From Bad to Worse: Why We Should Not Let the Trump Administration’s Outrageous Immigration Demands Make the SUCCEED Act Seem Like a Reasonable Alternative

Following the Trump Administration’s decision in September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Trump suggested in a Tweet that Congress should “legalize DACA” within the next six months. There have been a number of proposals for how to address the status of the “Dreamers” who would otherwise be left by the termination of DACA without protection from removal, or work authorization, despite having lived in the United States since their childhood.

The Democratic Party’s leadership in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has supported passage of the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, S.1615/H.R. 3440. The Senate version of the Dream Act is co-sponsored not only by leading Senate Democrats such as Minority Leader Schumer and Dick Durbin (D-IL), but also by several Republican Senators including Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). The House version is co-sponsored by nearly all House Democrats as well as several Republicans: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27), Mike Coffman (R-CO-6), Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), David Valadao (R-CA-21) and Joe Barton (R-TX-6).

The Dream Act of 2017 would allow conditional permanent residence for those who have been in the United States since before age 18, have been continuously present here for at least 4 years before the law is passed, lack any significant criminal record, and meet an educational criterion: applicants for conditional residence would need to be admitted to an institution of higher education, have obtained a high school diploma or GED, or be enrolled in an educational program leading to the attainment of such a diploma or GED. The conditions on permanent residence could then be removed following the attainment of a degree from an institution of higher education, at least two years of progress towards a bachelor’s degree, 2 years of honorable service in the U.S. Armed Forces, or at least 3 years of employment that comprised at least 75% of the time the applicant had a valid employment authorization, along with passage of the same civics and English tests required under section 312 of the INA for naturalization.

The Dream Act of 2017 is currently the subject of a discharge petition which could force a vote on it in the House of Representatives, if the signatures of a majority of the members of the House can be obtained. (The discharge petition technically applies to a rule that would allow the discharge of another bill from committee and its amendment with the text of the Dream Act of 2017, because of procedural issues relating to the required waiting period before a discharge petition can be filed.) Currently, 218 signatures would be needed to comprise a majority of the usually 435-member House because there is only one vacancy, although after the impending resignation of Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) takes effect on October 21, there will be two vacancies, and 217 signatures will suffice for a majority until at least one of the vacancies is filled by a special election. So far, the discharge petition has 195 signatures. Of those, 194 signatures are from Democrats, and only one is from a Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO).  Even the other four House Republican co-sponsors of the Dream Act have been thus far unwilling to buck their leadership and sign the discharge petition.

As the American Immigration Council has explained, various members of Congress have introduced variations on the Dream Act, some more restrictive and at least one more generous. Recently, the “SUCCEED Act”, S. 1852, sponsored by James Lankford (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) attracted significant media attention. The SUCCEED Act was then overshadowed by the Trump Administration’s release Sunday night of a long list of extreme demands regarding other aspects of immigration law that the Administration wishes to see radically changed in conjunction with any resolution of the status of DACA recipients.

The Administration’s demands, which would do immense damage to the U.S. immigration system in a variety of ways, have already been condemned by, among others, immigrants’ rights groups and the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. Minority Leaders Schumer and Pelosi were quoted by the New York Times as observing that “The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans.” Former AILA President David Leopold aptly described the Administration’s demands as “read[ing] like a white supremacist wish list,” including as it does a crackdown on refugee children; gutting other aspects of asylum law; removing due process to allow people to be deported more quickly and detained indefinitely if their countries will not take them back; building Trump’s infamous border wall; penalizing local governments who decline to detain people at DHS’s request without probable cause; deporting purported “gang members” that US authorities have already shown a tendency to believe include anyone with a tattoo; and replacing the family-based immigration system with a purportedly “merit-based” one, among many other things.   There is a danger that compared to this list, virtually anything else might come to seem like a reasonable compromise position.

It is important, however, not to be lured by the aggressive atrociousness of the Administration’s recent wish list into mistaking the SUCCEED Act for a reasonable compromise. As the Center for American Progress and National Immigration Law Center have already observed, the SUCCEED Act, as well, contains deeply troubling features.

The most obvious problems with the SUCCEED Act relate to its treatment of the Dreamers themselves. Applicants would need to spend 10 years in conditional permanent resident status, and then another 5 as lawful permanent residents, before naturalizing—even if they qualified for what would otherwise be an exemption from the normal wait time before naturalization, such as that given to those in active military service during a time of hostilities under INA §329. Even upon becoming lawful permanent residents, they would be unable to sponsor family members.  And as conditional permanent residents, they would have to waive all rights to seek “any form of relief or immigration benefit under this Act or other immigration laws other than withholding of removal under [INA] section 241(b)(3), or relief from removal based on a claim under the Convention Against Torture” if they were found to have “violate[d] a term for conditional permanent resident status”.

The SUCCEED Act does not stop, however, at imposing onerous conditions on the Dreamers who are its ostensible subjects. It also provides that all future applicants for nonimmigrant visas (other than certain diplomatic visas and other very limited exceptions) will be required to waive all rights to contest removal, and all rights to seek common forms of immigration relief including adjustment of status, if the visa-holder “(1) violates a term or condition of his or her nonimmigrant status; or “(2) fails to depart the United States at the end of the alien’s authorized period of stay.”  That is, anyone who is thought to have exceeded the parameters of their work authorization, or overstayed their admission by a single day, could be removed without a hearing before a neutral adjudicator and without the right to apply for most forms of immigration relief.

Defenders of the SUCCEED Act might point out that similar restrictions, although not quite as onerous in regard to relief from removal, already apply to those admitted under the Visa Waiver Program. Visa Waiver admissions under INA §217, however, are only for visitors from certain qualifying countries who will be admitted to the United States for 90 days. Nonimmigrants admitted on visas, on the other hand, can legitimately stay in the United States for a much longer time, becoming integrated into American society in ways that it would be highly inappropriate to disrupt without even a hearing or the opportunity to apply for relief.

An H-1B nonimmigrant temporary worker can be authorized to remain in the United States for six years, and for substantially more time, pursuant to the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (“AC21”) if an application for labor certification was filed more than one year before the expiration of H-1B status or an I-140 petition has been approved but adjustment of status is not yet possible. Given current immigrant visa number backlogs, many H-1B visa-holders, particularly those born in India or China, can remain in H-1B status for well over ten years pursuant to AC21.  O-1 aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences or arts, E-1 treaty traders, or E-2 treaty investors are not subjected to any strict time limit, and can renew their nonimmigrant status for decades on end if they continue to qualify for it.

Such H-1B, O-1, E-1 or E-2 nonimmigrants may have lawfully resided in the United States for a decade or more, and perhaps had children here who are U.S. citizens. Under current immigration law, if there is an allegation that they have violated their status in some way, and the government seeks to remove them from the United States as a result, they can resist the charge before an Immigration Judge (unless they are stopped at an airport and subjected to expedited removal proceedings, although in the event this occurs after a brief trip abroad, federal court review may be available as I have previously discussed). In the event of minor, short-term overstays and status violations, such nonimmigrants may still be able to adjust their status under INA §245(k), which provides limited forgiveness for up to 180 days of unauthorized employment or status violation in the context of employment-based adjustment, or if they acquire an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen. The SUCCEED Act would take away these options for future nonimmigrants, subjecting such long-term nonimmigrant residents to summary removal without eligibility for adjustment of status. By prohibiting such nonimmigrants from “contesting removal”, it could also prevent them from seeking cancellation of removal for nonpermanent residents under INA §240A(b) even if they have been in the United States for more than 10 straight years and have U.S. citizen children who would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if their parents were removed. (Although §240A(b) is not specifically listed among the forms of relief for which nonimmigrants would be ineligible, it would be impossible to seek it as a practical matter if one was removed without full removal proceedings pursuant to a forced waiver of the right to contest removal.)

It is one thing to say that a tourist or business visitor who comes to the United States for 90 days without a visa can be subjected to summary removal upon overstay or violation of that brief visit status. It is quite another thing to subject long-term legal residents to such treatment, and make them agree to it before they are permitted to come to the United States as a nonimmigrant worker or in some other long-term nonimmigrant status.  This lesser-known feature of the SUCCEED Act is another reason why it should not be enacted.

There is a saying that one should not let the best be the enemy of the good. Equally, though, one should not let the worst be the facilitator of the merely bad.  The SUCCEED Act may not be as horrible as the wish list recently published by the Trump Administration, but it is nonetheless bad enough that it should not be accepted as a supposed compromise.

Dealing With The Dreaded RFE – Reflections Of An Immigration Lawyer

RFE is the acronym for Request for Evidence. It is dreaded by immigration lawyers who file H-1B visa petitions and other applications for immigration benefits. The RFE is essentially a challenge by the immigration agency, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asserting that the applicant does not appear to be qualified for the visa classification, and therefore requests additional information to adjudicate. The time given to respond to an RFE is generally 87 days. The RFE can consist of several pages of objections. Upon receiving it, the immigration lawyer must meticulously strategize a response in conjunction with the client. Responding to the RFE can take several hours, and at times days on end. It requires coordinating with others for an expert evaluation, as well as for corroborative letters from other employers and trade organizations. Although responding to an RFE is part of a routine administrative process, it feels like one is writing a brief to an appellate court. There is a lot of tension for both the lawyer and the client. If the response to the RFE cannot be overcome in the eyes of a faceless bureaucrat in a remote immigration service center, the petition is denied. The consequences can be drastic. The foreign national beneficiary falls out of status, and may have to leave the United States with family in tow. If the case was filed under the H-1B cap, filing a new one will not be possible until the employer waits for H-1B cap filing period next year, and then too there is no assurance that the H-1B will get selected under next year’s lottery.

It is not a surprise, therefore, that when the Administration does not favor a particular visa, the RFE rate increases. A case in point is the H-1B visa that has become the favorite whipping boy over several administrations. An article in Reuters by Yeganeh Torbati entitled “Trump administration red tape tangles up visas for skilled foreigners, data shows,” where I have been quoted, brilliantly shines the torch on the dreaded RFE and how it is used to distort a visa program even though this was not the intention of Congress. This article has made the RFE a household name. What the government cannot change through Congress or by amending the rules through notice and comment, it does through the RFE. If it wishes to bring about a new policy, such as insisting on the employer demonstrating an employer-employee relationship, or as seen more recently under the Trump administration, insisting on higher wages under the H-1B visa, it does so through the RFE. Even if there be no legal basis for insisting that only one who is paid more than an entry level wage can qualify for the H-1B visa, the administration tries to bring about this change through the RFE. To get a better understanding of the recent RFE trend based on entry level wages, read my prior blog H-1B Entry Level Wage Blues.

The following extract from the Reuters article is worth reproducing:

The Trump administration is making it more difficult for skilled foreigners to work in the United States, challenging visa applications more often than at nearly any point in the Obama era, according to data reviewed by Reuters.

The more intense scrutiny of the applications for H-1B visas comes after President Donald Trump called for changes to the visa program so that it benefits the highest-paid workers, though he has not enacted any such reforms.

Data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the agency issued 85,000 challenges, or “requests for evidence” (RFEs), to H-1B visa petitions – a 45 percent increase over the same period last year. The total number of H-1B petitions rose by less than 3 percent in the same period.

The challenges, which can slow down the issuance of visas by months, were issued at a greater rate in 2017 than at any time in the Obama administration except for one year, 2009, according to the USCIS data, which has not been previously reported.

The trend is likely to cheer supporters of Trump’s hardline stance on immigration. They say visas for skilled foreigners undercut American workers by replacing them with low-paid employees shipped in from abroad. But major tech companies, universities and hospitals contend the visas allow them to fill highly specialized jobs for which there are sometimes few qualified Americans.

