A Closer Look At The Form I-983 – Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

As we previously blogged about here, on March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule amending regulations to expand Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students with U.S. degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM). This new rule will take effect on May 10, 2016 and will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students most significantly expanding the extension period to 24 months. But the new rule sets forth various requirements that must be met by schools, students and employers. In addition, it raises questions regarding how OPT will be perceived going forward.

The standard 12-month OPT program will remain intact. Eligible students can still engage in a 12-month program of OPT during or after the completion of an academic program. They can work at a regular job for any US employer for the duration of the authorized OPT period provided the employment qualifies as related to their major area of study in the US. But one of the more confusing aspects of the STEM OPT program is that even after engaging in regular employment for 12 months, a student wishing to apply for a STEM OPT extension, will have to prove, through submission of an elaborate Training Plan, that he or she will, for the next 24 months, be no more than a mere trainee! When questioned about this, DHS rejected the notion that students who have completed the 12-month OPT period should be considered “seasoned trainees” who don’t need this new Training Plan. The new Training Plan also leaves us with questions as to what will now be considered “training” as far as OPT is concerned.

In order to obtain this new 24-month STEM OPT, the employer must have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and be enrolled in the E-Verify program. [revised 06/07/16].  The employment opportunity must be directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree and there must be an employer-employee relationship between the employer and the student.  Therefore, employment for staffing agencies where an employer-employee relationship is not maintained or other labor-for-hire arrangements will not qualify. [revised 06/07/16].  The student is also not permitted to engage in concurrent employment for multiple employers during the STEM OPT period but is permitted to change STEM OPT employers. Within 10 days of the employment start date, the student and the new employer must complete a Training Plan on Form I-983 and submit it to the DSO.

Let’s take a closer look at this elaborate Training Plan on Form I-983.

SECTION 1: Student Information

This section of the Form I-983 must be completed by the student and requires the student to provide information on the school recommending STEM OPT and the school where the STEM degree was earned if different from the recommending school. A student may be eligible for a STEM extension based on a previously earned STEM degree which is different from the school of most recent enrollment from which the DSO will be recommending STEM OPT. This section also requires information about the STEM degree; the student’s SEVIS number; and the dates of the specific STEM OPT requested period.

A student previously granted a 17-month STEM OPT and now seeking a new 7-month extension must have at least 150 days remaining on the 17-month STEM OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) on the day that the USCIS receives the application for the 7-month extension. The student must file for a 7-month extension on Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, between May 10 and August 8, 2016. Applications will no longer be accepted after August 8, 2016.

SECTION 2: Student Certification

By signing this section of the Form I-983, the student will certify, under penalty of perjury, that the training is related to the STEM degree and that he or she:

  • Has reviewed, understands and will adhere to the Training Plan;
  • Will notify the DSO if the employer is not providing the training as per the plan;
  • Understands that DHS may deny, revoke or terminate the STEM OPT of students who it determines are not engaging in the training under the plan; and
  • Will notify the DSO at the earliest opportunity of any material changes or deviations from the Training Plan.

If there are material modifications to or deviations from the Training Plan during the STEM OPT extension period, the student and employer must, within 10 days of the change, sign a modified Training Plan reflecting the material changes, and the student must file this modified Training Plan with the DSO at the earliest available opportunity. Material changes include any change of EIN resulting from a corporate restructuring; any reduction in compensation from the amount previously submitted on the Training Plan that is not the result of a reduction in hours worked; and any significant decrease in the hours per week that a student will engage in the STEM training opportunity. DHS has explained that, basically, a material change is any change from the existing Training Plan that would render an employer or student’s attestation inaccurate, or render inaccurate the information in the Training Plan on the nature, purpose, oversight, or assessment of the student’s practical training opportunity.

SECTION 3: Employer Information

This section of the Form I-983 must be completed by the employer and requests basic information such as the employer’s name, address and number of employees. The employer must indicate the number of hours of work per week, which must be at least 20 hours (except when the student is granted leave under the employer’s standard leave policy, e.g. vacation or sick days) and the offered compensation.

