September 21, 2012


By Cyrus D. Mehta

There is a raging debate presently in the halls of Congress. Almost all of our elected representatives, no matter whether they are Democrat or Republican, are in favor of providing an easier pathway for foreign students who have graduated with an advanced degree from a US university in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) field. In an age of polarization and gridlock in Congress - added by controversy over the expansion of immigration benefits to foreign nationals when unemployment is high - there is amazing bipartisan support for STEM foreign students. Indeed, 150 university presidents and chancellors have also appealed for green cards for STEM graduates.

Still, a Republican sponsored STEM Jobs Act, HR 6429, failed to pass the House on Thursday, September 20, 2012 with a two third majority. It was sponsored by Lamar Smith (R-TX), who otherwise generally favors bills that restrict immigration.   It was rejected 257-158 mainly on party lines that would have provided 55,000 green cards to foreign students graduating in STEM fields. First dibs would have gone to foreign students with doctorates in STEM fields from a US university, and the remaining would have gone to foreign students who have graduated with master’s degrees. These students would still need an employer to sponsor them, and they would need to agree to work for 5 years for that employer. The employer would also need to obtain a labor certification to demonstrate that there are insufficient American workers available for the job.
So why did it fail? The catch was that the STEM Jobs Act would have eliminated the diversity green card lottery, which provides 55,000 green cards for people born in countries with low sending immigration rates to the US. 5,000 of these 55,000 can be deducted for cancellation of removal grantees under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). The elimination of the green card lottery was opposed mainly by Democrats, and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy, proposed a similar bill, but preserving the green card lottery.  
The reason why the STEM Jobs Act needed a 2/3 super majority is because it was being considered while the normal rules were under suspension. The rules are suspended generally for non-controversial bills but this bill was hardly that. It was a clever political ploy by the Republicans to force this bill without consideration of the Lofgren alternative under the normal House rules, which preserved the green card lottery, so that they could go back to their constituents and claim that they did favor an important immigration bill, which the Democrats did not pass.
In my opinion, I like STEM green cards to co-exist with the green card lottery, which provides an option for anyone anywhere in the world to come to American to make it. While most other immigration benefits require a family member or employer as a sponsor, unless you are a rich investor under the EB-5, the green card lottery is not tethered to any sponsor. While it is important for the US to attract STEM students to innovate and pioneer new technologies here, it is equally important to attract others who can also become successful and contribute to the US with their optimism and industry. Today’s halal vendor serving delicious falafel from his street cart, who came through the green card lottery, can tomorrow own a chain of restaurants employing others, and still delighting Americans with a unique ethnic cuisine. We need innovators with STEM degrees as well as folks who can enrich the fabric of America with their cuisine and other endeavors.  Moreover, not all lottery winners are unskilled or uneducated. The green card lottery could also attract educated people and those who have already succeeded in business.
Indeed, the green card lottery is reminiscent of what America used to be without a formal immigration program. Immigrants who came to America through the centuries were like the plucky green card lottery winners of today. They took a chance and came to the shores of America. They were not scientists or the equivalent of STEM graduates of their day. Yet, America’s greatness was built on the hard work and boundless optimism of these ordinary people.
Even though the STEM Jobs Act failed, it shows that there can be bi-partisan consensus. The bill was not perfect, and would not have improved the broken immigration system. For example, unused STEM green cards would not have been re-allocated to the backlogged employment-based or family immigration preferences, where some are waiting endlessly for decades before they can get a green card. Perhaps, in the future, if Republicans do not like the green card lottery, they can settle for an increase in the employment and family-based categories instead as a compromise with the Democrats.    But despite its failure to get passed, at least the STEM Jobs Act is a down payment for future bipartisan efforts on immigration. This effort also shows that immigration can be reformed in increments rather than comprehensively, although the latter would be more desirable in a perfect world.  For example, Senator Schumer (D-NY) has offered his own BRAINS Act, which would similarly grant green cards to 55,000 STEM students and preserve the green card lottery, and he has also invited Lamar Smith back to the negotiating table! 