H-1B visas allow foreign workers, generally with bachelor’s degrees or higher, to work for three years at a time, often in the technology, healthcare and education sectors. Microsoft (MSFT.O), Amazon (AMZN.O), Google (GOOGL.O), Apple (AAPL.O), Intel (INTC.O), Oracle (ORCL.N) and Facebook (FB.O) were heavy users of H-1B visas in 2016, according to USCIS data.

The USCIS inquiries typically challenge the basis of the original petitions and assert that the employers do not qualify for the visas. Employers and their lawyers must then provide further evidence to prove their need and eligibility for the visas.

To be sure, the Obama administration also issued a large number of H-1B challenges – nearly 59,000 – from January through August 2016, and a similar number in 2015.

Immigration attorneys have for years complained about redundant and burdensome challenges to high-skilled employment visas. But they say they are seeing a new trend in the Trump era.

In addition to querying applications more often, the Trump administration is targeting entry-level jobs offered to skilled foreigners. The lawyers say this violates the law governing H-1Bs, because it allows for visa holders to take entry-level jobs.

Several attorneys said they view the increase in challenges and focus on entry-level jobs as a stealth campaign by the administration against the H-1B program in the absence of public regulatory changes or changes passed by Congress, which could be debated and decided in the open.

“One way to have an immigration policy that’s consistent with the policy that’s been articulated by the Trump administration is to put more scrutiny on H-1B cases,” said Cyrus Mehta, a New York-based immigration attorney.

 You can continue to read the entire article here.

It is no accident that the issuance of 85,000 RFEs between January 1 and August 31, 2017 on H-1B visa petitions, coincided with Trump’s America First policy that got crystalized in the Buy American Hire American Executive Order. While not official, it is widely believed that the goal of the Trump administration is to curb legal immigration. Since it is difficult to meet this objective through Congress, the Administration has resorted to the issuance of RFEs on the spurious and legally unsustainable ground that a person who is offered a Level 1 wage cannot be classified for an H-1B visa. A spate of RFEs were also issued during the Obama administration on H-1B visas, after the issuance of the Neufeld Memo on January 8, 2010, which set forth the standards for determining an employer-employee relationship under 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(ii). However, those RFEs were issued against IT consulting firms whose business models were to place H-1B workers at third party client sites. The RFEs being issued under the Trump administration seem to curb the entire H-1B visa program.

The current trend in RFEs on H-1B visas do not just challenge the Level 1 wage, but also whether the position qualifies as a specialty occupation. The RFE also questions the beneficiary’s maintenance of F-1 status under Curricular Practical Training challenging whether the CPT constituted an integral part of the program. At times, evidence is also requested to establish that the company is doing business as stated in the H-1B petition. Many RFEs also challenge the employer-employee relationship under the Neufeld Memo. Even if the H-1B worker is not working at a client site, the RFE still asks for proof that there is sufficient work to employ the H-1B worker in the specialty occupation at the employer’s place of business. Although there has been a general upswing in the issuance of RFEs, H-1Bs appear to be getting hit the hardest.

When such an RFE is received, one should take a deep breath and respond appropriately. Imagine yourself feeding the beast in order to tame it or make it go away. If you feed the beast well, it will go away satisfied. If you do not feed it well, it will still be hungry and will come back for more. Respond to every issue raised in the RFE even if you believe that you submitted the evidence previously. If there is a silly request, still respond. For example, RFEs often ask for a weekly percentage breakdown of the duties listed in the job description. This is a rather flawed and ridiculous request, as it is rare that modern employers keep tabs of such breakdowns. Most people occupying professional positions tend to multitask, and are expected to be creative and motivated, thus going beyond what is expected of them in the official job description. You may wish to preface the response by stating that such a request has no bearing to the reality of the job, although a good faith attempt has still been made to approximately breakdown the duties into percentages. Be forewarned that if you feed the beast offal, it will not be satisfied. You need to feed it the choicest bits of meat. For example, the RFE at times erroneously asks that all of the four regulatory prongs to show that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation be satisfied, when only one needs to be satisfied:

A baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;

The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;

The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or

The nature of the specific duties are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.

See 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).

Thus, petitioners and their attorneys should strategically decide whether to address all four prongs or only one or more of the four prongs. At times, responding to prong 4, when there is also a challenge to the Level 1 wage, could backfire. If you demonstrate that the position is so specialized and unique, then the USCIS can hit back asserting that if the job was “so specialized and complex,” then the position could not have commanded an entry level 1 wage. On the other hand, a petitioner may have no choice but to rely on prong 4 if it is not acknowledged in the Occupational Outlook Handbook that employers always require a bachelor’s degree in the specialty occupation. For example, the OOH with respect to Computer Programmers states, “Most computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree; however, some employers hire workers with an associate’s degree.” It may be risky to rely on the first prong for the position of computer programmer since the OOH acknowledges that some are hired with an associate degree.

Even if the employer normally hires computer programmers with bachelor’s degrees under prong 3, the employer’s requirements in isolation cannot be given deference if a bachelor’s degree is not normally required by all employers, according to the holding in a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Defensor v. Meissner, which the USCIS loves to cite in the RFE.

When relying on prong 4, it is important to justify that complex duties may be performed even with the Level 1 wage. In other words, the job duties of the challenged occupation remain complex in the O*Net, regardless of the H-1B worker performing at an entry level and being closely supervised. The reason why a Level 1 wage was assigned is because the prospective worker met the entry level wage under the DOL’s prevailing wage guidance based on less than two years of experience required for the job and not possessing unusual skills – not because the duties were any less complex.  It may also be imperative to obtain an expert opinion from a professor in the same field to justify the essentiality of a bachelor’s degree, even at the entry level. The USCIS may disregard the expert opinion, but it may only reject such testimony if it is not in accord with other information in the record or is otherwise questionable. In Matter of Skirball Cultural Center, the AAO held that uncontroverted testimony of an expert is reliable, relevant, and probative as to the specific facts in issue.

In this author’s experience, most RFEs can be overcome and the H-1B visa petition is approved. It is difficult to predict whether this trend will continue under the Trump Administration’s Buy American Hire American Executive Order. The EO aims to create higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers, and directs the Secretaries of State, Labor, and Homeland Security, as well as the Attorney General, to issue new rules and guidance to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of the immigration system. The EO highlights the H-1B visa program and directs the agencies to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled and highest-paid beneficiaries.

If the H-1B is denied, it is not the end of the road. The denial can be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Office, and it is also possible that the USCIS can reconsider the denial before it is sent to the AAO. If the AAO denies, the denial can also be challenged in federal court. In fact, it is also permissible under Darby v. Cisneros to bypass the AAO and challenge the denial directly in federal court. It is quite likely that if there is a pattern and practice of denials on the Level 1 wage issue, there will be challenges in federal court that will review the case with a different lens from the USCIS or AAO.

There was a time when it was thought that RFEs issued under the Neufeld Memo were insurmountable. Soon, upon meticulously addressing those RFEs, employers and their lawyers were able to overcome the objections and get an H-1B approval by establishing the employer-employee relationship. Likewise, there are even stronger arguments to demonstrate that the mere offering of a level 1 wage does not disqualify a foreign national form H-1B classification, which should hopefully overcome the recent spate of RFEs.

A Few Suggestions To Defend Oneself Against A Misrepresentation Finding Under The 90-Day Rule

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese-Halvorson

The State Department has abruptly amended the Foreign Affairs Manual to provide broader grounds to find that foreign nationals misrepresented their intentions when they came to the United States on nonimmigrant visas. A finding of fraud or misrepresentation under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) can result in a permanent ground of inadmissibility.

The updated FAM provision at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(g)(2) covers instances of conduct that may be inconsistent with representations that visa applicants made to consular officers when applying for nonimmigrant visas or to DHS officers at US ports of entry at the time of admission. The inconsistent conduct must have occurred within 90 days of entry, and the FAM instructs consular officers to presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in status compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention to seek a visa or entry into the United States. If the foreign national engaged in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status more than 90 days after entry, no presumption of willful misrepresentation arises, although consular officers may still find facts that provide a reasonable belief that the foreign national misrepresented his or her purpose of travel at the time of applying for a visa or admission into the US.

The FAM cites the following examples of inconsistent conduct that can result in a presumption of willful misrepresentation:

    1. Engaging in unauthorized employment;
    2. Enrolling in a course of academic study, if such study is not authorized for that nonimmigrant classification (e.g. B status);
    3. A nonimmigrant in B or F status, or any other status prohibiting immigrant intent, marrying a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident and taking up residence in the United States; or
    4. Undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or an adjustment of status would be requied, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment.

This amendment replaces the former 30/60 day rule, which still exists in the USCIS policy manual, but is likely to be replaced. Under the 30/60 day rule, if a foreign national filed an adjustment or change of status application within 30 days of entry, it created a rebuttable presumption that the person misrepresented his or her intentions. If the conduct happened more than 30 days but less than 60 days after entry, no presumption of misrepresentation arose, although the government could infer from the facts that there was an intent to misrepresent. If the conduct occurred more than 60 days after entry, there was no basis for a misrepresentation finding.

The new 90-day rule that replaces the 30/60 rule is clearly harsher as the presumption that the person misrepresented his or her intentions is for a 90-day period as opposed to a 30-day period. Still, like under the old guidance, the key issue is what the intention of the person was at the time of issuance of the visa or at the time of admission into the United States. If they were inconsistent at those points in time under the applicable visa, then it does not make a difference whether there is a 30-day or a 90-day rule. The applicant must also be given an opportunity to rebut the presumption of willful misrepresentation by presentation of evidence to overcome it. The new 90-day rule will admittedly greatly affect people entering under the Visa Waiver Program that admits visitors for a 90-day period. If such a person is admitted into the United States and gets married to a US citizen, that conduct in itself should not be inconsistent with one’s admission into the United States as a visitor. But if this person files an application for adjustment of status within the 90-day period, it could be presumed that this person misrepresented his or her intentions at the time of admission into the United States. The same reasoning would apply to someone who is admitted on a B-2 visa for six months, and if within 90 days, this person contacts a school, gains admission and files a change of status from B-2 to F-1.

Even if there was allegedly inconsistent conduct within the 90 days, there are ways to rebut the presumption. Both practitioners and applicants should not reflexively take extreme actions such as withdrawing an already filed adjustment application and switch to consular processing, or refrain from filing such an application within 90 days. Rather, they should deploy the following analysis to determine whether there could be defense to a potential allegation of misrepresentation. While it is not clear whether the 90-day rule will be applied retroactively, applicants can take a deep breath and use the same analysis even if it is applied retroactively.

The FAM guidance at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)(h) insists that “there must be evidence that, at the time of the visa application, admission into the United States or in a filing for an immigration benefit (e.g., an application to change or extend stay in nonimmigrant status), the alien stated orally or in writing to a consular or immigration officer that the purpose of the visit or the immigration benefit was inconsistent with intended nonimmigrant visa classification.” If the government is unable to establish that there is evidence of an admission to a consular or immigration officer that was made orally or in writing, then that would be grounds to argue that there was no misrepresentation.

The FAM guidance also explicitly instructs the consular officer that “[y]ou must give the alien the opportunity to rebut the presumption of willful misrepresentation by presentation of evidence to overcome it.” Thus, if the applicant can demonstrate that it was not her intention to apply for adjustment of status at the time of her admission to the United States, but she changed her mind after her entry, that could be a basis to rebut the presumption. A good example is an elderly parent of a US citizen who genuinely comes to the United States to visit, but then has a medical emergency that impedes her ability to travel, which renders adjustment of status more convenient than consular processing. Another example is someone who is dating a US citizen, and visits the United States to pursue that romantic interest. There is no intention of getting married at the time of her entry in the United States. After several weeks, they decide to get married and apply for adjustment of status. Even though this conduct occurred within 90 days from the entry, it can be demonstrated that there was never an intent at the time of admission to apply for adjustment of status in the US.