An unpaid, volunteer position may not form the basis of a STEM OPT extension. However, DHS has interpreted “compensation” to include wages and other forms of remuneration, including housing, stipends, or other provisions typically provided to employees. The total compensation must be commensurate with that typically provided to US workers possessing similar skills and experience, and performing similar duties.

SECTION 4: Employer Certification

By signing this section of the Form I-983, the employer will certify, under penalty of perjury, that:

  • The Training Plan has been reviewed and understood and will be followed;
  • The DSO will be notified of any material changes;
  • The termination or departure of the student during the authorized OPT period will be reported to the DSO within 5 business days;

DHS has determined that an employer “knows” a student has left the OPT opportunity once that student has not reported for training for 5 consecutive business days without the employer’s consent. Business days do not include federal holidays or weekend days.

In this section of the Form I-983, the employer also certifies that it will adhere to all regulatory provisions that govern the Training Program. These include:

  • The student’s practical training is directly related to the STEM degree that qualifies the student for the STEM OPT extension;
  • The student will receive on-site supervision and training by experienced and knowledgeable staff;
  • The employer has sufficient resources and personnel to provide the training and is prepared to implement the program;
  • The student will not replace a full-time, temporary or permanent US worker and the terms of conditions of the students employment are commensurate with similarly situated workers; and
  • The training complies with all applicable Federal and State employment requirements.

DHS has explained that the barred “replacement” of U.S. workers refers to the loss of existing or prior employment. The employer is not barred from discharging an underperforming employee simply because it also hired a STEM OPT student. DHS states that it will look at the totality of the circumstances to assess compliance with the non-replacement certification.

This section of the Form I-983 also sets forth that DHS may, at its discretion, conduct a site visit of the employer to ensure that the Training Program’s requirements are being met and that the employer possesses and maintains the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences consistent with the Training Plan. DHS may contact the employer, the student or the DSO in person or via telephone or email to obtain information. Based on previous on-site-reviews of schools, DHS estimates that an employer site visit may include review of records and questions for the supervisor, and will take five hours per employer. DHS will provide notice to the employer 48 hours in advance of any site visit, unless the visit is triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with the STEM OPT extension regulations, in which case DHS may conduct an unannounced site visit. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently intends to use federal employees for the site visits. There may be times when contractors accompany federal employees, but ICE currently intends that federal employees will be in charge of such visits.

SECTION 5: Training Plan for STEM OPT Students

In this section of the Form I-983, the student and the employer must enter the contact details of the individual who will be responsible for monitoring the student’s goals and performance and must describe:

  • What tasks and assignments the student will carry out during the training and how these relate to the STEM degree;
  • The training curriculum and timeline including the specific goals and objectives of the program;
  • The specific skills, knowledge and techniques the student will learn or apply;
  • How the student will achieve the goals;
  • How the employer will provide oversight and supervision; and
  • How the employer will measure and confirm whether the student is acquiring new knowledge and skills.

SECTION 6: Employer Official Certification

Here the employer must certify, under penalty of perjury that:

  • It has reviewed, understands and will follow the Training Plan;
  • It will conduct the required periodic evaluations of the student; and
  • It will notify the DSO regarding material changes or deviations from the Training Plan.

The employer’s official who signs this section of the form need not be the same person who signed on behalf of the employer in section 4.

Also on the Form I-983, the student must provide a self-evaluation which the employer must review for accuracy and sign. DHS states that the student evaluation is intended to confirm that the student is making progress toward his or her training objectives and it differs from typical employer evaluations which focus more on how well an employee is performing his or her duties. Evaluations must be completed every 12 months (i.e. at the 1 year mark and at the end of the 24 month STEM OPT period) as DHS believes that this better reflects normal employer practices where annual reviews are standard. Any appropriate individual in the employer’s organization with signing authority can sign the evaluations that the student will submit to the DSO.

USCIS will begin accepting applications for a 24-month extension on May 10, 2016. The student must submit the completed and executed Training Plan to the DSO and obtain a newly endorsed Form I-20 recommending the 24-month STEM extension. The student must file an application for employment authorization within 60 days of the DSO’s endorsement and no more than 90 days before the 12-month EAD expires. Students will get an automatic 180-day extension of their work authorization if their initial 12-month OPT EAD expires while the STEM OPT EAD application is still pending.