September 14, 2012


I write this blog with some sarcasm. The family fourth preference (F-4), which allows US citizens to sponsor their siblings for a green card, is horrendously backlogged. It takes over 10 years for a brother or sister of a US citizen to obtain a green card. If the sibling was born in the Philippines, the wait could well be over 25 years. So, why is it a piece of cake?
After the State Department released its Visa Bulletin for October 2012,   the F-4 at least for the worldwide category appears to be more advantageous in terms of waiting time than say the employment-based third preference (EB-3) for India, which is applicable to jobs that require bachelor’s degrees or at least two years of training or experience. The EB-3 for India is so backlogged that it could take a US employer 70 years before the Indian worker it sponsors gets a green card.
What was also disappointing with the October 2012 Visa Bulletin was that the employment-based second preference (EB-2), after being unavailable all summer, emerged in October with a cutoff date of September 1, 2004. This means that employers who filed labor certifications on behalf of foreign national workers with advanced degrees on or before September 1, 2004, can apply for their green cards today.  This does not bode too well because in April 2012 the cutoff date for the India EB-2 was May 1, 2010.  It should have emerged in October at the same cut off level, not back at September 1, 2004. Perhaps, the reason for this giant leap back in time is because many in the EB-3 with priority dates going back to 2004 and earlier are upgrading into the EB-2.  Noted immigration attorney Carl Shusterman has quite correctly called the October 2012 Visa Bulletin a disaster.
But jokes aside, the F-4 is actually a good hedge against the broken legal immigration system in the United States. If you have a brother or sister with kids who are 6 or 7 today, file the I-130 petition and then forget about it. Treat it like a long term stock in a new startup that will increase in value in the years to come.  By the time the green card comes through for your sibling, his or her kids would be 17 and 18, old enough to start college in the US as green card holders rather than  on an F-1 student visa. Note that spouses and children can derivatively get their green cards with the principal beneficiary.  If these kids were born in India, think of the benefit this would give them after they graduate from college and get a coveted job in the US – and let’s hope by then that the US economy would have turned around through some breakthrough technology that would result in an abundance of jobs!  Assuming that the EB-3 was as backlogged in 2023 as it is today, because Congress continued to remain in permanent gridlock, those kids would have to wait about 70 years to get their green card under the EB-3. Instead, the F-4 that you filed with a great deal of foresight today would benefit your nephews and nieces by the time they come of age and are ready to pursue their hopes and dreams in the USA.
What if the kids are no longer children by the time your sibling gets the green card under the F-4? What if they have already turned 21 or more as a child is one who is under 21 under the Immigration and Nationality Act? These are all good and relevant concerns. Fortunately, some of these kids may be able to freeze their age under the Child Status Protection Act. If the child is 23 years old at the time the date on the I-130 petition becomes current, then under INA § 203(h)(1) it is possible to subtract from that age the time that the I-130 petition took to get approved from the time it was filed. For example, if the USCIS took two and a half years to approve the I-130 petition from the date it was filed, then you can subtract 2.5 years from the child’s age, and if the age is reduced so that it falls below 21, then the child can still immigrate with the parent. Thus, it is actually to your advantage if the I-130 petition takes a long time to get approved as that much more time can then get subtracted from the age of a child who may have turned over 21 on the date of visa availability. Fortunately, the processing time at the Vermont Service Center for an F-4 today is just short of 2 years. Processing times will be longer if the USCIS issues a request for more evidence before approving the I-130 petition.  So don’t get too anxious if the I-130 under the F-4 does not get approved so quickly. This time will prove to be precious to reduce the age of a child who is over 21 a decade or more from today, when the visa becomes available under the F-4.
If we had a better immigration system, I would not waste time extolling the so called virtues of the F-4. But when so many preference categories have gone out of whack – 70 years for the India EB-3 and the EB-2 seems to also be going the same way– then we must grasp at straws and the F-4 is certainly one until Congress is able to bring sensible reforms to our immigration system.

September 10, 2012


By David A. Isaacson

On September 7, 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a precedential opinion in Ruqiang Yu v. Holder, No. 11-2546-ag, reaffirming that opposition to corruption may under some circumstances qualify as a political opinion upon which a grant of asylum can be based under U.S. immigration law.  According to Ruqiang Yu, this may be the case even if an asylum applicant has failed to prove that similar corruption exists elsewhere in his or her native country beyond the specific context in which he or she opposed it.