Also, a misrepresentation must be both willful and material. INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i). A misrepresentation is material under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i) when it tends to shut off a line of inquiry that is relevant to the alien’s inadmissibility and that would predictably have disclosed other facts relevant to his or her eligibility for a visa or other benefit. See Matter of D-R, 27 I&N Dec. 105 (BIA 2017). If the applicant can establish that the misrepresentation was not material, then that too would be a defense against a misrepresentation finding. Such an instance may include an Applicant who works for ABC Company in their home country but misrepresents that he works for XYZ Company, because ABC Company is not willing to issue him a letter, and so he obtains a false letter from XYZ. Such a misrepresentation is not material as the Applicant was in any event working in the home country and can show ties. Moreover, if the misrepresentation is not willful, but an innocent misrepresentation, it should not result in a finding of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(6)(C)(i). Cf.  In re Guang Li FU, 23 I&N Dec. 985 (BIA 2006).

The 90-day rule will clearly not apply to people who enter the United States under visas that allow for dual intent. Therefore, one who enters the United States in H-1B or L classification would not be implicated if he files an application for adjustment of status within 90 days as there is a clear carve out for H and L visa applicants in INA § 214(b). Dual intent is also recognized by regulation for the O, P and E visa categories. See 9 FAM 402.13-10(B) citing to 9 FAM 402.13-5(C) (“‘dual intent’ is permissible for O-1 visa holders”); 9 FAM 402.14-10(C) (“the approval of a permanent labor certification or the filing of an immigrant visa petition for an alien shall not be a basis for denying a P petition”); and 9 FAM 402.9-4(C) (“an [E visa] applicant might be a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition filed on his or her behalf.”) However, in the O, P, and E visa categories, while there is no requirement that they maintain a foreign residence, the intent to file an adjustment of status application at the time of entry may still not be contemplated.

Notwithstanding the codification of dual intent in statute and regulation, there is a recognition of inherent dual intent in all nonimmigrant visa categories. In Matter of Hosseinpour, 15 I&N Dec. 191 (BIA 1975), the Board of Immigration Appeals following earlier precedents held that “a desire to remain in this country permanently in accordance with the law, should the opportunity to do so present itself, is not necessarily inconsistent with lawful nonimmigrant status.” Thus, conflating a desire to remain in the United States is not inconsistent with any nonimmigrant visa classification at the time of applying for the visa or admission. See e.g. Garavito v. INS, 901 F.2d 173 (1st Cir. 1990) (the filing of an immigrant visa petition on behalf of a foreign national does not negate nonimmigrant intent). Even to the most recent change in the F-1 nonimmigrant standard implicitly allows dual intent, specifically stating that “the hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application.” 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1).

Finally, with respect to preconceived intent being a discretionary ground for granting or denying adjustment of status, the BIA has held that an application for adjustment of status as an immediate relative should generally be granted in the exercise of discretion notwithstanding the fact that the applicant entered the United States as a nonimmigrant with a preconceived intent to remain. Matter of Ibrahim, 18 I&N Dec. 59 (BIA 1981); Matter of Cavazos, 17 I&N Dec. 215 (1980).

The FAM does not have the force of a statute or a regulation. It is sub-regulatory guidance and is not binding. An inadmissibility finding based on an arbitrary 90-day rule in the FAM, or if adopted by the USCIS in its policy manual, will not be binding upon an immigration judge and will not receive Chevron deference in federal court, but the lower deference under Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). Under Skidmore, the weight given to the new 90-day rule in the FAM “will depend upon the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors which give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control.” An abrupt and arbitrary change from 30 to 90 days, without regard to other countervailing factors that militate against misrepresentation, may not even get Skidmore deference in federal court.  While it is always advisable to be cautious and avoid risks that would result in an inadmissibility finding based on misrepresentation, it is incumbent upon the immigration practitioner and applicants to analyze whether such an inadmissibility finding could be imposed if there was a change in intention after the fact or if no oral or written representation was made to a governmental official. This analysis is more crucial than buckling to an arbitrary 90-day presumption of misrepresentation period.

(This blog is for informational purposes only, and must not be considered as a substitute for legal advice)

State Department Toughens Standard For Assessing A Foreign Student’s Ties With Home Country

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese-Halvorson

Similar to many other nonimmigrant admission requirements, under INA § 101(a)(15)(F), a foreign national must show that they have a foreign residence which they do not intend on abandoning in order to be admitted in F-1 nonimmigrant student status. As explained below, this requirement has been applied to students in various ways over the years, from strictly applying the requirement in the 1990s to a loosening of the standards under the 2005 State Department Cable.

In August 2017, the State Department yet again changed the ways in which F-1 visas are adjudicated by amending 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1) “Residence Abroad Required”, to now include the following provision:

b. Examining Residence Abroad:  General rules for examining residence abroad are outlined in 9 FAM 401.1-3(F)(2). If you are not satisfied that the applicant’s present intent is to depart the United States at the conclusion of his or her study or OPT, you must refuse the visa under INA 214(b).  To evaluate this, you should assess the applicant’s current plans following completion of his or her study or OPT.  The hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application if you are satisfied that the applicant’s present intent is to depart at the conclusion of his or her study or OPT.

The previous language provided, in relevant part,

b.  The context of the residence abroad requirement for student visas inherently differs from the context for B visitor visas or other short-term visas. The statute clearly presupposes that the natural circumstances and conditions of being a student do not disqualify that applicant from obtaining a student visa. It is natural that the student does not possess ties of property, employment, family obligation, and continuity of life typical of B visa applicants. These ties are typically weakly held by student applicants, as the student is often single, unemployed, without property, and is at the stage in life of deciding and developing his or her future plans. Student visa adjudication is made more complex by the fact that students typically stay in the United States longer than do many other nonimmigrant visitors.

c.  The residence abroad requirement for a student should therefore not be exclusively connected to ties. You must focus on the student applicant’s immediate intent. Another aspect to consider: students’ typical youth often means they do not necessarily have a long-range plan, and hence are relatively less likely to have formed an intent to abandon their homes. Nonetheless, you must be satisfied at the time of application for a visa that the visa applicant possesses the present intent to depart the United States at the conclusion of his or her approved activities. That this intention is subject to change or even likely to change is not a sufficient reason to deny a visa.

It has yet to be seen how this update will affect future adjudications of the F-1 student visa. Given that the previous relaxed language provided above came out of the 2005 State Department Cable, it is likely that the corresponding guidance in the Cable is void. Still, the fact that 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1) retains language that  the “hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application”  gives some room to argue for a favorable adjudication despite the elimination of the prior language. At the same time, students seeking to study in the United States should be prepared to yet again overcome stringent foreign residence requirements.


The number of foreign students travelling to the United States to study has grown dramatically over the past thirty years. With the FY 2016 coming to an end, over 471,000 F-1 visas thus far have been granted; whereas in FY 1987, only 139,241 were granted. Asia by far sends the largest number of students, sending in a total 335,934 students (Chinese students constitute the vast majority of these visa holders, totaling to over 150,000 students, followed by Indian students who account for 62,537 of the visas). This large influx of foreign students has been shown to positively benefit the US education system and US economy, where foreign students add value and diversity to the classroom and also offer diverse skills that keep the US economy competitive.

Before 1952, a foreign student had to prove that the “sole purpose in coming to the United States is for study; and that he intends to leave the United States and can enter some foreign country when his studies are completed.” 22 C.F.R. § 42.228 (1949). After the enactment of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, nonimmigrants are now “presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under section 101(a)(15).” INA § 214(b). As explained, under § 101(a)(15), a foreign national must show that they have a foreign residence which they do not intend on abandoning.

Not surprisingly, young students seeking to study in the United States could not meet this strict standard because, as young students still at the beginning of their adult lives, many lacked financial assets and strong family ties to definitively prove that they would return upon completion of their studies. For example, in FY 2001, approximately 293,000 F-1 visas were granted, and nearly 112,000 were denied. Over two-thirds of the visa refusals were denied under INA § 214(b). Many foreign students seeking to study in the United Stated simply could not meet the onerous burdens set forth under INA § 214(b) and 101(a)(15).

In 2005, in response to these § 214(b) denials that became increasingly frequent especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the foreign residence requirement was relaxed for students. Under the Department of State cable (No.2005State274068), consular officers were directed to “evaluate the applicant’s requirement to maintain a residence abroad in the context of the student’s present circumstances… [and to consider] the residence requirement for a student… in a broader light, focusing on the student applicants’ immediate intent.” The cable effectively relaxed the foreign residence requirement for students, noting that students are typically “young, without employment, without family dependents, and without substantial personal assets.” The cable rationalizes that due to their relative youthfulness, students do not necessarily have long-term plans and are therefore “less likely to have formed an intent to abandon their homes.” The presumption, according to the Cable, was that students lacked a present immigrant intent because they were young and likely incapable of creating long-term plans, and therefore could be admitted as nonimmigrant students. The Cable was authored by the late Stephen Fischel, then a high-level State Department official in the Visa Office, who was respected for his fairness and integrity and who sought to ameliorate some of the hardships faced by foreign students after September 11, 2001.

August 2017 Update to 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1)

The State Department’s recent amendment to 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1) eliminates this favorable presumption thus reversing Fischel’s beneficial guidance, and instead directs consular officers to look at 9 FAM 401.1-3(F)(2) to evaluate the foreign student’s intent. Specifically, 9 FAM 401.1-3(F)(2) provides:

a.     The term “residence” is defined in INA 101(a)(33)as the place of general abode; the place of general abode of    a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.  This does not mean that an alien must maintain an independent household in order to qualify as an alien who has a residence in a foreign country and has no intention of abandoning.  If the alien customarily resides in the household of another, that household is the residence in fact…

b.     The applicant must demonstrate permanent employment, meaningful business or financial connections, close family ties, or social or cultural associations, which will indicate a strong inducement to return to the country of origin.

c.     The residence in a foreign country need not be the alien’s former residence. For example, an alien who has been living in Germany may meet the residence abroad requirement by showing a clear intention to establish a residence in Canada after a temporary visit in the United States.

d.     `Suspicion that an alien, after admission, may be swayed to remain in the United States because of more favorable living conditions is not a sufficient ground to refuse a visa as long as the alien’s current intent is to return to a foreign residence.

9 FAM 402.505(E)(1) continues that the consular officer must assess the applicant’s “current plans following completion of his or her study or OPT,” and that the mere “hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application” if the present intent is to depart after study. The more generous language in the 2005 cable, and the prior FAM note, that gives the benefit of the doubt to the student has been eliminated. It remains to be seen whether portions of the Cable that were not incorporated in the FAM that got repealed in 2017 could still be applicable. The DOS Cable noted that even if the student was intending to undertake a course of study for which there was little opportunity in the home country, that in itself was not a basis for denying a visa. Conversely, a student visa applicant could not be denied a visa even if the country of residence can provide the equivalent quality courses in the subject matter. “The student has the right to choose where she/he will obtain an education if accepted by the school,” noted the Cable. Moreover, many students in the US dread to visit their home countries during vacations as they believe that they may encounter difficulties while applying for a new student visa stamp at the US Consulate. The Cable reassured that consular posts should facilitate the reissuance of the student visa so that students can travel freely back and forth between the US and their home countries. Such a policy makes sense since it encourages students to continue to keep ties with their home countries if they can freely go there on a regular basis.