There may be some hiccups ahead as students, employers and DSOs get used to the new rule. DHS has expressed its awareness of the fact that the new requirements will require training to ensure that all affected parties understand their role in the process. But DHS has also expressed its confidence in the abilities of DSOs to review Training Plans and has clarified that the DSO need not possess technical knowledge of STEM fields of study or conduct additional outside research into a particular employer but need only confirm that the Training Plan (1) explains how the training is directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree; (2) identifies goals for the STEM practical training opportunity, including specific knowledge, skills, or techniques that will be imparted to the student, and explains how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer; (3) describes a performance evaluation process to be utilized in evaluating the OPT STEM student; and (4) describes methods of oversight and supervision that generally apply to the OPT STEM student. The DSO should also ensure that all form fields are properly completed. DHS will find that the DSO has met his or her obligation under the rule if the Training Plan meets these requirements. DHS believes that its power to conduct site visits; request to review Training Plans; withdraw DSO certifications; and withdraw a school’s participation in the F-1 program will provide the necessary checks to ensure the new program’s success.

The new STEM OPT Training Plan effectively changes the way OPT has been viewed previously and also could potentially create contradictions. As previously mentioned, a student under the 12-month OPT need not have submitted to such an elaborate Training Plan, but now during the STEM OPT extension phase, would have to revert to being a trainee rather than an employee. This Training Plan would also stymie students who have created their own startups. While students may be employed by start-up businesses on STEM OPT, students may not provide employer attestations on their own behalf. Therefore, a self-employed entrepreneur and sole founder of a business with no employer-employee structure would need to make modifications to the business model in order to meet the STEM OPT requirements. It also remains to be seen whether STEM OPT would have to imitate the standard under the J-1 and H-3 visa programs, where productive work has to be incidental to the training. It would be completely contradictory if a student during the 12-month OPT could engage in productive work, but to be granted a STEM OPT extension would have to forego productive work in favor of training, as imposed under the H-3 and J-1 programs. It is hoped that DHS does not emphasize too much on training, recognizing that foreign students who have graduated in STEM fields ought to be able to unleash their talents in creating innovative startups that will lead to economic growth, change business models and paradigms, resulting in new job opportunities for thousands if not millions of American workers.


Some Preliminary Reactions to the Oral Argument in United States v. Texas

As most readers of this blog will likely be aware, the Supreme Court heard oral argument today in the case now captioned United States v. Texas, regarding the lawsuit brought by Texas and a number of other states to stop implementation of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  The transcript of the argument is now available online, although the audiotape will not be available until later in the week.  There has been much media coverage of the argument, including by the always-insightful SCOTUSBlog, and a number of media organizations and commentators have suggested that the Court may divide 4 to 4, thus leaving the Fifth Circuit’s decision intact and preventing DAPA and expanded DACA from going into effect at this time.  While that is a possibility, however, there are also some reasons to be optimistic that it may not come to pass.

I do not wish to recap all of the voluminous coverage of the argument by the media and commentators, but will focus in this blog post primarily on one or two things that I have not seen highlighted by other commentators. However, there is one observation about the argument, not original to me, which does seem worth passing along, and which falls under the heading of reasons for optimism.  As Chris Geidner has pointed out in his review of the oral argument on Buzzfeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often seen as a swing vote in cases where the Court is closely divided, raised the possibility that the more appropriate way for Texas to have proceeded would have been to challenge the application of the regulation granting employment authorization to deferred action beneficiaries, 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14), under the Administrative Procedure Act.  Justice Sotomayor discussed with Solicitor General Verrilli on page 31 of the transcript the possibility that, if Texas had wanted to attack the 1986 regulation that allows employment authorization under many circumstances including deferred action, they could have petitioned the agency for rulemaking under section 553(c) of the Administrative Procedure Act.  If that failed, they could then have gone to court.  Instead, Texas went directly into court without first raising its concerns with the agency—a procedural shortcut which a majority of the Court may not be willing to tolerate.  This is separate from the constitutional concern, also discussed at length during the argument, that Texas may not have standing to attack DAPA where its asserted injury relates to its own decision to subsidize the issuance of driver’s licenses to certain classes of individuals.

