Immigrants Are Not Undesirable Criminals

During his campaign and after he became president, Trump has unfortunately changed the narrative by linking immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, to rapists, murderers, terrorists and job stealers. Trump has exploited the crimes committed by a few immigrants to link all of them to criminal activity. The fact that a person may have crossed the border illegally does not make them a criminal with a tendency to commit even more crimes in the United States. While we undoubtedly sympathize with the victims of such crimes, it is morally reprehensible to taint all immigrants with the conduct of a very few. The criminal justice system can effectively punish perpetrators of all crimes, whether they may be immigrants or US citizens.  Most immigrants are hardworking and honest, trying to make a better lives for themselves, while also benefiting the United States. They are also valiantly trying to legalize their status in an immigration system that urgently needs an upgrade. Indeed, a Cato Institute report establishes that immigrants, even undocumented immigrants, commit lesser crimes than native Americans.

Some in the media have latched onto this false narrative to further sensationalize the issue. When I was invited to debate Tucker Carlson on Fox News on March 27, 2017 I accepted believing it is important for an immigration attorney to speak out loudly and boldly, no matter how ruthless the TV host may be.While Carlson may limit the conflation to crimes with undocumented immigrants, this has the tendency to extend to even legal immigrants as exemplified in Trump’s travel ban. Nationals of the countries affected in the ban are people entering the United States legally as students, temporary workers or as refugees,  but they are still considered suspect as the Trump’s travel ban directly links to nationals of Muslim majority countries suspected of terrorism.  This sort of stereotyping is not just false, but it is also extremely dangerous. A few weeks ago, a US citizen killed an Indian engineer who was legally in the United States on an H-1B visa under the false perception that he was a dangerous immigrant. We can only hope that this virulent fever in America breaks soon because it goes against the long cherished notion that America is nation of immigrants.

Watch the clip below:

Employer Not Always Obligated To Pay Return Transportation Cost Of Terminated H-1B Worker

In Vinayagam v. Cronous Solutions, Inc., ARB Case No. 15-045, ALJ Case No. 2013-LCA-029 (ARB Feb. 14, 2017) the Administrative Review Board held that an employer’s failure to pay return transportation costs home of a terminated H-1B employee was not fatal when the worker did not return to her home country on her own volition.

When filing a Labor Condition Application (LCA) – a necessary first step in the filing of an H-1B visa petition – the employer attests that it will pay the required wage to the H-1B nonimmigrant worker. See INA 212(n)(1)(A); 20 CFR 655.731(a). The required wage must be paid until there is a bona fide termination of the employment relationship. In order to demonstrate such a bona fide termination of the employment relationship, the ARB held in Amtel Group of Fla., Inc. v. Yongmahapakorn, ARB No. 04-087, ALJ No. 2004-LCA-0006 (ARB Sept. 29, 2006). that an employer must meet three requirements to effectuate a bona termination of the relationship under 20 CFR 655.731(c)(7)(ii). First, the employer must expressly terminate the employment relationship with the H-1B worker. Second, the employer must notify USCIS of the termination so that the USCIS can revoke its prior approval of the employer’s H-1B petition under 8 CFR 214.2(h)(11). Third, the employer must provide the H-1B worker with payment of return transportation home under INA 214(c)(5)(A) and 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(E). If the employer otherwise explicitly terminates the employment relationship, but fails to follow the second and third steps, the employer may still be obligated to pay the required wage for failure to effectuate a bona fide termination. Although in the real world the employer must only undertake step one, in the case of an H-1B worker, the employer must also take steps two and three that have been mandated by the Department of Labor (DOL).

It is the third prong that has been the subject of much interpretation.  Must an employer still offer to pay the return transportation costs even if the worker chooses to remain in the US on his or her own volition? In Vinayagam v. Cronous Solutions, the terminated H-1B worker did not leave the United States on her own volition and unsuccessfully applied for H-1B status through another employer. Prior to this unsuccessful attempt, the worker sought to apply for B-2 visa status, which was also denied. The employer under this scenario was not required to pay the return transportation costs home, and thus was not liable to continue to pay the required wage after the employer fulfilled steps one and two. This decision follows a line of other ARB decisions where the employer was not obligated to pay the return transportation costs where the H-1B worker had married a US citizen and adjusted her status to permanent residence or where the worker found an employer to file another H-1B petition and thus extend H-1B status through that employer or where the H-1B worker outright rejected the reimbursement. If the H-1B worker voluntarily terminates employment prior to the expiration of the authorized H-1B stay or is dismissed when the authorized stay has ended, the employer is not liable for return transportation costs. See Toia v. Gardner Family Care Corp., 2007-LCA-6 (April 25, 2008).