The effects of this amendment will likely be of less concern to traditional students (i.e. students who attend college or a graduate degree program straight after high school or their undergraduate degree) who have resided with their parents or guardian throughout their studies and whose parents still reside abroad at the time of the F-1 visa application. Specifically, under 9 FAM 401.1-3(F)(2)(a), the State Department notes that one does not need to maintain an actual household to meet the foreign residence requirement. If the foreign national primarily resides in another’s dwelling, then that residence will suffice as the foreign national’s residence. Clearly these students can satisfy this requirement if they have been living with their parents or guardians, and their parents or guardians remain at the residence at the time of the F-1 application. These same students would likely also easily meet the “close family ties” provision under 401.1-3(F)(2)(b), as their close family members are still abroad at the time of the application.

Non-traditional students, or students who have been living independently and have few or no family ties abroad, may not appear to satisfy this amendment with as much ease. The 2005 Cable guidance was intended to address these very students who are “young, without employment, without family dependents, and without substantial personal assets.” The new language under 9 FAM 402.505(E)(1) provides no contemplation or acknowledgement of these youthful traits when adjudicating F-1 student visas, and instead subjects students to the general foreign residence rules under 9 FAM 401.1-3(F)(2). This revision requires the Consular Officer to “assess the applicant’s current plans following completion of his or her study or OPT.” As rationalized in the 2005 Cable, students have yet to make any formalized long-term plans, and “hence are relatively less likely to have formed an intent to abandon their homes.” This presumption appears to no longer matter in the revised F-1 adjudication process. However, the revision does state that the mere “hypothetical possibility that the applicant may apply to change or adjust status in the United States in the future is not a basis to refuse a visa application if you are satisfied that the applicant’s present intent is to depart at the conclusion of his or her study or OPT,” thus preserving the future opportunity of such a change.

These students will need to make the strongest case possible that they presently possess no intent to remain in the US after the completion of their studies or OPT, and seek to provide as much evidence as possible of their ties abroad. Such evidence, in the absence of any family ties or business connections, can include evidence of the distinct possibility of future employment in the home country, their participation in social groups or organizations, romantic relationships, or cultural, religious or ethnic affiliations, as evidence of ties abroad. The most important element to emphasize is the applicant’s intent to depart the US at the end of their studies or OPT.

There is no doubt that this Administration is seeking to curtail any and all legal immigration to the United States. This most recent revision to F-1 student visa adjudication is part of this trend. More recently, the State Department has also made it easier to deny foreign nationals immigration benefits based on fraud or misrepresentation if they undertook activities inconsistent with their visa within 90 days of their admission. Practitioners and those seeking to be admitted to the US in F-1 nonimmigrant status should therefore proceed with an abundance of caution when applying for this visa. As stated above, traditional students with guardians and parents abroad will likely be less affected by this amendment. However, non-traditional students with few ties abroad will have a more onerous presumption to overcome when applying for an F-1 visa.

(This blog is for informational purposes only, and must not be considered as a substitute for legal advice)

How Binding Are DOL FAQs?

As PERM practitioners, we are all familiar with Department of Labor’s (DOL) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Going as far back as 2005, the year of the inception of the PERM program, there have been various rounds of DOL FAQs on a wide range of topics including on how to file or withdraw a PERM application; how to prepare a PERM Recruitment Report; on the best practices for appeals to the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA); on what constitutes a familial relationship; on Supervised Recruitment; and on and on. PERM practitioners rely on these FAQs to explain DOL’s requirements and expectations in the preparation and filing of PERM applications. These FAQs can even be used to remind the DOL of its own requirements when an erroneous PERM denial has been issued. But, at the end of the day, how binding is a DOL FAQ? Can the DOL deny a PERM application solely because the instruction in an FAQ was not followed? This issue was discussed in the following cases.

In Matter of Guess?, Inc. 2015-PER-00504 (June 28, 2017) the Employer filed a PERM application seeking to sponsor the foreign national for the offered position of Senior Financial Analyst. The Employer listed the job requirements as a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and 60 months of experience in the job offered. In Box. H.14 of the Form 9089, the Employer further stated that CPA licensure is required. However, when the Employer listed the foreign national’s qualifications in Sections J and K of the Form 9089, there was no indication that the foreign national was a licensed CPA. The Certifying Officer (CO) denied the application because the foreign national’s qualifications listed on the Form 9089 failed to demonstrate that he met the requirements for the offered position, specifically CPA licensure. The CO noted that Section K of the Form 9089 instructs employers to list all jobs the sponsored foreign national has held as well as any other experience that qualifies the foreign national for the job opportunity.  The CO further pointed out that the Office of Foreign Labor Certifications (OFLC) had published guidance through an FAQ on July 28, 2014, prior to the Employer’s submission of the Form 9089. To read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Alien Experience.” The FAQ states:

When the employer lists specific skills and other requirements for the job opportunity in Section H, Question 14, the employer must also demonstrate on the ETA Form 9089 that the foreign worker possesses those skills and requirements. In order to do so, the employer should list separately in Section K all the foreign worker’s qualifications, such as certificates, licenses, professional coursework, or other credentials that meet the requirements to perform the job opportunity listed in Section H, if those qualifications have not already been explicitly identified under information about the jobs held in the past three years. If not listed elsewhere, the list of certificates, licenses, professional coursework, or other credentials held by the foreign worker and required in order to perform the job opportunity, should be entered after all jobs held in the past three years are listed, under Question 9, “Job Details (duties performed, use of tools, machines, equipment, etc.)”

Since the Employer did not list on the Form 9089 that the foreign national possessed a CPA license, as instructed by the FAQ, the CO concluded that denial of the Form 9089 application was authorized by 20 C.F.R. §656.17(i)(1) which states that the “job requirements, as described, must represent the employer’s minimum requirements for the job opportunity.” Essentially, the CO found that by including a CPA licensure requirement the Employer had indicated requirements which exceeded the foreign national’s qualifications.

The Employer requested reconsideration of the CO’s denial and submitted evidence of the foreign national’s CPA license. The Employer also argued that Section K of the Form 9089 only allows for entry of the foreign national’s work experience and that the CPA license could not have been submitted online. The Employer also argued that since the CPA license existed prior to the submission of the PERM application and since the CO did not issue an audit to request a copy, then the CO ought to accept proof of the CPA license submitted as part of the request for reconsideration in accordance with BALCA’s decision in Denzil Gunnels, 2010-PER-00628 (Nov. 16, 2010) which we previously blogged about here.

The CO upheld the denial and stated that:

[A]n FAQ is sufficient to adequately apprise the general public of changes in the Department of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification policy or processing of Permanent Employment Certification Applications (PERM). Therefore, in accordance with the Department’s FAQ published on July 28, 2014, for applications filed on or after July 28, 2014, an employer seeking Permanent Employment Certification must demonstrate the foreign worker identified on the application meets all license, certificate, and requirements listed on the ETA Form 9089, at the time the application is submitted for processing.

The Employer filed a request for Board review and argued that (1) the July 28, 2014 FAQ does not cure the deficiencies in the Form 9089 and its instructions. (2) that the DOL cannot establish a substantive new rule that applications will summarily be denied for failure to list a foreign national’s licenses because the FAQ was not promulgated through the notice and comment process required to comport with due process in rulemaking; (3) that the DOL posts and removes FAQs without notice and in an inexplicable manner and that FAQs can be hard to find; and (4) that the CO erred in refusing to consider the copy of the CPA license submitted with the Employer’s request for reconsideration.

BALCA acknowledged that its panels have consistently upheld denials of certification where the employer ignored the clear directive in the Form 9089 instructions to list “all” of the foreign national’s qualifying experience. But BALCA also acknowledged that is has also ruled that applications cannot be denied based solely on an employer’s failure to include information on the Form 9089 where it is not apparent how that information could be included on the application and cited, among other cases, Smartzip Analytics, 2016-PER-00695 (Nov. 9, 2016) and Apple Inc., 2011-PER-01669 (Jan. 20, 2015) which I previously blogged about here.

BALCA found that the July 28, 2014 FAQ was an attempt by the OFLC to correct the deficiency in the Form 9089 and its instructions in regard to listing special skills, certificates, licenses and professional coursework that are not included in the required recitation of the foreign national’s qualifying job experience and that no changes have been made to the Form 9089 to address the deficiency. BALCA noted that neither the Form 9089 nor its instructions say anything about including special skills, certificates, licenses and professional coursework that are not included in the listing of the foreign national’s qualifying job experience. BALCA also found that the FAQ was silent regarding the consequences an employer may face for non-compliance with the FAQ guidance. Finally, BALCA held that the FAQ is not an appropriate and legally effective method of correcting shortcomings in the Form 9089 and its instructions and it was therefore arbitrary and inconsistent with the requirements of due process and fundamental fairness for the CO to deny the Employer’s PERM application based on a failure to state on the Form 9089 that the foreign national has a CPA license. BALCA found that the CO should have asked the Employer to submit supplementary information/documentation through the audit procedure. In the absence of an audit request, BALCA found that the CO ought to have accepted the Employer submission of a copy of the CPA license as part of its request for reconsideration.

Similarly, in Solar Turbines, Inc., 2016-PER-00025 (June 2, 2017), the CO denied the Form 9089 application, without an audit, because the Form 9089 did not establish that the foreign national possessed the skills required to perform the job. Specifically, the Form 9089 indicated that the position required academic or industry experience in the full use and application of “heat transfer, Finite Element Analysis, drafting/CAD (Pro-E), or applied thermodynamics” and the Employer did not list these skills in Section K of the Form 9089. The Employer sought reconsideration supplying the missing information and contending that there was no space on the application form to include such information. However, the CO reaffirmed the denial noting that an FAQ issued in July 2014 explained how the information could have been added to the form. BALCA reversed the denial concluding that the CO had erred in not considering the information submitted along with reconsideration request since the employer had not had a prior opportunity to submit the information. 20 C.F.R. §656.24(g)(2)(ii). BALCA agreed with the Employer that the limitations of the Form 9089 and its instructions “effectively prevented the presentation of the documentary evidence concerning the Alien’s specific qualifications to the CO.”

BALCA also spoke on FAQs in Matter of Arbin Corporation, 2013-PER-00052 (Jun, 29, 2017). In that case, after review of the Employer’s audit response, the CO denied the Form 9089 application based on a determination that the recruitment advertisements in a newspaper and on a job search website did not provide a description of the job vacancy specific enough to apprise U.S. workers of the job opportunity as required by 20 C.F.R. § 656.17(f)(3). Specifically, the CO found that the Employer’s newspaper and job search advertisements failed to mention “delivery of products” as described in the job duties listed on the Form 9089. The CO characterized “delivery of products” as a travel requirement, and he stated that had the Employer disclosed this travel requirement “to U.S. workers for the same job description which was provided to the foreign worker, potential U.S. applicants may have been interested in a company which would afford them the opportunity to travel.”

The Employer acknowledged that its advertisements did not refer to “delivery of products” and instead contained a “shortened” description of job duties. In addition, the Employer argued that if the CO believed that a hidden travel element should be disclosed then the Employer had done so by virtue of the fact that its advertisements indicated that the job requires the applicant to “maintain and repair Arbin battery testing systems” and also by virtue of the job title of “Customer Support Engineer.” These two things, the Employer argued, fully advised potential job applicants that this position requires a certain level of travel. Finally, the Employer argued that its shortened description of the job opportunity in the advertisements complied with the requirements of Section 656.17(f) as clarified in FAQ guidance published on the OFLC website that advertisements are not required to enumerate “every job duty, job requirement, and condition of employment” and that “[a]n advertisement that includes a description of the vacancy, the name of the employer, the geographic area of employment, and the means to contact the employer to apply may be sufficient to apprise potentially qualified applicants of the job opportunity.” To read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Advertisement Content.”