Another notable portion of the oral argument was the discussion of the outsized importance that the plaintiff States have attached to the brief mention in the DAPA memorandum of “lawful presence”. As Marty Lederman explained in a post on the Balkinization blog prior to the oral argument, the significance of “lawful presence” in this context relates primarily to eligibility for certain Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as to the tolling of unlawful presence for purposes of potential future inadmissibility under 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(9)(B).  Neither of these things, however, has anything to do with the injury that Texas alleges.  Nor are they of particularly great significance in the context of DAPA as a whole.  Professor Lederman had described the lawful-presence argument as “the smallest of tails wagging a very large dog”, a phrase that Solicitor General Verrilli expanded upon (or should I say contracted upon?) on page 32 of the oral argument transcript by noting that the lawful-presence issue was “the tail on the dog and the flea on the tail of the dog.”  (He also returned to the basic “tail of the dog” formulation on page 88, in his rebuttal.)  If necessary, he offered, the Court could simply take a “red pencil” and excise the offending phrase from the memo, and this would be “totally fine” with the government.

Just as the issue of “lawful presence” lacks a connection to the injury Texas alleges, it was also discussed at the oral argument how even the employment authorization that is a much more important component of DAPA as it would operate in practice, and which seems to be what Texas is in large part challenging, does not really relate to Texas’s alleged injury. As Solicitor General Verrilli and also Thomas Saenz, arguing for intervenor prospective DAPA beneficiaries, pointed out, Texas, under its current policy, gives driver’s licenses based on the granting of deferred action itself, rather than based upon employment authorization.  Even if the federal government restricted itself to deferring any removal action against the intended beneficiaries of DAPA – as Texas, in the person of its Solicitor General Scott Keller, seemed to concede on page 50 of the transcript that it would have the authority to do – and simply, as Justice Ginsburg suggested, gave out ID cards noting the low priority status of the beneficiaries, Texas would still, under its current policy, apparently have to give those beneficiaries subsidized driver’s licenses.  Thus, besides the other problems with Texas’s claim that it is harmed sufficiently by DAPA to have standing to challenge it, there is the problem of redressability.  A decision forbidding the federal government to give out employment authorization documents, or declare “lawful presence”, under DAPA, while still permitting it to defer removal actions against DAPA’s beneficiaries, would not actually solve the problem that Texas is claiming DAPA has caused.  It is, instead, merely a convenient hook for what is actually a political dispute.  Solicitor General Verrilli returned to this point in his rebuttal argument, noting that Texas had offered no response to it.

Another notable portion of the oral argument relating to employment authorization was the discussion of how, as Justice Alito asked on page 28 of the transcript, it is “possible to lawfully work in the United States without lawfully being in the United States?” As Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli attempted to explain, while this may seem peculiar, employment authorization based on a mere pending application for lawful status, such as an application for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, is quite common.  Many, many people receive such authorization pursuant to the administrative authority recognized by 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3), as discussed in my prior blog post Ignoring the Elephant in the Room: An Initial Reaction to Judge Hanen’s Decision Enjoining DAPA and Expanded DACA.  The suggestion that such authorization cannot exist would wreak havoc on our immigration system as we now know it.  As Solicitor General Verrilli pointed out on page 31 of the transcript, reading the §1324a(h)(3) authority as narrowly as suggested by the plaintiffs would eliminate well over a dozen of the current regulatory categories of employment authorization.  It would, to quote from Solicitor General Verrilli’s rebuttal argument at page 89, “completely and totally upend the administration of the immigration laws, and, frankly, it’s a reckless suggestion.”

Indeed, as I pointed out in a blog post several years ago, there are many circumstances under which even someone subject to a removal order can be lawfully granted work authorization.  Those whose asylum applications were denied in removal proceedings but who are seeking judicial review of that denial, for example, may obtain employment authorization under 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(8).  An applicant for adjustment of status under INA §245 or cancellation of removal for nonpermanent residents under INA §240A(b) who has his or her application denied by an immigration judge and the BIA, is ordered removed, and petitions for judicial review of the order of removal under 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2)(D) on the ground that a legal or constitutional error has been made in adjudicating the application, may also renew employment authorization.  Even outside the context of judicial review, an applicant for adjustment who was ordered removed as an arriving alien, and who is nonetheless applying to USCIS for adjustment of status pursuant to Matter of Yauri, 25 I&N Dec. 103 (BIA 2009), can be eligible for employment authorization.

