted of something (two other kettles of fish there on those two legal terms – “arrested” and “convicted”.). To be fair, ESTA’s website offers a help page providing guidance on various topics. Given there are 773 results accessible from the page, anyone trying to understand what a crime involving moral turpitude might be should search “CIMT” in the search box at the top of the page. This yields a much more manageable 4 results (though misses a fifth result and perhaps other questions where addressing CIMTs), but each result provides a slightly different summary of a CIMT, as noted above, and directs the reader to two different sections of the Foreign Affairs Manual(“FAM”) – the 8 pages of related statutory provisions in 9 FAM 40.21(a), rather than the apparently promised “list of crimes of moral turpitude”, and the other the 26 pages of 9 FAM 40.21(a) Notes providing further legal background on CIMTs, but researcher beware – the FAM is not precise with regard to CIMTs either, though it does provide a lot of information. It is unreasonable to expect the average person in a foreign country to analyze that information under the applicable United States law (9 FAM 40.21(a) N2.1 states “The presence of moral turpitude in a statutory offense is determined according to United States law”) and formulate an answer.

Obviously, the questions are there for various reasons including security, but including unanswerable questions like the one regarding CIMTs (not to mention the other absurd questions) in an automated questionnaire does not promote the security goal, as Mr. Vanhoenacker so aptly demonstrates. Any error could result in an unfair denial and significant inconvenience to a would-be traveler. If someone answers incorrectly by mistake and gets denied, his or her options are to email Customs and Border Protection, seek redress from the Department of Homeland Security’s Travel Redress Inquiry Program (DHS/TRIP), or to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate. None of these options are likely to allow a traveler with ticket in hand to take her trip as planned.

If inquiries regarding criminal background must be included in the ESTA system, a better model might be to include a more simple question like this one from the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization: “Have you ever been convicted of a crime or offense,” include a drop down box to allow an explanation, and have applications ticked “yes” automatically sent to CBP for quick review without requiring the person to email or seek redress. This may make the system a touch more inviting and comprehensible.


By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

Maintaining continuity of residence is paramount if one wants to naturalize and become a US citizen. For an in depth discussion, we refer you to our  prior blog Naturalization In A Flat World and Gary Endelman’s recent article, The Enigma of Disruption: What Continuity of Residence In Naturalization Really Means, 17 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 1437, August 1, 2012. Even though a naturalization applicant meets all the eligibility criteria, an examiner can still deny an application for failure to maintain the continuous residence requirement. Tax issues can further trip up the applicant, especially when one is trying to shield foreign earned income from US taxation, which this blog will focus on.

But before we do so, we provide the basic eligibility criteria for naturalization.

An applicant must meet certain threshold eligibility criteria in order to become a US citizen. Pursuant to § 316(a) of the Immigration & Naturalization Act (INA), the applicant must establish that immediately preceding the filing of the application, he or she has resided continuously within the US for at least five years after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence. If the applicant has been in marital union with a US citizen spouse for three years, the continuous residence requirement is three years instead of five years. Moreover, under INA § 316(a), the applicant must also establish that he or she has been physically present in the US for periods totaling at least half of that time and has resided within the State or district of the Service where the applicant filed the application for at least three months.

Furthermore, INA § 316(a)(2) also requires the applicant to establish that he or she has resided continuously within the US from the date of the application up to the time of citizenship. INA § 316(a)(3) requires the applicant to establish, inter alia, that he or she is still a person of good moral character during the relevant 5 or 3-year period.

INA § 316(b) states that an absence from the US of more than six months but less than one year during the 5-year period immediately preceding the filing of the application may break the continuity of such residence. INA § 316(b) notes that should such a presumption arise, it may be rebutted if the applicant can establish that he or she in fact did not abandon his or her residence during such period.

What precisely is continuous residence?  INA § 101(a)(33) defines residence as follows: “The term ‘residence’ means the place of general abode; the place of general abode of a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.”  But that only tells us what residence means, not continuous residence. The regulation, on the other hand, at 8 C.F.R. §316.5(c)(1)(i) tells us what is not continuous residence. It says that an absence of between six months and one year shall disrupt the continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish otherwise to the satisfaction of the Service. Thus, unless the applicant was outside the US for six months or more but less than a year, he or she should argue that there was no disruption of continuous residence. Yet the authors have known of naturalization examiners improperly clubbing two back to back lengthy trips although each one was less than 180 days.

If an applicant is out of the US for more than 180 days but less than one year, it will cause a disruption of continuity of residence but there is still hope. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(i) provides examples of the types of documentation which may establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of his or her residence. Specifically, the regulation provides the following examples that an applicant can submit to rebut an allegation of disruption of continuity of residence:

(A) The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the US;

(B) The applicant’s immediate family remained in the US;

(C) The applicant retained full access to his or her US abode; or

(D) The applicant did not obtain employment while abroad.

While one is already treading on thin ice while trying to demonstrate continuous residence, shielding foreign-earned income from US taxation can create yet another chink in one’s armor when trying to rebut an allegation of disruption of continuity of residence. Many accountants may not know this, but tread with caution if you wish to naturalize and are planning to shield foreign earned income from US taxation that can protect you up to $92,900.