BALCA ultimately held that the Employer’s reliance on the FAQ is misplaced. BALCA cited the case of CSI International, Inc., 2012-PER-00614 (Nov. 4, 2015) in finding that the FAQ is a merely an expansion on the requirement at Section 656.17(f)(3) that advertisements “[p]rovide a description of the vacancy specific enough to apprise the U.S. workers of the job opportunity for which certification is sought….” And the fact that Section 656.17(f)(3) does not require great detail about the job opportunity does not mean that an employer is exempt from including the content requirements directed by Section 656.17(f)(4) which mandates that the Employer apprise applicants of travel requirements.

The subject of FAQs also arose in Matter of Oracle America, Inc., 2015-PER-00308 (May 4, 2017), a case in which the CO denied the PERM application, after audit, based on the Employer’s failure to properly notify and consider workers it had laid off in the occupation as required by 20 CFR §656.17(k)(1). In its audit response, regarding how it notified and considered laid off workers, the Employer stated that laid-off U.S. workers had been given a notice in their termination packet with instructions on how to view and apply to any and all labor certification job opportunities that the Employer is offering. BALCA held that §656.17(k) requires specific notice to laid off workers of a job opportunity for which the employer has sought permanent labor certification. The Employer raised the subject of an FAQ (to read the FAQ, click here and scroll to “Recruitment Report”) which it argued presented an alternative to the requirement that a specific notice be provided to laid-off workers. However, BALCA held that the Employer had not complied with the guidance in the FAQ but rather, had provided the type of notification expressly rejected in the FAQ, that is, notice that simply informs the laid-off worker to monitor the Employer’s website for future openings and inviting the worker, if interested, to apply for those openings.

To what extent can the DOL utilize its FAQs as a substitute for actual rulemaking? In these cases we see BALCA find for the Employer and hold that an FAQ does not hold the power and force of the regulations. In other cases, we see BALCA indicate that the FAQ provided the Employer with means by which to comply with the existing regulations or that the FAQ represented an expansion of the existing regulations rather than a new directive. So where does that leave us? Can PERM FAQs be ignored? Certainly not. PERM FAQs have always been and will continue to be extremely important and useful to provide PERM practitioners with much needed clarity on the DOL’s requirements and expectations in the preparation and submission of PERM applications. It would serve no practical purpose to ignore FAQs only to potentially face the hurdle of a denial and an appeal to BALCA. However, to the extent that the DOL wishes to rely on one of its FAQs to create new rules and ascribe to them the force of the regulations then the DOL ought to be reminded that FAQs cannot be used to change the regulations and the issuance of an FAQ does not rise to the level of a substantive new rule because an FAQ is not promulgated through the notice and comment process required to comport with due process in rulemaking.

Watson v. United States: The Second Circuit Tells U.S. Citizens Improperly Detained by ICE to File Their Claims for Damages While Their Immigration Court Case is Ongoing

In its July 31, 2017, opinion in Watson v. United States, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, over the dissent of Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, declared untimely the claim of false imprisonment brought by a U.S. citizen, Davino Watson, who had been detained by immigration authorities for nearly three years. A district court had awarded Mr. Watson compensation for the initial portion of this detention, although not for the portion of his detention when he was being prosecuted negligently in proceedings before an immigration judge (on the theory that malicious prosecution under New York law requires actual malice rather than mere negligence). According to the Second Circuit panel majority, however, Mr. Watson’s claim of false imprisonment needed to have been brought soon after the proceedings against him began, or at least within two years of the time he was first incorrectly found to be a removable noncitizen by an immigration judge.  The implication is that many people with plausible claims of U.S. citizenship who are detained by immigration authorities should file an administrative claim regarding their detention, and likely sue in federal court regarding that detention, even before their immigration proceedings are over.

Davino Watson had been born in Jamaica to unmarried parents, and had come to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) in 1998, at the age of thirteen, to live with his father.  Watson’s father then became a U.S. citizen on September 17, 2002, when Watson was only seventeen years old.  Watson also became a U.S. citizen at that time under section 320(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §1431(a), which bestows U.S. citizenship on the child of a U.S. citizen, under the age of eighteen, who is “residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence.” INA §320(a)(3), 8 U.S.C. §1431(a)(3).

After Watson pleaded guilty in New York State court in 2007 to sale of cocaine, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as the Second Circuit recounted, “investigated his citizenship status to determine whether he was deportable.” This investigation, however, was, as the panel majority acknowledged, “beset by errors.”  That is putting it mildly.  Watson told ICE he was a U.S. citizen during his very first interview, and gave them the phone number of his father and stepmother, but the ICE agents never called that number, even though the same number had been listed in Watson’s pre-sentence report.  ICE did make some attempt to look up Watson’s parents in a government database, but it appears to have been an extremely slipshod attempt.  Instead of Watson’s father, Hopeton Ulando Watson, who lived in New York and whom Watson had told them was married, ICE found records for an unmarried man named Hopeton Livingston Watson, who lived in Connecticut, “did not have a child named Davino, and became a lawful permanent resident three years after the date of Davino Watson’s lawful permanent residency.”  (ICE also confused Watson’s mother, Clare Watson, with a “Calrie Dale Watson” in their database, although Calrie Dale Watson was married not to anyone with a name remotely resembling Hopeton Watson but rather  to a man named Gabriel Miller.)   This despite the fact that Davino Watson’s own file contained an affidavit from his father, submitted in connection with Davino’s application for lawful permanent residence, which “contained Hopeton Ulando Watson’s date of birth, alien number, and social security number, none of which matched the corresponding file data for Hopeton Livingston Watson.”  Relying on the (irrelevant) fact that Hopeton Livingston Watson was not a U.S. citizen, a supervisory ICE officer drafted a Notice to Appear, and another supervisor, the district court found, “mindlessly signed” it and forwarded it to ICE officers who took Watson into custody.

Watson was detained by ICE for nineteen days before his Notice to Appear was filed with the Immigration Court, and “he first appeared before an immigration judge about a month afterward.”  In total, that is, Watson was detained for forty-eight days before he even saw an immigration judge.  He again asserted his U.S. citizenship, and filed an application for a certificate of citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Watson’s application for a certificate of citizenship was denied on the basis of the then-recent decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Matter of Hines, 24 I&N Dec. 544 (BIA 2008), which had held that a child born in Jamaica could only have his paternity established “by legitimation” if the child’s parents married. Because being “legitimated” is a prerequisite for someone born out of wedlock to qualify, with respect to their father, as a “child” for purposes of INA §320(a) under the definition of “child” in INA §101(c)(1), 8 U.S.C. §1101(c)(1), USCIS determined based on Hines that Davino Watson did not qualify as his father’s “child” and so could not have acquired citizenship under INA §320. The Immigration Judge agreed, and ordered Watson’s removal on November 13, 2008.

The application of Matter of Hines to deny Watson’s claim to U.S. citizenship was problematic for a number of reasons, and the BIA ultimately concluded that Watson was indeed a U.S. citizen, although as the Second Circuit panel majority noted, “[t]he government’s precise views on the application of Hines to Watson’s case are somewhat obscure.” Matter of Hines may, as ICE suggested in a memorandum and Chief Judge Katzmann emphasized in his dissent, never have been meant to apply retroactively to those like Watson who would have been citizens under the previous precedent of Matter of Clahar, 18 I&N Dec. 1 (BIA 1981). The general rule is that citizenship is acquired based on the law in effect when the last of the conditions for it is met—which, in Watson’s case, would have been in 2002 when his father naturalized, after Clahar was decided and long before Hines was decided.  In addition, the Hines definition of “paternity by legitimation” for purposes of a different INA provision may not, as the BIA indicated in an unpublished opinion in Watson’s case, have applied to the word “legitimated” in INA §101(c)(1). After Watson’s case had been resolved, the BIA partly overruled Matter of Hines in a published opinion, Matter of Cross, 26 I&N Dec. 485 (BIA 2015), which reinstated and reaffirmed Matter of Clahar and confirmed that Hines should not be applied to prevent a child born to unmarried parents in Jamaica from qualifying as a “child” under INA §101(c)(1) and §320(a). Rather, all children born or residing in Jamaica after the 1976 effective date of the Jamaican Status of Children Act, which gave equal rights to children born out of wedlock, are considered legitimated for purposes of INA §101(c)(1) and §320(a).

The Second Circuit remanded Watson’s removal case to the BIA for clarification regarding the legitimation issue on May 31, 2011, in Watson v. Holder, 643 F.3d 367 (2d Cir. 2011). Watson was released from ICE custody in November 2011, evidently on the basis of his claim to U.S. citizenship, although he was released “into rural Alabama (where he knew nobody), without money, and without being told the reason for his release.”  His removal proceedings formally continued for more than a year after that, until the BIA ruled that he was a citizen and terminated his removal proceedings.  He then finally received a certificate of citizenship on November 26, 2013.

Having been recognized as a U.S. citizen, Mr. Watson sought compensation for his legally unjustified detention by filing an administrative claim for damages with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on October 30, 2013, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  After that claim was denied, he brought a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on October 31, 2014.  While the district court rejected his malicious-prosecution claim because, as noted above, such claims under New York law (incorporated by reference through the FTCA) require actual malice and not mere negligence of the sort exhibited in Mr. Watson’s case by ICE, the district court found that Mr. Watson had a meritorious claim for false imprisonment regarding the initial period of his detention.  That claim was subject to a two-year statute of limitations, but the district court found that this statute of limitations had not begun to run until Watson received his certificate of citizenship in November 2013, or in the alternative that Watson’s claim was saved by equitable tolling of the statute of limitations.  The Second Circuit panel majority, however, over the vehement dissent of Chief Judge Katzmann, disagreed on both points.

The two-year clock for Watson to file his claim, the Second Circuit held, began at the latest in November 2008, when the Immigration Judge ordered Watson’s removal. At that point, if not earlier, the false imprisonment ended, the Second Circuit held, because Watson was held “pursuant to legal process.”  This was more than two years before Watson filed his claim in 2011.

The Second Circuit panel majority also overruled the district judge’s finding that Watson was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period.  According to the majority, Watson had not shown that “some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way” and prevented him from timely making his claim.  The district court had granted equitable tolling, as the majority explained, “based on Watson’s lack of education and legal training, his unawareness that he could bring an FTCA claim until being advised by appointed counsel, his depression, and ‘most significantly,’ the fact that government officials told Watson that he was not a U.S. citizen.” The Second Circuit panel majority found that “[n]one of these reasons justifies equitable tolling.”  Given Watson’s ability to fight his case in immigration court, the panel majority held, he could not show that his depression or his having been repeatedly told he was not a U.S. citizen prevented him from bringing an FTCA claim.  And because Watson’s lack of education and legal training were “an entirely common state of affairs,” they were not sufficiently extraordinary to justify equitable tolling, even though Watson had not had legal counsel during most of his time in detention.

Chief Judge Katzmann, in his dissent, disagreed with both the panel majority’s ruling regarding the initiation of “legal process” in immigration court as beginning the running of the statute of limitations on Watson’s false-imprisonment claim, and the majority’s decision to overturn the grant of equitable tolling.  On the “legal process” point, Chief Judge Katzmann objected to the significance that the panel majority attached to a hearing process in which the detained person was not entitled to, and did not have, the assistance of counsel.  In the criminal context, the procedural landmarks upon which “legal process” has been held to commence and cut off a false-imprisonment claim are also times at which a criminal defendant is entitled to the assistance of counsel.  Here, on the other hand, the government was arguing that Watson’s false-imprisonment claim should end because of a legal proceeding at which he, alone and without an attorney, bore the burden of making a complex argument regarding the significance of legitimation.  Chief Judge Katzmann observed that “if there is any case where meaningful legal process cannot be said to have begun without the assistance of counsel, this, surely, is one.”  As for equitable tolling, Chief Judge Katzmann found that the district judge had not abused his discretion in holding it to be warranted.  As he concluded:

I would hope that nothing about Watson’s 1,273‐day detention can be said to have been “an entirely common state of affairs.” Maj. Op. at 14–15. If it were, we should all be deeply troubled. An American citizen was detained on the basis of a “grossly negligent” investigation that “led to [his] wrongful detention.” The government, the IJ, and the BIA all misapplied clear precedents of law, which, coupled with Watson’s lack of counsel until mid‐2011, resulted in his three‐and-a‐half‐year detention. Watson had an eleventh‐grade education, suffered from depression as a result of his detention, and was repeatedly told by ICE officials, government lawyers, the IJ, and the BIA that he was not a U.S. citizen and that he would be removed from the country he had known as his home from the time he was 14 years old. Given all this, I cannot conclude that the “legal process” Watson experienced should extirpate his legal claims, nor can I draw the conclusion that the district court abused its discretion in determining that Watson’s case merited equitable tolling.