The anomaly of concurrent authorization to work in the United States and lack of authorization to be here, paradoxical though it may have seemed to Justice Alito, can exist even with respect to some of the forms of employment authorization authorized by very specific statutory provisions, rather than under the general authority of 8 U.S.C. §1324a(h)(3)—the forms of employment authorization that even Justice Alito and Texas acknowledge should exist. In 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2), for example, Congress specifically indicated that while “an applicant for asylum is not entitled to employment authorization . . . such authorization may be provided under regulation by the Attorney General.”  The implementing regulations at 8 C.F.R. §208.7(b) and 8 C.F.R. § 274a.12(c) make clear that such employment authorization is renewable pending the completion of administrative and judicial review of a denial of the asylum application.  Thus, an asylum applicant whose application was denied, resulting in an order of removal, and who is seeking judicial review of that order, can obtain renewed employment authorization.

Admittedly, in some cases, a court of appeals can grant a stay of the order of removal for an asylum applicant in this situation, pending adjudication of the petition for review—which one might consider a form of authorization to be in the United States. But a stay of removal is not a precondition for a grant of employment under 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2) and 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(8), either in theory or in practice.  It is fairly common for asylum applicants who are not detained to pursue judicial review without a stay of removal and to renew their employment authorization while doing so.  They are authorized to work in the United States, even though in theory they are not authorized to be here.  As long as they are here, because the government has not thought it worth removing them during the pendency of their court case, they can lawfully work.

Given Justice Alito’s follow-up question about whether the categories of persons who had employment authorization without lawful presence were “statutory categories”, however, it is also worth emphasizing that other kinds of employment authorization besides those specifically authorized by statute can persist even in the face of a removal order. Employment authorization based on a pending application for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, under 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(9) and 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(10), does not stem from the sort of type-specific statutory authorization at 8 U.S.C. §1158(d)(2).  Nonetheless, these types of employment authorization, which have been granted for many years in significant volume with little controversy, can be obtained by someone with a final removal order who is seeking judicial review of that order, or who is seeking adjustment of status under Matter of Yauri.  To the extent Justice Alito meant to imply that the seeming paradox of authorized employment without authorized presence could only be justified by a specific statutory authorization, this too was an inaccurate description of the world of immigration law since long before DAPA.

While the discussion at oral argument of employment authorization separate from lawful status did not go so far as to address this issue of employment authorization for those subject to orders of removal, it did seem that the Solicitor General’s emphasis on the sheer scale of those grants of employment authorization may have made an impact on Chief Justice Roberts.  The Chief Justice, at the end of Solicitor General Verilli’s rebuttal, returned to the question of how many of these sorts of employment authorization documents are issued, and the answer on page 90 that there were 4.5 million in the context of adjustment of status since 2008 and 325,000 for cancellation of removal was the last substantive portion of the argument transcript.  This was potentially a strong closing argument, which may be a hopeful sign.

Attempting to predict the outcome of a case from oral argument is always a risky endeavor, and we will have to wait and see what the Court actually does. Nonetheless, it is my hope that the above observations may perhaps provide some additional insight.

Preemption of Arizona Driver’s License Policy Provides Another Basis for Supreme Court to Uphold President’s Deferred Action Programs

On August 15, 2012, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program took effect, Arizona’s then Governor Janet Brewer tried everything in her book to de-legitimize DACA in Arizona. DACA would not confer lawful or authorized status, according to an Arizona executive order signed by Governor Brewer. Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division announced that it would not accept an employment authorized document (EAD) issued to DACA recipients pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(14) with code C33 as proof that their presence was authorized under federal law for purpose of granting a driver’s license.

In 2013, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) further tried to justify its animus to DACA by revising its policy to only recognize EADs if 1) the applicant has formal immigration status; 2) the applicant is on a path to obtain formal immigration status; or 3) the relief sought or obtained is expressly pursuant to the INA. Under these new criteria, Arizona refused to grant driver’s licenses not only to DACA recipients but also to beneficiaries of traditional deferred action and deferred enforced departure. It continued to grant driver’s licenses only from applicants with EADs pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9), those who had filed adjustment of status applications, or 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(10), those who had applied for cancellation of removal. Under this revision, even one who received deferred action other than DACA under 8 CFR274a.12(c)(14) would now be deprived of a driver’s license.