It is intriguing that the Department of Labor has latched on to USCIS rules for requiring a bona fide termination of employment. The employer’s obligation to pay the wage is an obligation under DOL rules, but in determining the employer’s ending of that obligation, the DOL has relied on the rules of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which includes notification to the USCIS that results in the revocation of the H-1B petition (8 CFR 214.2(h)(11) and payment of the return transportation home obligation (8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(E). Naomi Schorr has astutely observed that when one agency engages in interpreting and enforcing the rules of another agency, courts will not defer to that agency’s interpretation. See Schorr, It Makes You Want To Scream: Overstepping Bounds: The Department of Labor and the Bona Fide Termination of H-1B Employees, Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, Oct. 15, 2014. Indeed, in a 1999 exchange of correspondence between a private attorney and the INS, the response was that the “Service views the return transportation provision as a private contractual issue between the petitioner and the beneficiary. As a result, the Service has not developed any policies with respect to the questions that you have raised.” See Letter from Thomas W. Simmons, Chief, INS Business and Trade Services Branch to Robert A. Klipstein (May 20, 1999), reprinted in 70 Interpreter Releases 1140 (July 26, 1999).

While the USCIS does not give this rule any teeth, the DOL has chosen to enforce it against an employer if the employer cannot demonstrate that the H-1B worker chose to stay in the US on his or her own volition. In fact, notwithstanding Vinayagam v. Cronous Solutions, unless it is clearly indicated that the worker chooses to remain in the US, it would be prudent for the employer to give the benefit of doubt to the H-1B worker and offer the return transportation costs home. These cases have shown that the employer must always go through protracted litigation to establish that the H-1B worker voluntarily stayed on in the US in order to escape back wage liability. Moreover, the burden is on the employer to demonstrate whether it had a duty to provide the return transportation costs and whether it had satisfied that requirement. See Gupta v. Jain Software Consulting, Inc., ARB No. 05-008, ALJ No. 2004-LCA-039 (ARB Mar. 30, 2007).

The High Skilled Worker Rule that took effect on January 18, 2017 provides for a 60 day grace period to H-1B as well as other nonimmigrant workers holding E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B1, L-1 or TN status. See 8 CFR 214.1(2). The 60 day grace period is indeed a salutary feature. Up until the rule took effect, whenever a worker in nonimmigrant status got terminated, they were immediately rendered to be in violation of status. Derivative family members, whose fortunes were attached to the principal’s, would also be rendered out of status upon the principal falling out status. Thus, the 60 day grace period not only gives the worker more time to leave the United States, but it also provides a window of opportunity to find another employer who can file an extension or change of status within the 60 day period. Similarly, the worker could also potentially change to some other status on his or her own, such as to F-1, after enrolling in a school.

The new 60 day grace period may incentivize the H-1B worker to remain in the US, and thus enable an employer to escape paying the return transportation costs. On other hand, it should not be viewed as a green light to never offer the return transportation costs home. While the 60 day grace period does allow a terminated worker some cushion in finding another employer in the US, it also provides a cushion for the worker to leave the United States less abruptly if terminated prior . In the latter situation, the employer’s failure to offer return transportation costs home could still render the employer liable for back wages as a result of not effectuating a bona fide termination.

Protesting Trump’s Muslim Ban Through Art: An Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective

There are many ways to protest Trump’s travel ban, also known as the Muslim ban. Lawyers have successfully sued against the ban in the courts. People protested at airports in an unprecedented and spontaneous manner. Art can also be a powerful form of protest against the ban.  The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has also joined the protests by displayng works of artists from the banned countries among other iconic works of art in its permanent collection. One has to go through the galleries housing the permanent collection to serendipitously come across the work of an artist from a banned country, which in the age of Trump, have also attained iconic status. Art is able to inspire the lawyer in protesting the ban. Trump’s exclusion of an entire people from a banned country casts all of them as terrorists, including the artist. This is both legally wrong and morally shameful.