Watson, slip op. at 18 (Katzmann, C.J., dissenting) (internal citations omitted).

As a practical matter, it seems to this author unfair to fault Mr. Watson for not filing an administrative claim sooner.  Chief Judge Katzmann appears to me to have the better of the argument with the panel majority regarding the impropriety of overturning the district judge’s fact-specific finding of equitable tolling under these circumstances.  Beyond that, however, the Second Circuit’s decision has created a legal situation that DHS may come to regret.

According to the Second Circuit’s decision in Watson, it appears that any immigration detainee who believes that he or she is a U.S. citizen and has been improperly detained should commence the process of filing an FTCA claim, and if necessary suing the government in federal court, before the removal proceedings against him or her are resolved.  At least in the Second Circuit, the government cannot object in response to such a filing that the claim cannot be brought until the removal proceedings are terminated.  The Second Circuit majority in Watson has rejected that analysis, which the district court had followed based on an analogy to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) (requiring that a criminal conviction be set aside or declared invalid in some way before one can seek damages relating to an unconstitutional conviction or sentence). Rather, according to Watson, the government must defend the FTCA claim, and the related lawsuit, in parallel with the removal proceedings.

Moreover, a federal court judgment in the FTCA action declaring that the detainee was a citizen and thus unlawfully detained should, it seems, have preclusive effect on the removal proceedings. Thus, a claimed U.S. citizen would not have to wait for the judicial review of this citizenship claim that would be available under 8 U.S.C. §1252(b)(5) after the Immigration Court and BIA had addressed his case. Rather, by pursuing the FTCA action, it would be possible to obtain judicial review of the U.S. citizenship claim before the removal proceedings had otherwise run their course.

This earlier judicial attention to a U.S. citizenship claim might also have the salutary effect of provoking a quicker release of the detainee from custody. Faced with possible liability on the part of the United States, one would hope that an Assistant U.S. Attorney or an attorney from the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation might intervene with DHS to get a detainee released more quickly.

Ultimately, the troubling decision in Watson may still result in more lost redress for unjustly imprisoned U.S. citizens, who lacked legal counsel, than it does additional opportunities for counseled detainees.  However, there is a possible silver lining to the cloud, and it is one the government may find itself displeased to have created.

RAISE Act Will Hurt Immigrants, Americans and America

Last week, President Trump lent full throated support towards the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), which will dramatically alter the immigration system in the United States the way we know it. Although this bill, proposed by Republican Senators Cotton and Purdue has little chance of moving through Congress, it has drawn significant attention as it intends to redefine America’s immigration experience over the last two centuries.

The RAISE Act deemphasizes immigration through the family, and instead creates a points system based on skills. A successful applicant must get at least 30 points.  The bill insists on English language proficiency, and allocates 0 to 12 points based on test scores. Those with US professional degrees or a doctorate in a STEM field will get the maximum of 13 points for education. By contrast, a high school diploma gets 1 point, a foreign bachelor’s degree gets 5 points, a US bachelor’s degree gets 6 points, a foreign master’s degree in a STEM field will get 7 points, a US master’s degree in a STEM field will get 8 points and a foreign professional degree or doctorate in a STEM field will get 10 points.

The younger one is the more points he or she will get, and those within the 26-30 years age range will get the maximum of 10 points. 25 big points are given for extraordinary achievement, but you must have won a Nobel prize or gained comparable recognition in a field of scientific or social scientific study. There are no comparable points for extraordinary achievement in the arts or business fields. For sportspeople, you will get 15 points if you won an Olympic medal or placed first in an international sporting event in which the best athletes in an Olympic sport were represented. Those with job offers, based on how much the offered wage will be over the median salary in the state where the job is located, will also get points ranging from 5 to 13. Investment in a new commercial enterprise at $1,350,000 will fetch 6 points; and an investment of $1, 800,000 will fetch 12 points.

The bill eliminates the diversity lottery program, or green card lottery, which awards 50,000 visas annually through a lottery from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. It caps the number of refugees granted permanent visas to the United States at 50,000 per year. Most devastatingly, the RAISE Act eliminates all the family preferences, and only maintains the preferences for spouses and minor children of permanent residents. Parents of US citizens will no longer be treated as immediate relatives, but can come on renewable temporary visas. The definition of a minor child is changed from 21 to 18. The worldwide family quota is cut from 480,000 to 88,000 minus the number of people paroled into the United States who have not departed within 365 days and have not received a green card within 2 years of getting parole status. Pending family based petitions are voided except for those that are scheduled to get green cards within one year and entry into the United States must happen within one year of the bill’s enactment.

Most pro-immigration reform advocates have not supported this bill, except for some notable  exceptions like Vivek Wadhwa who wrote Why As An Immigrant, I am Not Outraged By Trump’s Immigration Proposal. On the other hand, restrictionist immigration organizations such as FAIR and Numbers USA have readily embraced the bill. The reason for their ready embrace is that the RAISE Act drastically cuts immigration levels, and the points system will prove to be unworkable.  Steven Miller, a senior White House aide and one of the architects of RAISE Act and the travel ban, famously got into a heated exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta. Acosta asked Miller if the bill would violate the spirit of the poem New Colossus, inscribed at the base the Statue of Liberty, which includes the famous line: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Miller retorted that the statue is “a symbol of American liberty lighting the world” and the “the poem that you were referring to was added later and was not part of the original Statue of Liberty”, and then went on to combatively quiz Acosta on what level of immigration would violate his “Statue of Liberty law of the land”.  The RAISE Act also appears to be a xenophobe’s delight as its main aim is to restrict immigration levels. Mr. Wadhwa, who is not a xenophobe and is pro-immigrant, approaches his embrace of the bill differently by arguing that the US immigration system needs to attract skilled talent on green cards, rather than temporary H-1B visas, so that they can start the next generation of great companies in the United States rather than depart the United States under our current imperfect system and start companies in competitor nations like China.

Wadhwa certainly has a point. We need to reform our immigration system to keep skilled talent, but not at the expense of decimating everything else, including the values represented by the Statute of Liberty. Most economists credibly argue that more immigrants create more jobs, and that restricting immigrants will not necessarily create more jobs for American workers. The RAISE Act keeps intact the annual 140,000 limit for employment-based immigrants that was set in the Immigration Act of 1990, in addition to drastically restricting all other visa categories. Although per country limits are abolished, derivative family members are counted as part of the 140,000 limit which will eat into the pie.  It provides no pathway to permanent residence for lower skilled but essential workers who support the American economy. Despite conflicts of interest, even President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago filed labor applications with the Department of Labor for 15 housekeepers, 20 cooks and 35 servers. Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, FL filed labor applications for 6 cooks. These are for temporary H-2B visas with no green cards at the end of their temporary stay.

Worse still, RAISE Act is cruel to the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions from India and China who are caught in the crushing employment-based second and third preference employment backlogs. The bill does not grandfather them, implying that they will need to re-apply under the new points system after waiting for over a decade. Since they have gotten older by 10 or more years, they will lose out on maximum points for age. If their approved I-140 immigrant visa petitions are based on non-STEM degrees, even if they have PhDs, they will not get the same points for education as those with master’s degrees in STEM fields. Even people caught in the China EB-5 backlog will unduly suffer. When they reapply, they will not get any points on the $500,000 investments they have already made as the investment threshold in the RAISE Act that will fetch points have been substantially increased, and they will also likely lose out on English skills.  One can also imagine the backlogs that will be created when hundreds of thousands of in the existing employment-based preferences apply under the points system of the RAISE Act. People will be re-applying over and over again.  The RAISE Act points system, which seems to be a bastardized version of the Canadian and Australian point systems, could lead to other absurd results. If you are 46-50, have English scores in the 6th or 7th decile, have a foreign bachelor’s degree, and have a lucrative job offer, you are flatly disqualified from coming under this system.  Even if you’re age 41-45, and so get 4 points for age rather than 2, you would have only 28 points total and be completely ineligible.  No wonder that FAIR and Numbers USA love the RAISE Act. Mr. Wadhwa ought to rethink his position.

Immigrants with all sorts of backgrounds contribute to the United States, and it is fallacious to think that only those with STEM degree will. If a famous restaurant specializing in North Indian cuisine cannot hire a good tandoori chef on a permanent basis, then the restaurant will not be able to prosper and hire additional restaurant managers, catering supervisors and bartenders from among the US workforce. America, therefore, needs both STEM graduates and Tandoor chefs! Moreover, a nation needs both social justice and good economics; indeed, social justice is the best economics. Therefore, cutting refugee admissions is not a good idea.  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 United States 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 would have benefitted under a hypothetical RAISE Act points system.  His parents were able to come into the United States 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. The insistence on learning English before one arrives is also not necessary. Indeed, culture through dance, food and music is best preserved through the language of the country where it emanates, and America will be that much more enriched if it embraces the authentic cultures of immigrants who in good time will learn English – surely, their descendants will speak English.

We should have immigration reform that admits more immigrants rather than less, as David Bier has cogently argued in a recent NY Times Op-Ed. A points system is fine if it compliments other existing immigrant visa categories. A good example was S. 744 that was passed by the Senate in 2013 in a bipartisan manner that comprehensively reformed the immigration system by expanding pathways to permanent residence, and also included a merits system. The RAISE Act does not do this and  is a terrible idea, and furthers Trump’s America First agenda, which like his proposed wall on the Mexico-US border, is based on dubious economics and has not yet proven to have any merit.  While the RAISE Act bans low skilled workers, it may also attract PhDs who may drive Ubers in America. This has been the experience in Canada under the points system, where highly qualified people have immigrated without being matched with jobs. Unlike Mr. Wadhwa,  I am justifiably outraged as an immigrant by Trump’s immigration proposal.

H-1B Entry Level Wage Blues

Those who filed under the FY 2018 H-1B visa lottery and were selected must have been pleased. As premium processing was eliminated, the approvals have just started coming in this summer. Cases that are not readily approved receive Requests for Evidence (RFE). Many of the RFEs object to the H-1B worker being paid an entry level wage.

The RFE attempts to trap the employer. It challenges whether the Labor Condition Application, if it indicates a Level 1 wage, appropriately supports the H-1B petition. According to the DOL’s prevailing wage policy guidance,  a Level 1 (entry) wage is assigned to positions that require a basic understanding of the occupation, and such an employee performs routine tasks that require limited, if any, exercise of judgment. Such an employee also works under close supervision and receive specific instructions on required tasks and results expected.

The RFE – which meticulously parrots the Level 1 duties from the DOL’s wage guidance – then asserts that the position described in the H-1B petition appears to be more complex than a position that is assigned a Level 1 wage. Therefore, the RFE asserts that the employer has not sufficiently established that the H-1B is supported by a certified LCA that corresponds to the petition.