On April 5, 2016, the Ninth Circuit in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer held that these arbitrary classifications defining authorized status were preempted under federal law and has finally put to rest Arizona’s “exercise in regulatory bricolage.” Although the Ninth Circuit also found that these distinctions between different EADs likely violated the Equal Protection Clause, in order to avoid unnecessary constitutional adjudications, the Court also found that these arbitrary classifications under Arizona’s law were preempted as they encroached on the exclusive federal authority to create immigration classifications. The latest ruling permanently enjoins Arizona’s policy of depriving DACA and other deferred action recipients driver’s licenses, following an earlier ruling that affirmed a preliminary injunction of the same executive order.

While Arizona sought to exalt the status of an EAD that was obtained when one sought adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, the Ninth Circuit gave short shrift to such arbitrary classification. There is no difference if one receives an EAD though cancellation of removal or through deferred action as submitting a cancellation application does not signify that the applicant is on a clear path to formal legal status. Such an application could well be denied. In this regard, noncitizens holding an EAD under C9 or C10 are in no different a position than one who has received an EAD pursuant to DACA under C33. The following extract from the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is worth quoting:

Arizona thus distinguishes between noncitizens based on its own definition of “authorized presence,” one that neither mirrors nor borrows from the federal immigration classification scheme. And by arranging federal classifications in the way it prefers, Arizona impermissibly assumes the federal prerogative of creating immigration classifications according to its own design

Arizona Dream Act Coalition thus provides another basis for the Supreme Court in United States v. Texas to uphold the expanded deferred action programs as part of President Obama’s November 20, 2014 executive actions, especially the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and extended DACA. There is simply no difference between an EAD granted under DACA as an EAD granted based on an application for relief, such as adjustment of status or cancellation or removal. Indeed, it is INA section 274A(h)(3), which provides the authority for a granting of EADs under both DACA and based on application for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal. According to the Ninth Circuit ruling, “DACA recipients and noncitizens with (c)(9) and (c)(10) EADs all lack formal immigration status, yet the federal government permits them to live and work in the country for some period of time, provided they comply with certain conditions.”

INA 274A(h)(3) provides:

As used in this section, the term “unauthorized alien” means, with respect to the employment of an alien at a particular time, that the alien is not at that time either (A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this chapter or by the Attorney General

If INA 274A(h)(3) is discredited, as suggested by the Fifth Circuit in Texas v. USA for the purpose of justifying a grant of EADs under DAPA ,  many other justifications for providing an employment authorization document (EAD) would collapse.  The reason the EAD regulations are principally located in 8 CFR 274a is that the authority for most of them has always been thought to stem from INA 274A(h)(3). While many of the 8 CFR 274a.12(a) EADs have some specific statutory authorization outside of INA 274A(h)(3), which is why they exist incident to status, many 8 CFR 274a.12(c) EAD categories are based on INA 274A(h)(3) in just the same way that  8 CFR 274a.12(c)(14) EADs for deferred action are.  People with pending adjustment applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(9), including the “class of 2007” adjustment applicants, pending cancellation applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(10), pending registry applications under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(16), all get EADs based on that same statutory authority.  Even the B-1 domestic workers and airline employees at 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(17) have no separate statutory authorization besides 274A(h)(3). Some (c) EADs have their own separate statutory authorization, such as pending-asylum 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(8) EADs with their roots in INA 208(d)(2), and 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(18) final-order EADs with arguable roots in INA 241(a)(7), but they are in the minority.  And even some of the subsection (a) EADs have no clear statutory basis outside 274A(h)(3), such as 8 CFR 274a.12(a)(11) for deferred enforced departure.  If the Fifth Circuit’s theory is taken to its logical conclusion, it would destroy vast swathes of the current employment-authorization framework.