Ruqiang Yu was initially denied asylum by an Immigration Judge (IJ) and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) despite their acceptance of his testimony that he had been mistreated after opposing corruption at the state-owned factory where he worked in China.  As the Court described the facts: 
The IJ found that Yu credibly testified that, while an employee and a team leader at a state-run airplane factory in Shanghai, his employer corruptly refused to pay the wages of workers on his team and that, when Yu’s efforts to aid the workers and to bring the corruption to the attention of government officials was discovered, he was jailed and later fired.
Ruqiang Yu, slip op. at 2.  Despite these findings, the BIA “concluded that Yu failed to establish that his actions ‘constitute[d] a political challenge directed against a governing institution’ since he was objecting to ‘aberrational’ corruption by individuals.”  Id. at 5.  “Yu’s actions, the BIA reasoned, were “a personal dispute against his individual employers for misusing funds he believed should have gone toward the unpaid wages of the laborers on whose behalf he sought to intervene.”  Id.

The BIA and the IJ in Ruqiang Yu appear to have acknowledged that under Second Circuit case law, “opposition to government corruption may constitute a political opinion, and retaliation against someone for expressing that opinion may amount to political persecution.”  Castro v. Holder, 597 F.3d 93, 100 (2d Cir. 2010).  As the Second Circuit had said in case law to which it appears that the BIA was referring in its decision when it set out the criteria that Mr. Yu purportedly had not met:
In considering whether opposition to corruption constitutes a political opinion, “[t]he important questions ... are whether the applicant’s actions were ‘directed toward a governing institution, or only against individuals whose corruption was aberrational,’ ” and “whether the persecutor was attempting to suppress a challenge to the governing institution, as opposed to isolated, aberrational acts of greed or malfeasance.”

Before the Second Circuit’s decision in Ruqiang Yu, but after the Second Circuit’s decisions in Castro and Yueqing Zhang, the BIA had also recognized in a published opinion that “in some circumstances, opposition to state corruption may provide evidence of an alien’s political opinion or give a persecutor reason to impute such beliefs to an alien.”  Matter of N-M-, 25 I&N Dec. 526Matter of N-M-, 25 I&N Dec. 526, 528 (BIA 2011).  In Matter of N-M-, the BIA cited the Second Circuit’s Zhang decision, but found that at least with regard to asylum applications subject to the REAL ID Act because they were filed after May 11, 2005, more than retaliation for opposing acts of corruption linked in some way to a political system was required:
Since the passage of the REAL ID Act, a showing of retaliatory harm for exposing acts of corruption, coupled with evidence that the corruption is in some way linked to a political system, would appear insufficient to demonstrate that a victim’s anticorruption beliefs are “one central reason” for retaliation against him. Instead, an alien must persuade the trier of fact not just that the alleged persecutor was motivated in some measure by the alien’s actual or imputed political belief, but that the protected trait was “one central reason” for the persecution.
Matter of N-M-, 25 I&N Dec. at 532.  

The BIA in Matter of N-M- described three factors that an IJ could use to determine whether actual or imputed political opinion was a central reason for retaliation against one who had expressed an anticorruption belief.  The first is “whether and to what extent the alien engaged in activities that could be perceived as expressions of anticorruption beliefs”   such as whether the “alien denounced corruption in public or at work, published articles criticizing governmental corruption, or organized fellow victims of government extortion against this behavior.”  Matter of N-M-, 25 I&N Dec. at 532.  The second factor is “any direct or circumstantial evidence that the alleged persecutor was motivated by the alien’s perceived or actual anticorruption beliefs,” such as “statements indicating that the persecutor viewed the alien as a political threat or subversive and was motivated as such.”  Id.  The third factor described by BIA in Matter of N-M-, citing the Second Circuit’s decision in Castro, looks to whether corruption was pervasive in an asylum applicant’s country:
An Immigration Judge should also consider evidence regarding the pervasiveness of government corruption, as well as whether there are direct ties between the corrupt elements and higher level officials. Where the alien threatens to expose the corrupt acts of rogue officials acting without the support of the governing regime, it seems less likely that the act would be perceived as politically motivated or politically threatening. However, if corruption is entrenched in the ruling party, a challenge to the corrupt practices of this party may be more likely to represent a challenge to the political position of the ruling party, and not just the financial standing or reputation of a small group of corrupt officials. See Castro v. Holder, 597 F.3d 93, 104 (2d Cir. 2010) . . . .  Whether the governing regime, and not just the corrupt individuals, retaliates against an alien for expressing anticorruption beliefs is relevant to this inquiry.
Matter of N-M-, 25 I&N Dec. at 533.