These are three of my favorites among the works of the artists from the banned countries at the MOMA. I have also included at the end the works of two artists from my own very modest art collection. I am happy to possess these works, which have always been beautiful, but resonate more powerfully today. They inspire me as I protest Trump’s ban.

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi – born in Iran

Ibrahim el- Salahi - born in Sudan

Ibrahim el- Salahi – born in Sudan

Parviz Tanavoli – born in Iran

 

These are two works from my own collection, the first which I acquired in 1993 and the second in 2010.

 

Reza Derakshani – born in Iran

Mary Yahya – born in Iraq

Is There A Hidden Agenda? Suspension of Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions

In one move that we did not see coming, USCIS has announced that, starting April 3, 2017, it will temporarily suspend premium processing service for all H-1B petitions. Petitioners will not be able to file Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, for a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker which requests the H-1B nonimmigrant classification. This includes cap-subject H-1B petitions, petitions for H-1B extensions or amendments and petitions for change of H-1B employer. This suspension may last up to 6 months and USCIS will notify the public before resuming premium processing for H-1B petitions. The temporary suspension will not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.

As background, premium processing service provides expedited processing for a specific list of employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions. This list has always included the H-1B petition. The request is submitted on Form I-907 which carries a fee of $1,225. Upon receipt of this request, USCIS guarantees 15 calendar day processing or USCIS will refund the fee. Within the initial 15 days, USCIS will issue an approval or denial notice, a notice of intent to deny (NOID) or a request for evidence (RFE). If a NOID or RFE is issued, a new 15 calendar day period will begin upon USCIS’ receipt of a complete response. Premium processing service is also quite desirable because it allows petitioners and attorneys to communicate directly with USCIS officers via telephone or email. USCIS also issues an email notification when the case has been received and when it is approved.  Also, rather than having to wait for snail mail to arrive, petitioners receive RFE’s and denial notifications via fax.

Each year, thousands of petitioners request premium processing service for their H-1B petitions filed under the H-1B cap. The initial email notification and the 15 day adjudication period can go a long way toward providing peace of mind for anxious H-1B petitioners and beneficiaries. For petitions filed under regular processing, USCIS receipt notices are sometimes not received until May or even June and the petition can remain pending for months, even past the October 1 employment start date. Cap-subject H-1B petitions are accepted during the first five business days of April. This year, since April 1 falls on a Saturday, cap-subject H-1B petitions for the 2018 fiscal year (FY18) will be accepted from Monday, April 3 to Friday, April 7, 2017. The suspension will therefore apply to all petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”). USCIS will reject any Form I-907 filed with an H-1B petition. Therefore, if the petitioner submits one combined check for both the Form I-907 and Form I-129 H-1B fees, USCIS will reject both forms.

USCIS has stated that the suspension will help the agency to reduce its overall H-1B processing time and allow it to process long-pending petitions which it has been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years. USCIS also claims that the suspension will allow the agency to prioritize the adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark. Under 8 CFR § 274a.12(b)(20), an H-1B worker is authorized to continue working for the same employer for up to 240 days beyond the expiration of the current immigration status (i.e. beyond the date listed on their most recent Form I-94) if the employer files an H-1B extension request in a “timely” manner.  In recent times, the processing times for H-1B petitions have come close to or even moved beyond 240 days. This is probably attributable to increased filings as a result of the decision in Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC, 26 I&N Dec. 542 (AAO 2015) which mandates the filing of H-1B petitions for amendment whenever there is a change in the H-1B work location. Once the 240 day period has passed, the employee may remain in the US awaiting the adjudication of the petition but will no longer be authorized to work. If the H-1B worker works past the 240 days, not only will he or she be in violation of status, but will lose the tolling exception to unlawful presence too. According to USCIS guidance, unlawful presence is tolled when a timely extension request is filed, but that tolling will be lost if the foreign national engages in unauthorized employment either before or after the timely extension has been filed. Thus, working beyond 240 days will result in the loss of the tolling protection to unlawful presence.