It is thus important for the Supreme Court to uphold the Administration’s authority to implement DAPA and extended DACA as part of its broad authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, and its authority to grant EADs under INA 274A(h)(3). While on first brush Texas v. USA is not a preemption case, the  Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States132 S.Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012), articulated the federal government’s authority  to exercise prosecutorial discretion rather elaborately, which can be deployed to preclude states from opposing this federal authority under dubious standing theories:

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. If removal proceedings commence, aliens may seek asylum and other discretionary relief allowing them to remain in the country or at least to leave without formal removal….

Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime. The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service. Some discretionary decisions involve policy choices that bear on this Nation’s international relations. Returning an alien to his own country may be deemed inappropriate even where he has committed a removable offense or fails to meet the criteria for admission. The foreign state maybe mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution, or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return. The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation’s foreign policy with respect to these and other realities.

The Ninth Circuit, on the eve of oral arguments to be presented before the Supreme Court on April 18, 2016 in United States v. Texas, has provided added impetus for the upholding of President Obama’s deferred action programs. A grant of an EAD under DACA or DAPA is not any less than a grant of EAD to an applicant seeking lawful status through an adjustment of status application or by seeking cancellation of removal. All of these EADs stem from INA 274A(h)(3), which ought to be upheld as a legal basis for the executive to grant work authorization to noncitizens as part of its discretionary authority. Moreover,  it should also not make a difference whether the EAD stems from an application that would ultimately result in permanent residence, such as adjustment of status or cancellation of removal, or through a grant of deferred action. The executive branch has equal authority to grant adjustment of status or deferred action, provided certain conditions are met, from which separately ensue EADs to a noncitizen. The latest Ninth Circuit ruling in Arizona Dream Coalition could not have made this clearer.

Can The H-1B Visa Be Saved Through Executive Action?

The annual H-1B VISA cap forces employers to scramble way before the start of the new fiscal year, which is October 1, to file for H-1B visas, only to face the very likely project of being rejected by a randomized lottery. This is no way to treat US employers who pay thousands of dollars in legal and filing fees, along with all the steps they need to take in being in compliance. The whole concept of a nonsensical quota reminds us of Soviet era central planning, and then to inject a casino style of lottery into the process, makes the process even more unfair. Under the lottery, unsuccessful H-1B petitions may be every year with no guarantee of being selected. In fact, notwithstanding recent criticisms, the H-1B visa program has a positive impact on jobs, wages and the economy. Unfortunately, this time too, it is predicted that there will be far more H-1B visa petitions received when compared to the 65,000 H-1B visa cap plus the additional 20,000 H-1B cap for those who have graduated with advanced degrees from US universities. To have only less than a 30% chance to secure an H-1B visa number under the 65,000 cap renders the program totally unviable for employers and H-1B visa applicants.

I was thus heartened to read a blog by esteemed colleague Brent Renison for suggesting that the H-1B lottery may be illegal. He points to INA § 214(g)(3), which states that “Aliens who are subject to the numerical limitations of paragraph (1) shall be issued visas (or otherwise provided nonimmigrant status) in the order in which petitions are filed for such visas or status.” According to Renison, this suggests that the USCIS should be accepting all H-1B visas and putting them in a queue rather than rejecting them through a randomized H-1B lottery. Renison also points to a parallel provision, INA § 203(e)(1),  which reads, “Immigrant visas made available under subsection (a) or (b) shall be issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which a petition in behalf of each such immigrant is filed…”  Although the wording of those two sections are virtually identical, the government rejects H-1B petitions that do not get chosen in the lottery, but accepts all immigrant visa petitions and assigns a “priority date” based on the order they are filed, which in some cases is based on the underlying labor certification.  Unlike the H-1B visa, the immigrant visa petition is not rejected.  Instead, they wait in a line until there are sufficient visa numbers available prior to receiving an immigrant visa or being able to apply for adjustment of status in the United States.

Renison is contemplating filing a class action to challenge the H-1B visa lottery under 8 CFR 214.2(h)(8). I commend him for this initiative, and now take the liberty to propose an even more audacious idea, building upon his brilliant idea. If he is successful in getting USCIS to cease the H-1B lottery process, and accepting all H-1B petitions and placing them in a queue, then the USCIS should approve such petitions prior to placing them in a queue, but only allowing either the grant of an H-1B visa or a change of status to H-1B when a visa number becomes available. However, beneficiaries of approved H-1B petitions on the wait list should also on a case by case basis be given the opportunity to apply for interim immigration benefits such as deferred action or parole.