Employers who receive such an RFE should not panic. Just because the position is assigned an entry level wage does not necessarily mean that the position cannot qualify as an H-1B specialty occupation. Moreover, even an occupation assigned with an entry level wage can be complex and thus require a bachelor’s degree in a specialized field. The DOL’s worksheet within its wage guidance indicates that if the occupation requires a bachelor’s degree and up to two years of experience, it will be assigned a Level 1 wage to a corresponding Job Zone 4 occupation. In the event that the job requires skills, would that bump up the wage to Level 2?  Unless the job requires skills that are not encompassed in the O*NET tasks, work activities, knowledge, and Job Zone examples for the selected occupation, the position can still remain in Level 1, according to the DOL’s wage guidance.

Hence, the corresponding tasks of an occupation requiring a bachelor’s degree and up to two years of experience can still be complex, even if the wage remains at Level 1 and the position requires supervision. For example, it would be difficult for the USCIS to argue that an entry level doctor, lawyer or architect cannot qualify for H-1B visa classification. These occupations need underlying degrees in the specialty as a minimum for entry into the profession. Even if the lawyer is closely supervised, he or she still needs to perform complex tasks relating to the underlying Juris Doctor degree. The same logic ought to apply to other occupations that are readily classifiable under the H-1B visa such as engineers or computer systems analysts. The job duties at any wage level correspond to the knowledge that is acquired through a specialized degree such as a degree in engineering or computer science.

Indeed, the wage level assigned to the occupation ought not determine whether it is eligible for H-1B visa classification or not. If the position does not require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for entry into the occupation, such as a plumber or welder, then even a Level 4 wage assignment would not be able to salvage this occupation for purposes of H-1B classification.

In  March 31, 2017, on the eve of the FY 2018 H-1B Cap filing season, the USCIS issued a policy memorandum stating that computer programmer positions are not always “specialty occupations” that would render the occupation eligible under the H-1B visa. This memo rescinded an earlier memo of the Nebraska Service Center from 2000, which acknowledged that computer programming occupations were specialty occupations for H-1B purposes. The new guidance references computer programmers in the  DOL’s Occupational Outlook Handbook that states, “Most computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree; however, some employers hire workers who have an associate’s degree.”  The guidance also questioned whether a computer programmer position that is offered an entry-level wage could qualify for an H-1B specialty occupation because, as the OOH suggests, an associate’s degree is sufficient to enter into the field.  While this policy memorandum only applied to entry level computer programmers, practitioners are now seeing that any occupation that is assigned a Level 1 wage, even if it is not related to computer programmer, gets an RFE. It may be worth noting that even an entry level computer occupation should be eligible for H-1B classification if it can be demonstrated that the skills necessary to perform the duties require the minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

President Trump’s Executive Order on Buy American Hire American may also be responsible for this trend, which provides in relevant part:

In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries

Even if the administration has not been able to promulgate new regulations to achieve its stated goals under the executive order, these RFEs are indirectly implementing President Trump’s “Buy American Hire American” policy by thwarting H-1B petitions filed for entry level positions. While H-1B petitions with Level 1 wages have run into trouble prior to the Trump administration, RFEs are now being issued more frequently whenever a Level 1 wage has been noticed. Immigration attorneys must fight back on behalf of their clients. Otherwise, the government could potentially exclude entry-level professionals from using the H-1B visa, some of whom have recently graduated from US universities. These entry-level professionals, while full of skill and talent, are not typically afforded higher wages at the beginning of their careers. If the H-1B program were to look unfavorably upon wage-earners commanding Level 1 wages in the DOL wage classification system, then we would be systematically excluding highly skilled, young workers that have the potential to positively impact the US economy and various professional sectors. Paying such an entry wage is not per se unlawful if the individual is being hired for a position with less than 2 years of experience and which requires supervision. Another argument that can be made is that if an employer is forced to pay a legitimate entry level worker on an H-1B visa at a wage level higher than the entry level wage, we may end up in a situation where a foreign national is making more than his or her American counterpart. Under the H-1B law, the employer must pay the higher of the prevailing or the actual wage. See INA 212(n)(1)(A)(i). If an employer is forced to pay a higher wage to an H-1B worker at the entry level, then the employer may have to adjust the wage for all similarly situated workers. This may not necessarily be a bad thing if all wages rise, but if the rise in wages is as a result of reading out H-1B visas from the INA for entry level workers in acknowledged professions, it could also have the effect of artificially distorting wages that could ultimately hurt competitiveness. If the wage paid is well above the minimum wage  in Level 1, but slightly under Level 2, and at times there is at least a $20,000 or $30,000 difference between Level 1 and Level 2, then that too can be used to argue that the higher wage being paid is commensurate to the more complex duties in the H-1B petition, despite the RFE asserting that the duties are basic, even if this higher wage is still within Level 1.

There is nothing in the INA or in the implementing regulations that suggest that a position that commands an entry level wage is ineligible for H-1B visa classification. All that is required is for the petitioning employer to demonstrate that the proffered position requires the “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge” and “attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”  INA §214(i)(l).  The regulations further define “specialty occupation” as one that “requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty.”  8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(ii).  The regulations then provide four regulatory criteria, and the petitioner must satisfy at least one, that would qualify the position as a specialty occupation:

  1. A baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;
  2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
  3. The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
  4. The nature of the specific duties are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.  See 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).

All of the criteria in 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) suggest that the bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for entry into the occupation or for purposes of performing the duties of the position. However, if one is relying on prong 4 to establish H-1B eligibility because it is unusually complex or specialized, the AAO in an unpublished decision has noted that this would create an issue of credibility if the LCA only identifies a Level 1 wage. Therefore, practitioners should be prepared to either assert that the duties can be specialized and complex even if a Level 1 wage is being paid, or alternatively, argue under prongs 1, the first part of prong 2 or prong 3. In a different decision, the AAO recognized that a Level 1 wage in certain occupations, such as doctors or lawyers, would not preclude a finding that they qualified as specialty occupations. Of course, if the position required more than 2 years of experience, then it will be harder for the employer to argue, if not impossible, that an entry level wage was justified. On the other hand, if the beneficiary was demonstrating possession of a degree through work experience, it should be carefully explained that this experience is not part of the job requirement, but is being used by the beneficiary to obtain the equivalent of a specialized degree through training or work experience.

Lawyers must use every argument in their legal arsenal to overcome RFEs intending to deny H-1B petitions that contain a Level 1 wage, and if there is a denial, to seek either administrative or judicial review. The law did not intend to impose a Catch-22 on employers who legitimately hire H-1B workers for entry level positions. If the employer argues that the duties are routine and comport to the Level 1 wage definition then the USCIS will play “gotcha” by asserting that the occupation does not qualify for H-1B classification. If, on the other hand, the employer argues that the duties are complex and specialized, then the USCIS will likely continue to delight in playing “gotcha” by asserting that the LCA does not correspond to the H-1B petition. There is a way to avoid this trap.  An employer can demonstrate that routine entry level duties that still need to rely on skills acquired from a specialized bachelor’s degree program would qualify the occupation for H-1B classification. Alternatively, an employer may also be able to demonstrate that certain duties can be complex and specialized in occupations even at an entry level.  The employer must choose the best argument based on the specific occupation being challenged and facts of the case.

There was a time when obtaining an H-1B visa was considered routine and easy. Not so any longer.

Trump’s H-2B Visa Conflict: How We Can Take Advantage Of It To Gain Broader Immigration Reform

On July 19, 2017, the Trump administration increased the H-2B cap from 66,000 to 81,000 by promulgating a final rule. H-2B visas are annually capped at 66,000 under the law. Due to an increase in demand of essential workers to serve landscapers, hotels, restaurants and seafood processors each year, the H-2B cap gets hit earlier each year.

Congress provided for a one time increase in FY 2017 through section 543 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, signed by President Trump,  which allows the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to increase H-2B visas this fiscal year based on a complex formula. As a result, the DHS and DOL increased the H-2B cap by 15,000 on July 19. The long sought for increase is too little and is also too late as the 2017 year will be ending by September 30, 2017. The temporary rule also places an onerous standard. Only American businesses that are likely to experience irreparable harm (permanent and severe financial loss) without the ability to employ all of the H-2B workers that they request for this fiscal year may file under this one-time increase in the H-2B cap.

A day later, on Thursday, July 20, President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago filed labor applications with the Department of Labor for 15 housekeepers, 20 cooks and 35 servers. Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, FL filed labor applications for 6 cooks. Contrary to media reports, Trump’s businesses sought these H-2B visas for the next fiscal year quota and not under the temporary additional 15,000 H-2B increase for the remainder of 2017. Still, it is quite a coincidence that his businesses sought additional H-2B visas when his own administration issued a rule temporarily increasing H-2B visas a day earlier

The DOL that will process and approve these applications reports to Trump. Once the DOL has issued labor certifications, H-2B visa petitions will need to be filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of the DHS. The DHS reports to Trump. Once the USCIS approves the H-2B visa petitions, the foreign workers will apply for H-2B visas at US consulates in their home countries. The US consulates, who will say yea or nay, are under the purview of the Department of State, which also reports to Trump.

If Trump’s business files for H-2B visas under the temporary 15,000 H-2B quota for the 2017 year, they will have to demonstrate “irreparable harm (that is permanent and severe financial loss), if [they] cannot employ H-2B nonimmigrant workers in fiscal year 2017.” It remains to be seen whether Trump’s businesses can credibly make such a case. Will Mar-a-Lago, promoted as the “winter White House”, which is frequently used by Trump to conduct business on behalf of the United States, and to also entertain visiting dignitaries, suffer irreparable harm including permanent and severe financial loss if it cannot bring in cooks and housekeepers on H-2B visas? If the DOL approved the case for Mar-a-Lago under this heightened standard, it would be hard to pass the laugh test. The heightened standard may even be ultra vires the statute, and it may be interesting to see Trump consider challenging a rule made by his own administration!

Trump’s businesses clearly rely on the H-2B visa. His administration temporarily increased the H-2B visa by 15,000 (even though Trump’s businesses have not yet applied for visas under this increase). The government agencies that will more likely approve rather than deny H-2B visa applications all report to Trump. The move to file H-2B visa petitions for foreign workers also defies Trump’s America First rhetoric that intends to provide jobs to Americans over foreign workers. Indeed, these H-2B visas were filed in Trump’s much publicized “Made in America” week. Just as in every other case where Trump has retained his businesses while serving as president, here too there is a clear conflict of interest if his businesses utilize the H-2B visa program. The conflict will be even more staggering if Trump’s businesses use one of the 15,000 H-2B visas under the temporary increase.

Looking at the bright side, Trump realizes the need for foreign workers on H-2B visas to run his businesses. Although H-2B visas are essential, they only represent a narrow slice of the pie. If Trump does not want this to appear as a conflict of interest, and he is already being accused of being the most conflicted president in modern history, he should view immigration in the same way that he views the H-2B visa program for his businesses. Just as his businesses benefit from foreign workers, so would other businesses as well as the US economy through an expansion of visas. If his businesses cannot hire foreign cooks and housekeepers, the business will not run as profitably and other American workers cannot be hired to manage the H-2B workers. Therefore, the hiring of foreign H-2B workers can create more jobs for Americans. Foreign workers, rather than replacing domestic workers, compliment them. It is this complementariness between American and foreign workers that keeps businesses ticking and profitable.

There are many businesses that are crying out for higher skilled professional H-1B workers. The H-1B visa program is also annually capped at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 H-1B visas for those who have graduated with advanced degrees from US institutions. There is no flexibility to add another 15,000 H-1B visa numbers as with the H-2B visa program. Only Congress can raise the limit, but Trump can persuade Congress to do so. It makes no sense for our universities to educate and graduate top notch foreign students, who then cannot work in the United States because of an arbitrary H-1B cap. If they are forced to return to other countries, they will compete with the United States instead of contributing to it.  US based global corporations must also be given access to tap into pools of global talent so that they can remain competitive, which in turn will benefit consumers in the United States – and ultimately create more jobs for Americans.