The Second Circuit in Ruqiang Yu concluded that the BIA had applied an erroneous legal standard in determining whether the corruption opposed by an asylum applicant was “aberrational” for purposes of the test that the Second Circuit itself had set out in Yuequing Zhang and Castro.  As the Second Circuit reminded the BIA: “Because the form and nature of political opposition can vary widely, the assessment of when opposition to corruption becomes an expression of a political opinion involves a context-specific, case-by-case determination.”  Ruqiang Yu, slip op. at 7.  For several reasons, the Second Circuit did not find the BIA to have performed such a determination properly in Yu’s case:
First, we note that the BIA’s factual conclusion that Yu opposed “aberrational” corruption is not supported by the record. Conduct is “aberrational” if it is “a deviation or departure from what is normal, usual, or expected” or something that is “abnormal, diverging from the norm.” Oxford English Dictionary (June 2012, online ed.) (defining “aberration”). Yu’s application indicated that “quite a few . . . workers in other groups did not get paid for a few months,” and that he personally escorted ten of them to confront factory officials. These facts indicate that the non-payment of wages was apparently recurring, not aberrational.

Second, the appropriate inquiry does not focus simply on the number of corrupt acts, but on an assessment of the overall climate and context in which the opposition takes place. Where opposition to corruption transcends self-protection and represents a challenge to state-sanctioned modes of official behavior, a petitioner may be eligible for asylum. . . .

The fact that the protests organized by Yu challenged corruption at a single workplace does not render the corruption categorically aberrational without regard to the nature of Yu’s conduct.  In several ways, Yu’s conduct is typical of political protest (and may have been perceived as such by the authorities). Thus, the record indicates that Yu had no personal, financial motive to oppose the corruption, undertook to vindicate the rights of numerous other persons as against an institution of the state (a state-owned factory), and suffered retaliation by an organ of the state – the police.
Id. at 7-8. 

The single-workplace issue, the Second Circuit noted, was “sharply presented” because Yu had “failed to present . . . evidence of more broad-based corruption at state-owned factories in his native land.”  Id. at 8 n.2.  Nonetheless, the IJ and BIA erred by not “assess[ing] Yu’s claim in its full factual context” to determine whether Yu’s activities were “a challenge to the legitimacy of the government’s entrenched modes of conduct”, or whether the authorities had imputed a political opinion to him (which could be a basis for an asylum claim even if he did not hold such an opinion).  Id. at 8-10. 

One should not lose sight even after Ruqiang Yu of the importance of submitting evidence of systemic, country-wide corruption in an asylum applicant’s home country, if possible.  This author recently represented a client whose application for asylum was granted by the New York Asylum Office based on past persecution and a fear of future persecution relating to his opposition to corruption at a Russian state-owned enterprise (and who has agreed that this limited information about his case can be made public).  In that case, we submitted voluminous evidence of widespread corruption in Russia.  We would do the same today: even within the Second Circuit and even after Ruqiang Yu, it is still highly advisable if at all possible to submit such background evidence regarding the prevalence of corruption in the country of feared persecution, because it will assist greatly in showing that the applicant’s claim relates to “a challenge to the governing institution” under Yueqing Zhang and Castro.  Outside the Second Circuit, evidence of pervasive corruption throughout the country of feared persecution is even more important, under the BIA’s reasoning in Matter of N-M-.  

However, Ruqiang Yu teaches that at least within the Second Circuit (and perhaps elsewhere if the BIA or other Courts of Appeals accept the Second Circuit’s reasoning), some claims of asylum based on opposition to corruption may be viable even if evidence regarding country-wide corruption is for some reason unavailable.  In cases where reliable background evidence regarding the corruption in a particular country or region simply cannot be obtained despite vigorous efforts, applicants and attorneys need not despair.