The Way We Count

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

“Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.” Rene Descartes

Now is the time to change the way America counts green card numbers.  Congress is presently debating comprehensive immigration reform and grand events are likely to reshape the legal landscape. Yet, at such a seminal moment we ought not lose sight of the value of technical modifications that can have enormous consequences.  Most Americans, including virtually all policy makers, would be surprised to learn that the majority of green cards awarded each fiscal year go not to the principal aliens themselves but to dependent family members, thus reducing even further permanent migration to the United States. In fact, as the waiting lines over the past decade have grown ever longer, this pattern has become more pronounced.  A quick overview of green card distribution during the first decade of the 21st century quickly makes this evident.  Let us take employment based migration in the employment-based first preference (EB-1) category as our data sample. In 2000, there were 5,631 new arrivals under the EB-1, 2,241 went to the principal vs. 3,390 to family members. This means that family members accounted for 58.67% of EB-1.  In 2012, there were 1,517 new arrivals under the EB-1. 516 went to the principal & 1001 to family members. This means that family members accounted for 65.98% under the EB-1. Things are getting worse.
It need not be that way. Neither the law nor logic commend or require such a result. Without creating a single new immigrant visa, Congress can eliminate quota backlogs and restore relevance to a green card system that is sorely in need of such restoration. The solution is simple but elegant: Count all members of a family together as one unit rather than as separate and distinct individuals. Do that and systemic visa retrogression will quickly become a thing of the past. Nor is this merely something for idle academic debate. Rather, it is essential if the path to legal resident status for the undocumented is ever to mean anything. Under any conceivable iteration of CIR, even if there is an expansion of immigrant visa numbers in the preference categories, the undocumented will be relegated to the back of the green card line behind those patiently waiting under the legal system. Unless a solution is found to remediate the tyranny of priority dates, the undocumented like the ancient Israelites who left Egypt, will never enter the promised land.

Section 203(d) of the INA is the provision that deals with family members. Let us examine what INA § 203(d) says: A spouse or child defined in subparagraphs (A), (B), (C), (D), or (E) of section 1101 (b)(1) of this title shall, if not otherwise entitled to an immigrant status and the immediate issuance of a visa under subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section, be entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration provided in the respective subsection, if accompanying or following to join, the spouse or parent. There is nothing in INA § 203(d) that explicitly provides authority for family members to be counted under the preference quotas. While a derivative is “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration” as the principal, nothing requires that family members also be given numbers.  Is there not sufficient ambiguity in INA § 203(d) to argue even under current law that family members should not be counted against the quotas?

There is no regulation in 8 C.F.R. instructing what INA § 203(d) is supposed to be doing. Even the Department of State’s regulation at 22 C.F.R. § 42.32 only parrots INA § 203(d) and states that children and spouses are “entitled to the derivative status corresponding to the classification and priority date of the principal.” 22 C.F.R. § 42.32 does not provide further amplification on the scope and purpose of INA § 203(d). We acknowledge that INA 203(d) derivatives are wholly within the preference system and bound by its limitations.. They are not independent of numerical limits, only from direct limitations. It is the principal alien through whom they derive their claim who is counted and who has been counted. Hence, if no EB or FB numbers were available to the principal alien, the derivatives would not be able to immigrate either. If they were exempt altogether, this would not matter. There is a difference between not being counted at all, which we do not argue, and being counted as an integral family unit as opposed to individuals, which we do assert. We seek not an exemption from numerical limits but a different way of counting such limits. 

INA § 203(d) took effect under IMMACT 90. It still remains a mystery as to why INA § 203(d) was enacted. There was no need to do so since family members were counted in the pre-IMMACT90 quotas. No clear answer can be gleaned from the legislative history of IMMACT 90. Though family members were explicitly exempted from being counted in the House bill, such exemption was removed in conference with the Senate. Ultimately, Congress enacted INA § 201(d), which set a numerical limit of 140,000 for EB immigrants, and it appears that the intent of Congress in IMMACT 90 was to count family members in the final legislation. Was INA § 203(d) introduced to ensure that family members would be counted especially after the House sought to exempt them? Or was it the converse? Could INA § 203(d) have been a vestige of the House’s intent that was never taken out – to make sure that, even though these derivatives would  be counted against enlarged EB cap, they would not be left out in the cold but still get the same “green card” benefits as the principal?