We hope that we can trust in USCIS’ stated intent and that there is nothing more sinister behind the suspension. It is no secret that some people in charge of immigration policy in the Trump administration do not like the H-1B visa as it is perceived, albeit erroneously, to be taking away jobs that should go to American workers. There are ongoing efforts within Congress to change how the H-1B system works. One bipartisan bill, H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2017, proposes to reform the program by instructing officials to grant visas on merit, rather than through a lottery. Is the stoppage of premium processing for 6 months really just a way to slow down the H-1B program and thus make it more difficult for employers to retain skilled H-1B workers? Is this in keeping with Bannon’s goal for the endless deconstruction of the administrative state? Granted, this is not the first time that premium processing service has been suspended. Last year, USCIS announced that in order to prioritize data entry for cap-subject H-1B petitions, while they would still accept Forms I-907, they would actually begin any requested premium processing for H-1B cap-subject petitions by May 16, 2016. That suspension applied only to cab-subject H-1B petitions and was implemented for a very short-term with a firm end-date indicated. It was therefore not only understandable but moreover, believable, as a means to cope with an expected influx of petitions. This time, the timeline could be indefinite, as USCIS vaguely states that the suspension may last up to 6 months, and USCIS has applied the suspension across the board on all H-1B petitions, a move that will most likely lead to an increase in the very backlogs that they are allegedly seeking to eliminate.

The suspension of premium processing service could also result in very serious complications for H-1B employees. The inability to upgrade the petition to premium processing will mean that H-1B employees might be unable to travel outside the US. An H-1B worker with a pending petition whose immigration status has expired will need to apply for and obtain a new H-1B visa at a US Consulate abroad if he travels outside the US. Such an employee would be ill-advised to embark on an international trip when there is no indication as to when the pending H-1B will be adjudicated. Also, some states require an H-1B approval notice in order to extend driver’s licenses. If the H-1B worker needs to drive to work every day, the inability to obtain an expeditious H-1B approval could mean that he is unable to work.

An H-1B worker who is porting to a new employer may begin working for the new employer upon the filing of a nonfrivolous H-1B petition on his behalf provided, inter alia, that this petition was filed before the end of his period of authorized stay. It has always been advisable to obtain an approval of the new H-1B petition and the security that comes along with that before making the leap to new H-1B employment. The suspension of premium processing service means that more H-1B workers will be forced to take a chance and port to the new employer before the H-1B petition is approved. If the H-1B petition is ultimately denied, they do have the option to return to the first H-1B employer but, realistically, not only is it most likely that those bridges will have burnt but that initial H-1B employer is also obligated to notify USCIS when the H-1B worker is no longer employed. If USCIS has already been notified then that initial H-1B would no longer be viable even if the employer were willing to rehire the H-1B worker.

Also, where an H-1B worker has ported to new H-1B employment based on a pending petition timely filed by employer B, the worker may port again to employment with employer C while the petition filed by employer B is still pending but provided that the H-1B worker’s initial period of authorized stay, as indicated on his Form I-94, has not yet expired. The suspension of premium processing service will likely increase the processing time for all H-1B petitions and therefore significantly increase the likelihood that H-1B workers will no longer be able to take advantage of such privileges.

USCIS has indicated, however, that it will continue to accept requests for expedited processing during the suspension period. Petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage. It is the petitioner’s responsibility to demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, which include severe financial loss to company or person​; emergency situation; and humanitarian reasons. USCIS has stated that it will review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and that requests will be granted at the discretion of the office leadership.

If the H-1B visa system is gummed up in this manner, US employers will not be able to attract the best global talent. Some of the employers that will be hit the hardest will be technology companies seeking to attract the best talent before their competitors do. It is already difficult to do so given the H-1B annual cap of a measly 65,000 visas with an additional 20,000 for master’s degrees. The United States is no longer the only game in town. Frustrated workers will leave for more hospitable countries. The H-1B system is already a mess. Why the need to mess it up even more?