There are two different ways in which one can file for earned foreign income exclusion through filing IRS Form 2555. One way is by claiming to be a bona fide resident of a foreign country for an entire tax year or by declaring physical presence there for a minimum of 330 days over 12 consecutive months. The filing of Form 2555 may be viewed as further evidence of failing to satisfy the continuous residence for naturalization. One potential point for advocacy is that the filing of an IRS 2555 based on spending 330 days outside the US is more benign than claiming you were a bona fide resident of a foreign country.  The former is a mechanical application of the earned income exclusion, and if the applicant can independently establish eligibility for naturalization despite being out for 330 days, we do not see why an IRS 2555 filed on the 330 days exemption should adversely impact the applicant.   Even the USCIS Adjudicator Field Manual in Chapter 74 clearly makes a distinction between the bona fide resident exemption and the physical presence exemption, and supports our argument.

Of course, the cautious immigration lawyer may suggest to the client to simply pay foreign tax and deduct rather than protect one’s foreign income up to $92,900.    This may work where you need to pay a foreign tax that is comparable to the US tax rate, but in some countries like Hong Kong or Dubai, the tax rate is much lower or next to nothing. Or you can be working for a UN or international organization where you are totally exempt from taxes. Under such circumstances, the $92,900 deduction would benefit the applicant and may outweigh the marginal risk in the event of an abandonment claim or naturalization denial.

But this may not be the end of the argument in favor of shielding foreign earned income based on the 330 days out of the US exemption. Look at “Home on the Range: Establishing Continuous Residence and Physical Presence for Naturalization Purposes” by Julie G. Muniz and Lyndsey Yoshino,   Immigration Practice Pointers 2012-2013 Ed. (AILA) where they point out that one of the requirements for IRS 2555 is to have a tax home in a foreign country.  This is in addition to meeting either bona fide residence test or physical presence test. This is what Muniz and Yoshino say:

“Even if an LPR can meet the physical presence test… the “tax home” requirement could be fatal to continuous residence. If an LPR has a tax home in the United States, she is precluded from claiming the foreign earned income credit. However, if she claims the credit, she is implicitly indicating that she has interrupted her continuous residence, as it could appear inconsistent to both allege a foreign tax home and claim continuity of residence.”

Under IRS definitions, your tax home is generally your regular place of business or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home. Your tax home is the place where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual. If your abode is in the US, then it is not possible to claim a tax home overseas.

Although the Muniz & Yoshino article makes a good point about cautioning against claiming a tax home overseas, it can be argued that maintaining a “tax home” in a foreign country ought not to be conflated each time with the  establishment of  a bona fide residence in that country. If that is the case, any tax home in a foreign country, as the AILA article claims, is inconsistent with maintaining continuous residence in the US. For instance, even if one is out for more than 180 days but less than one year, due to a work assignment overseas, the applicant would have in any event broken continuity of residence regardless of the overseas tax home, but can still rebut the presumption under 8 CFR §316.5(c)(1)(i)(A)–(D). The tax home overseas should not in itself be an aggravating factor. What indeed could be more perilous is when one takes a foreign earned income exclusion based on foreign residence rather than physical presence, as also indicated in the Adjudicator’s Field Manual at 74 (g)(9)(B):

If the legal permanent resident declared himself or herself to be a bona fide resident of a foreign country on IRS Form 2555, that means the alien declared to the IRS that he or she went abroad for an indefinite or extended period. He or she intended to establish permanent quarters outside of the United States and he or she openly declared residence in a foreign country. [See IRS Publication 54, Chapter 4.] The applicant applying for naturalization after openly declaring residence in a foreign country on an official United States Government form will most likely be unable to fulfill the residence requirement for naturalization (see 8 CFR 316(c)(2)).

If the legal permanent resident declared himself or herself to be physically present in a foreign country on IRS Form 2555, it only means that the applicant met the IRS’s physical presence test to have a proportion of his or her income excluded form United States taxes. The applicant has not declared residence in a foreign country. [See IRS Publication 54, Chapter 4.] Eligibility for naturalization purposes may be affected if the applicant fails to establish that he or she meets the physical presence requirements or fails to establish that the absence of more than six months but less than one a year did not result in abandonment of LPR status. If the applicant applying for naturalization has sufficient physical presence in the United States for naturalization purposes or can establish that his or her LPR status was not abandoned, then the applicant can still be eligible for naturalization (see Part 3 of the Form N-400).

Think of IRS 2555 as a warning sign whose presence on your tax return will trigger a red flag when applying for naturalization during the period when the applicant needs to maintain continuous residence. This does not mean that it will always be fatal if one tries to shield foreign income from US taxation. Any tax election should only be made by permanent resident aliens after consultation with competent immigration counsel.  All those who hold “green card” status should make certain that they understand what their tax obligations are and should refer to the IRS publication concerning the tax treatment for US citizens and resident aliens abroad. Always look for the presence of those factors with the potential to demonstrate that the applicant has never disrupted continuous residence.  Our blog points out how you can defend yourself if you have based the Form 2555 filing on physical presence overseas rather than a foreign residence. Do not be discouraged if you find this hard to understand. So did Albert Einstein who famously remarked that “This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”