If the Executive wanted to reinterpret INA § 203(d), there is sufficient “constructive ambiguity” here too for it do so without the need for Congress to sanction it. We have explained this in our prior article, Why We Can’t Wait:   How President Obama Can Erase Immigrant Visa Backlogs With A Stroke Of A Pen, http://www.ilw.com/articles/2012,0201-endelman.shtm. If this happened, the EB and FB preferences could instantly become “current.” The backlogs would disappear. The USCIS might even have to build a new Service Center! But we do not want to end on such optimism and throw all caution to the winds.. Thus, we propose a simple technical fix in Congress, which is to exclude family members from the FB and EB quotas. We do not see why this cannot be accomplished as there is already a pedigree for such a legislative fix. The proposed wording to INA 203(d) would be a simple add on to the current text, such as: “All family members, including the principal alien applicant, shall be counted as one unit for purposes of INA 201(c) and 201(d) limitations. They shall not be counted on an individual basis.” Not only did Congress try to remove family members in IMMACT90, but also attempted to do so in S. 2611, which was passed by the Senate in 2006. Section 501(b) of S. 2611 would have modified INA § 201(d)(2)(A) to exempt family from being counted in EB cases. The EB and FB numbers ought not to be held hostage to the number of family members each principal beneficiary brings with him or her. Nor should family members be held hostage to the quotas. We have often seen the principal beneficiary being granted permanent residency, but the derivative family members being left out, when there were not sufficient visa numbers under the preference category during that given year. If all family members are counted as one unit, such needless separation of family members will never happen again.

Even an increase in the visa numbers in a reform proposal, which might seem adequate today, will again result in backlogs shortly based on the uncertainties with economic booms and busts as well as the varying size of families. An immigration system that does not count derivatives separately will have more of a chance to remain viable before Congress is again required to expand visa categories a few decades later. This will also go a long way in restoring balance and fairness to our immigration system. Sometimes even small things can cast a giant shadow.

The Status of Internet Proxy Marriages Under Immigration Law

A recent article in the New York Times entitled You May Now Kiss the Computer Screen caught my interest.  The article highlights a rise in marriages over the internet, especially through a video chat program Skype, among immigrant communities. “The practice is so new that some immigration authorities said they were unaware it was happening and did not provide extra scrutiny to ensure these types of marriages were not being misused to secure citizenship,” the article states.

A “Skype marriage” takes place in another country where it is legally registered while the other party participates via video in the United States. If the marriage is considered legally valid in the foreign country, it will generally be recognized in the US. On the other hand, such a marriage is considered a proxy marriage, and under §101(a)(35) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), if the parties were not in each other’s presence at a marriage ceremony, there must be proof of consummation for such a marriage to be recognized under immigration law. This is true even in the case of a couple who were previously married and had consummated their marriage through the birth of three children, and then divorced. They remarried through a proxy marriage that was valid in Italy, but since there was no proof of consummation following that marriage, the visa petition filed on behalf of the spouse was denied. See Matter of B-, 5 I&N Dec. 698 (BIA 1954).

Thus, internet marriages, even on the rise, will not be recognized under immigration law unless the parties establish that there was consummation. In addition, there is a requirement that every marriage, proxy or not, be bona fide and not be entered into solely to obtain a green card. Indeed, INA §204(c) imposed a lifetime bar to a new petition being approved on behalf of a beneficiary who was previously involved in marriage fraud.

The immigration authorities do not require definitive proof of consummation, and proof of the two parties being together physically after the celebration of their proxy marriage, along with a statement affirming consummation, ought to suffice. In fact, non-proxy marriages do not require consummation to satisfy the bona fide marriage test. In Matter of Peterson, 12 I&N Dec. 663 (BIA 1968), the fact that an elderly couple lived in separate bedrooms and had not engaged in sexual intercourse did not preclude the demonstration of a bona fide marriage. Also, a marriage would still be considered bona fide even though it is no longer viable because the couple have separated as a result of marital discord.  See Matter of McKee, 17 I&N Dec. 332 (BIA 1980).