The U visa serves as a case in point for my idea. Congress only granted the issuance of 10,000 U visas annually to principal aliens under INA 214(p)(2). However, once the numerical limitation is reached, the USCIS does not reject the additional U visa petition like it does with the H-1B visa under the lottery. U-1 visa grantees are put on a waiting list and granted either deferred action if in the US or parole if they are overseas pursuant to 8 CFR 214.14(d)(2). The Adjudicators Field Manual at 39.1(d) explains how the waitlist works for U visa applicants:

2) Waiting list .

All eligible petitioners who, due solely to the cap, are not granted U-1 nonimmigrant status must be placed on a waiting list and receive written notice of such placement. Priority on the waiting list will be determined by the date the petition was filed with the oldest petitions receiving the highest priority. In the next fiscal year, USCIS will issue a number to each petition on the waiting list, in the order of highest priority, providing the petitioner remains admissible and eligible for U nonimmigrant status. After U-1 nonimmigrant status has been issued to qualifying petitioners on the waiting list, any remaining U-1 nonimmigrant numbers for that fiscal year will be issued to new qualifying petitioners in the order that the petitions were properly filed. USCIS will grant deferred action or parole to U-1 petitioners and qualifying family members while the U-1 petitioners are on the waiting list. USCIS, in its discretion, may authorize employment for such petitioners and qualifying family members.

Why can’t the USCIS do the same with H-1B petitions by granting beneficiaries of H-1B petitions deferred action if they are within the United States or paroling them if they are overseas, along with discretionary work authorization? The grant of deferred action or parole of H-1B beneficiaries would be strictly conditioned on the basis that the employer would comply with the terms and conditions of the H-1B petition and the attestations made in the underlying Labor Condition application.   Critics of the H-1B petition, and there are obviously many, will howl and shriek that this is an end run around the annual H-1B limitation imposed by Congress.  But such criticism could be equally applicable to U visa applicants in queue, who are nevertheless allowed to remain in the United States. Of course, a compelling argument can be made for placing U visa beneficiaries on a waiting list through executive action, who are the unfortunate victims of serious crimes, as Congress likely intended that they be in the United States to aid criminal investigations and prosecutions. While H-1B wait listed applicants may not be in the same compelling situation as U visa applicants, a forceful argument can be made that many H-1B visa recipients contribute to the economic growth of the United States in order to justify being wait listed and receiving an interim benefit.

If the administration feels nervous about being further sued, after being forced to dismantle the H-1B lottery, perhaps it can limit the grant of deferred action or parole to those H-1B wait listed beneficiaries who can demonstrate that their inability to be in the United States and work for their employers will not be in the public interest. Or perhaps, those who are already in the United States, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students who have received Optional Practical Training, and are making significant contributions, be granted deferred action as wait listed H-1B beneficiaries. Such deferred action should only be granted if they are well within the three year term of the approved H-1B petition. If the administration wishes to narrow the criteria further, it could give preference to those H-1B beneficiaries for whom the employer has started the green card process on their behalf.

While this proposal will likely not get a standing ovation on first brush, and the best solution is for Congress to either expand the H-1B cap or get rid of it altogether,  it is important to take comfort in Victor Hugo’s famous words – “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Who would have imagined a few years ago that those who had come to the United States prior to the age of 16 and were not in status would receive deferred action and be flaming successes today? Or who would have imagined that H-4 spouses could seek work authorization or that beneficiaries of I-140 petitions who are caught in the green card employment-based backlogs are likely to be able to apply for work authorization, even if the circumstances are less than perfect, under a proposed rule? Of course, it goes without saying that executive action is no substitute for action by Congress. Any skilled worker immigration reform proposal must not just increase the number of H-1B visas but must also eliminate the horrendous green card backlogs in the employment-based preferences for those born in India and China.  But until Congress acts, it is important to press the administration with good ideas, and to build upon brilliant ideas proposed by others. Good ideas never disappear, and have the uncanny knack of resurfacing again and again, until they come into fruition to benefit deserving immigrants who contribute to America.