There are also entrepreneurs who would love to start up innovative companies in the United States, but there is no startup visa. Instead, the Trump administration just shelved the entrepreneur parole rule that was promulgated by the prior Obama administration. In a podcast where Professor David Hsu of Wharton and I were the guests, we both wondered why Trump really needed to put this rule on ice. It would have benefitted a small group of entrepreneurs, as the threshold of receiving a $250,000 investment was high, but the upsides to the United States could have been tremendous. If one of these foreign entrepreneurs succeeded and his or her startup became a Google, it would result in a paradigm shift in terms of job creation and benefitting US competitiveness. A lot of immigrants have dreams and they want to start their own business and make it big in the U.S. The rule provided one pathway for immigrants to do so, and by not having it and freezing it, we are being less competitive. America needs to realize that it is not the only game in town. There are other countries that want to compete, and we need to be up there — and we are not, unfortunately, by freezing this rule.

In the podcast, now posted on Knowledge@Wharton, Professor Hsu noted that countries like Canada, France and Argentina have provisions that lower the barriers for immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrants make up about 12% of the U.S. working population, he added. Among STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers, immigrants make up 24% of bachelors and 47% of doctorates, he continued. “So [immigrant entrepreneurs] are punching above their weight in the talent pool for the workforce that we desire in the U.S.,” he said. He pointed to one much-cited statistic: foreign-born entrepreneurs make up about half the founders in the so-called “billion dollar club” of startups that are worth at least a billion dollars each.

President Trump ought to also pay attention to the plight of skilled workers who are caught in the employment-based immigrant visa backlogs, mainly those born in India and China. Eliminating the per country limits or not counting derivative family members would go a long way in alleviating their plight, some of whom are trapped in decades long backlogs. Once they get their green cards, they too will be able to unleash far more dynamism in the US economy.

Finally, even undocumented workers are contributing to the United States. Let’s first start with Dreamers who have received work authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. I have personally seen my own clients embark on successful professional careers after they received DACA authorization, and thus contribute to their fields and the US economy. At this time, DACA seems to be imperiled. It would be a tragedy if young people with a bright future are deported. Other undocumented workers also aspire to do well for themselves and their families. Deporting DACA recipients could result in a loss of $433.4 billion to our GDP besides being politically unpopular. Trump should lend his support to the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017. One simple way for the US economy to achieve a 4% growth rate, as President Trump desires, is to take in more immigrants. Adam Ozimek and Mark Zandi at Moody’s Analytics, an independent economics firm, estimated for ProPublica that for every 1 percent increase in U.S. population made of immigrants, GDP rises 1.15 percent. Therefore, a simple way to get to Trump’s 4 percent GDP bump is to take in about 8 million net immigrants per year.

All this might be wishful thinking in the age of Trump, who got an electoral college victory largely because of his rhetoric against immigrants as job stealers and criminals. Trump desires to erect a big wall. He has also imposed a travel ban against countries with mainly Muslim populations. At the same time, Trump has realized the need for the H-2B visa so that his businesses can run more profitably. He obtained the forbidden fruit by raising the H-2B limit from 66,000 to 81,000, which he could do as president of the United States. He also wishes to create more jobs in the United States. What better way to do that is for Trump to realize that more immigration is consistent with his goal for creating more American jobs. Trump changes his mind all the time. At one point, he was against NATO and China, but he is not so today. He should also change his mind about immigrants and immigration, especially now that he has felt the need for H-2B visa workers to benefit his own businesses.

Supreme Court’s Heightened Standard For Revoking Naturalization Should Apply To All Immigration Benefits

Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, asks broadly “Have you EVER committed a crime or offense for which you have not been arrested?” One would be hard pressed to find a person who has never committed an offense for which she has not been arrested. Multitudes of New Yorkers must have committed the offense of jay walking with full sight of a police officer who never bothered citing the offender. Another broad question is “Have you EVER been a member of, involved in, or in any way associated with, any organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in any other location in the world?”  It would be difficult for an applicant to answer this question accurately or remember every instance of membership in his or her life. For instance, does the applicant need to include membership in a school club in 8th grade? Until recently, an inaccurate but immaterial response to these two questions could have resulted in both criminal liability and revocation of naturalization.

On June 22, 2017, in Maslenjak v. United States,  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue of when a lie during the naturalization process may lead to loss of U.S. citizenship under 18 USC 1425(a). Divna Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb, lied during her naturalization process about her husband’s service as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army. When this was discovered, the government charged her with knowingly procuring her naturalization contrary to law because she knowingly made a false statement under oath in a naturalization proceeding. A district court said that to secure a conviction, the government need not prove that her false statements were material to, or influenced, the decision to approve her citizenship application.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had affirmed the conviction, but the Supreme Court noted that the law demands “a causal or means-end connection between a legal violation and naturalization.” The Supreme Court said that to decide whether a defendant acquired citizenship by means of a lie, “a jury must evaluate how knowledge of the real facts would have affected a reasonable government official properly applying naturalization law.” The Supreme Court therefore said that the jury instructions in this case were in error, vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

This ruling is significant. It prohibits a government official from revoking a naturalized American’s citizenship based on an insignificant omission or misrepresentation. If the applicant did not indicate that she was a member of her school club to the question on the naturalization application asking about membership in any club at anytime and anywhere in the world, a vindictive prosecutor can no longer use this as a basis to indict her under 18 USC 1425(a), seek a conviction and then revoke her citizenship.

What is even more significant is that the Supreme Court sets a higher standard for demonstrating a connection between the violation and naturalization under 18 USC 1425(a) than the earlier standard of determining materiality under 8 USC 1451(a), the civil revocation statute, and elaborated at length in Kungys v. United States.  At issue in Kungys v. United States was whether the failure to indicate the correct date and place of birth was material to justify the revocation of Kugys’s citizenship under the civil provision. Justice Scalia writing for the majority held that the test of whether Kungys’ concealments or misrepresentations were material is whether they had a natural tendency to influence the decisions of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. The formulation in Kungys v. United States has been adopted in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual to determine whether a visa applicant made a material misrepresentation that would render him or her ineligible for fraud or misrepresentation under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i):

The word “tends” as used in “tended to cut off a line of inquiry” means that the misrepresentation must be of such a nature as to be reasonably expected to foreclose certain information from your knowledge. It does not mean that the misrepresentation must have been successful in foreclosing further investigation by you in order to be deemed material; it means only that the misrepresentation must reasonably have had the capacity of foreclosing further investigation.

See 9 FAM 40.63 N6.3-1

In Maslenjak v. United States, the Supreme Court built on the formulation in Kungys to create a heightened standard for the government to prove that a person committed a crime pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1425(a), which provides: “knowingly procures or attempts to procure, contrary to law, the naturalization of any person, or documentary or other evidence of naturalization or of citizenship.” Justice Kagan developed the following standard:

[T]he Government must make a two-part showing to meet its burden. As an initial matter, the Government has to prove that the misrepresented fact was sufficiently relevant to one or another naturalization criterion that it would have prompted reasonable officials, “seeking only evidence concerning citizenship qualifications,” to undertake further investigation [citation omitted]. If that much is true, the inquiry turns to the prospect that such an investigation would have borne disqualifying fruit.

As to the second link in the casual chain, the Government need not show definitively that its investigation would have unearthed a disqualifying fact (though, of course, it may). Rather, the Government need only establish that the investigation “would predictably have disclosed” some legal disqualification (citation omitted).   If that is so, the defendant’s misrepresentation contributed to the citizenship award in the way we think §1425(a) requires.

Justice Kagan’s opinion went on to state that “[e]ven when the Government can make its two-part showing, however, the defendant may be able to overcome it. §1425(a) is not a tool for denaturalizing people who, the available evidence indicates, were actually qualified for the citizenship they obtained.”

Justice Gorsuch with whom Justice Thomas joined, issued a concurring opinion stating that there was no need for the Supreme Court to create a new formulation, and that the Court of Appeals could do just that.  “This Court often speaks most wisely when it speaks last, ” according to Justice Gorsuch.  In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Alito suggested that the formulation in Kungys v. United States should apply equally to §1425(a).  According to Justice Alito, “§1425(a) does not require proof that a false statement actually had some effect on the naturalization decision.” But this is pivotal to Justice Kagan’s new formulation. The illegal act must have somehow contributed to obtaining citizenship. Take Justice Kagan’s example of John obtaining a painting illegally. This would connote that John stole the painting from the museum or impersonated the true buyer when the auction house delivered it. But if John did something illegal on his way to buy the painting legally, such as excessively violating the speed limit or purchasing an illegal weapon, those acts did not contribute to obtaining the painting illegally. Justice Alito would see it differently. A runner who holds the world record wants to ensure that she gets the gold medal at the Olympics, and takes a performance enhancing drug. She wins the race and is disqualified. The second-place time is slow and sportswriters speculate that she would have come first anyway even without taking the drug. According to Justice Alito, she cannot argue that her illegal act of taking drugs did not make a difference and was not material to her performance in the race.

Justice Kagan’s logic should have more force over Justice Alito’s. A naturalization applicant who stole bread when he was desperately hungry, but was never arrested and does not answer “Yes” to the question of whether he had ever committed a crime for which he was never arrested, should not have his citizenship revoked. First, determining whether a criminal defendant has committed a crime is based on the applicable law where the alleged conduct occurred and whether a prosecutor was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant met all the elements of the offense. If the applicable law provides defenses, such as the doctrine of necessity, then no crime would have occurred. This defense too – that the defendant stole bread to avoid death through starvation – also has to be established within the penal system.  It would not be appropriate for an applicant to judge himself guilty on an immigration form – or for his immigration lawyer to condemn him for theft. Even with respect to making an admission, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) has established stringent requirements for a validly obtained admission: (1) the admitted conduct must constitute the essential elements of a crime in the jurisdiction in which it occurred; (2) the applicant must have been provided with the definition and essential elements of the crime in understandable terms prior to making the admission; and (3) the admission must have been made voluntarily. See Matter of K-, 7 I&N Dec. 594 (BIA 1957). It would be very difficult for an applicant to satisfy the requirements of an admission while completing the form.  Justice Kagan’s heightened standard to demonstrate materiality should not just apply to 18 USC §1425(a), but ought to also apply to 8 USC §1451(a) cases as well as cases involving willful misrepresentation under INA §212(a)(6)(C)(i). The following words of Justice Kagan’s in Maslenjak v. United States are prescient:

Under the Government’s view, a prosecutor could scour her paperwork and bring a §1425(a) charge on that meager basis, even many years after she became a citizen.  That would give prosecutors nearly limitless leverage – and afford newly naturalized American precious little security.

The need for a uniform heightened standard becomes even more urgent in light of questions in immigration forms becoming increasingly broad and ambiguous.   For example, the latest Form I-485 asks whether an applicant intends to “engage in any activity that would endanger the welfare, safety or security of the United States.”  The next question in Form I-485 asks whether the applicant intends to “engage in any other unlawful activity?”  If the applicant answered “No” to the latter question and was later found to have engaged in an unlawful activity that would have no bearing on either the procurement of the green card or on the naturalization, such as participating in a peaceful protest that resulted in an unlawful road blockage, a vindictive prosecutor could still potentially use this to revoke either permanent residence or citizenship. This would not be a just outcome. A lie told out of embarrassment, fear, a desire for privacy or lack of comprehension of the question asked – which is not relevant to naturalization, the green card or a visa –  should never result in revocation.