The advent of increasingly sophisticated internet-based technologies have changed the way we live and work, and the law has yet to catch up. For example, telecommuting employees were unheard of before the internet, and I have commented on how existing H-1B visa rules defining a worksite have not been able to cope with this trend in LCAs in the Age of Telecommuting. Internet marriages are another example of this trend, and the couple in the NYT article, Ms. Chowdhury (who is in New York) and Mr. Ahmmed (who is in Bangladesh), notwithstanding the unconventional nature of the celebration appear to have entered into a bona fide marriage. The following extract from the article is worth noting:

But for Ms. Chowdhury, 21, and Mr. Ahmmed, 31, the giggling pair pretending to feed each other wedding dessert by holding forkfuls of cake to their computer screens that day, it felt full of the gravity of any other wedding. Ms. Chowdhury noted that her aunt had married similarly, long before the Internet age — by telephone. 

Peering from the screen of a laptop, Mr. Ahmmed agreed. “This is my lawful wife,” he said. 

At the last word, his bride squealed with joy. 

Even if one argues that a Skype marriage may have all the trappings of a marriage where the parties are physically in each other’s presence (and can also be intimate via video), it is doubtful whether Congress will be in a mood to change the law to make it easier for such marriages to be recognized for immigration purposes. There is too much of a concern for fraud, and such proxy marriages could also involve forced marriages of women and children without their consent. They could also be used by sex traffickers to bring in women who then unwittingly find themselves involved in sex work in the US.

Interestingly, the non-recognition of a proxy marriage helped someone to successfully claim he was a US citizen and avoid deportation. In Moussa v. INS, 302 F.3d 823 (8th Cir. 2009), the government commenced removal proceedings against Moussa based on several criminal convictions. Moussa, on the other hand, claimed he became a citizen at the time of his father’s naturalization and could not be deported as a US citizen. Moussa’s claim depended on whether his father was married to his non-citizen mother or not at the time of the father’s naturalization. Under old INA §321 which has since been repealed, both parents had to be citizens if they were married in order for Moussa to have become a US citizen. However, if his father was not married to his mother, Moussa could claim derivative citizenship through his father.  The government claimed that the parents were married as a result of a proxy marriage while Moussa’s mother was in Ethiopia and so he was not a citizen. The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Moussa that such a marriage was not recognized under INA §101(a)(35) as the parents had not consummated the marriage before his father was naturalized and he was thus a citizen.  As a result, Moussa could not be deported for his criminal convictions.

So long as §101(a)(35) remains on the books, notwithstanding the rise of internet marriages, those wishing to seek an immigration benefit from such marriages must  first be able to demonstrate that they commenced marital relations after such a marriage. Even if such a marriage passes muster under §101(a)(35), unless the couple have started cohabiting together,  the immigration authorities are likely to look at such marriages more suspiciously in determining whether such a marriage is bona fide or not.

Wanted: Great STEM and Tandoori Chicken

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

There is no doubt that a Startup Visa would unleash amazing entrepreneurial activity in the United States, which would result in many jobs. The latest version of the Startup Visa Act 3.0 would provide 75,000 visas to individual who are already here in F-1 and H-1B status if their companies receive an investment of $100,000 per year and employ a minimum of two workers in the first year. A three year visa would be given to those who meet this condition. If within the three years, they employ an additional worker each year, they can apply for permanent residency.

According to a Kauffman Foundation study, the Startup Visa could conservatively lead to the creation of between 500,000 and 1.6 million jobs, which in turn could give a boost to the US economy of between $70 billion and $224 billion a year. A more optimistic estimate would result in 889,000 jobs and a boost to the economy of around $140 billion per year. Vivek Wadhwa, a big proponent of this bill, estimates an even bigger boost if half of these companies are engineering and technology companies. Many of these entrepreneurs, according to Wadhwa, will go on to build new companies based on their success, and could also develop breakthrough technologies and some of them could also be the next Google or Apple.

So if this is a no-brainer, why is Congress not passing the Startup Visa Act 3.0? The truth is that no standalone immigration bill will pass unless it is tied to a broader Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. Indeed, there is an interesting debate between Wadhwa and Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez on this issue. Guiterrez, although he supports a Startup Visa, has openly admitted that he will not allow it to pass unless Congress is willing to reform the entire immigration system.  Wadhwa feels this is “political gamesmanship” on the part of Guiterrez, and that the Startup Visa can be passed first in order to give the American economy a big boot and this would lead to increased public acceptance for broader immigration reform. Guiterrez, on the other hand, feels that once he allows this to happen, it will be more difficult to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The disagreement between Gutierrez and Wadhwa may be a false polarity. A nation needs both social justice and good economics; indeed, social justice is the best economics. A good example of the synergy between social justice and economics is Sergey Brin, who is the co-founder of Google. He came to the US with his parents at the age of six because they faced anti-Semitism in their native Russia. Although Brin graduated from Stanford in computer science, he did not come to the US on an H-1B visa or benefitted under any employment or investor visa category in our immigration system. His parents were able to come into the US based on an immigration program that was designed to protect foreign nationals from intolerance in their native countries. Still, Brin after coming to the US as a youngster was able to go on to found Google, considered one of America’s best and most innovative companies today.

Both Wadhwa and Guiterrez have a point. However powerful the stimulus flowing from the Start Up visa, enactment of Comprehensive Immigration Reform along with the Startup Visa would be infinitely more potent. Reforming a broken system, which includes legalizing the 10 million plus undocumented immigrants in the US, as well as providing quicker and more sensible pathways to legal status, could unleash even greater wealth. Immigrants of all stripes are essentially very entrepreneurial. An undocumented person who is provided legal status can also start a business and this individual need not be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) graduate. Even a non-technology company can create jobs such as a restaurant or grocery chain. Immigration should not be viewed as a zero sum game, and giving opportunities to foreign nationals in the US can result in more American jobs. Under our broken system, it is virtually impossible for an entrepreneur who wishes to start a North Indian cuisine restaurant to bring in a foreign national tandoori chef. A reformed immigration system should hopefully give this entrepreneur access to such a chef from India. A restaurant’s success is possible because of its chef, and when that great tandoori chef can be quickly hired from India, people will start coming to the restaurant resulting in the hiring of restaurant managers and waiters locally in the US. This restaurant’s success can then be replicated, and the entrepreneur can develop a branded chain of tandoori restaurants all over the US, resulting in many more jobs locally.

According to another report sponsored by Cato Institute – The Economic Benefits Of Comprehensive Immigration Reform by Raul Hinjosa-Ojeda, the legalization of 11 million immigrants would be equivalent to more than $1.5 trillion added to GDP over 10 years. The study considered the economic impact under three scenarios: a legalization program that would ultimately result in a pathway to citizenship, a temporary worker program with no option for permanent resident status and the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Hinjosa-Ojeda concludes that the legalization of undocumented immigrants would provide the most economic benefits to the US. On the other hand, removing undocumented immigrants would be most expensive, costing $2.6 trillion to the GDP over a 10 year period.

The debate between Wadhwa and Gutierrez can be put in a larger perspective. If you believe, as Wadhwa does, that the purpose of immigration is to create wealth, unleash creativity and foster productivity, then the focus should be on entrepreneurs and highly skilled professionals. This explains his approach. If, however, you are mainly concerned with social justice, then you argue for a more comprehensive approach which is what Gutierrez does. It comes down to what you think is most important and what you think has true moral legitimacy. For those who use immigration to bring about social justice, it is family not employment immigration that is morally legitimate. The focus is on using immigration to help the individual immigrant, reunite families, to fight intolerance, poverty and injustice. It is not to make American employers more competitive, and there’s also an impulse to protect US workers.  Wadhwa, on the other hand, sees an ethical value and legitimacy in work itself, in work as a creative expression of individual talent. He looks for new avenues especially in STEM fields to unleash creative potential within the culture and context of a capitalist economy.

The economic boom that an enlightened immigration policy would ignite is generational in its dimensions. The immediate benefit from the entrepreneurial energy of the immigrant generation would be transformed and expanded by the diversified talents of succeeding generations. The Tandoori cook of one generation is often followed by the cutting-edge geophysicist of the next. Precisely as the American economy itself is inherently dynamic, the role that immigrants play in it also constantly evolves. For this reason, the sharp contrast provided by Gutierrez and Wadhwa that seem so vivid now will, over time, fade into a more nuanced yet no less compelling portrait.  Gutierrez realizes that an enlightened immigration policy can only exist in a compassionate society where social mobility is a lubricant of national cohesiveness. Wadhwa appreciates that immigration is an asset to be maximized not a problem to be controlled. Like all transformational moments in American history, this is pre-eminently a time to try something new.

A month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln spoke to our issue in our time:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.