Expecting Asylum-Seekers to Become US Asylum Law Experts: Reflections on My Trip to the Folkston ICE Processing Center

US asylum law is nuanced, at times contradictory, and ever-changing. As brief background, in order to be granted asylum, applicants must show that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and that they are unable or unwilling to return to, or avail themselves of the protection of, their country of origin owing to such persecution. 8 C.F.R. § 1208.13(b)(1) & (2). Attorneys constantly grapple with the ins and outs of asylum law, especially in light of recent, dramatic changes to asylum adjudication.

Even with legal representation, the chances of being granted asylum are slim. In FY 2017, only 45% asylum-seekers who had an attorney were ultimately granted asylum. Imagine, then, an asylum-seeker fleeing persecution, suffering from severe trauma, and arriving in a foreign land where he or she suddenly has to become a legal expert in order to avoid being sent back to certain death. For most, this is nearly impossible, where in FY 2017, only 10% of those unrepresented successfully obtained asylum.

It is important to remember that while asylum-seekers have a right to obtain counsel at their own expense, they are not entitled to government-appointed counsel. INA § 240(b)(4)(A). Access to legal representation is critical for asylum-seekers. However, most asylum-seekers, especially those in detention, go largely unrepresented in their asylum proceedings, where only 15% of all detained immigrants have access to an attorney. For those detained in remote areas, that percentage is even lower.

Given this inequity, I felt compelled to travel to a remote detention facility in Folkston, GA and provide pro bono legal assistance to detained asylum-seekers in their bond and parole proceedings. I travelled along with former supervisors turned mentors, Jessica Greenberg and Deirdre Stradone, Staff Attorneys at African Services Committee (ASC)/Immigrant Community Law Center (ICLC), along with Lucia della Paolera, a volunteer interpreter. Our program was organized and led by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI). SIFI currently only represents detained asylum-seekers in their bond and parole proceedings in order to assist as many folks as possible in obtaining release. Their rationale is that since bond and parole representation take up substantially less time than asylum representation, that they can have a far greater impact in successfully obtaining release for several hundred asylum-seekers, who can hopefully thereafter obtain counsel to represent them in their asylum proceedings.

Folkston is extremely remote. It is about 50 miles northwest of Jacksonville, FL, and nearly 300 miles from Atlanta, GA, where the cases from the Folkston ICE Processing Center are heard. Instead of transporting detained asylum-seekers and migrants to their hearings at the Atlanta Immigration Court, Immigration Judges (IJs) appear via teleconference. These proceedings lack any semblance to due process. Rather, through assembly-line adjudication, IJs hear several dozens of cases within the span of a few hours. On court days, I witnessed about twenty men get shuffled into a small conference room to speak with the IJ in front of a small camera. The IJ only spends a few minutes on each case, and then the next twenty men get shuffled into the same room. While IJs may spend a bit more time with detainees during their bond or merits hearings, the time spent is often inadequate, frequently leading to unjust results.

Even with the tireless efforts of the Staff Attorneys and volunteers at SIFI, there are simply too few attorneys to help every detainee at the Folkston ICE Processing Center, which houses almost 900 immigrants at any given time, leaving hundreds stranded to navigate the confusing waters of immigration court alone.

During initial screenings, I encountered numerous individuals who filled out their asylum applications on their own. These folks try their best using the internet in the library to translate the application into their native language, translate their answers into English, and then hand in their I-589s to the IJ. But as any practitioner will tell you, so much more goes into an asylum application than the Form I-589. While these asylum seekers are smart and resourceful, it is nearly impossible for one to successfully pursue one’s own asylum claim. To make matters worse, if these asylum-seekers do not obtain release from detention ahead of their merits hearing where an IJ will adjudicate their asylum claim, they will be left to argue their claims in the Atlanta Immigration Court, where 95%-98% of all asylum claims are denied. For those detained and/or unrepresented, that number is nearly 100%.

Despite the Attorney General’s most recent comments that lawyers are not following the letter of the law when advocating on behalf of asylum-seekers, it is clear that it is the IJs, whom are tasked with fairly applying the law, and DHS officials, tasked with enforcing the law, are the ones seeking to circumvent the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Throughout the Trump era, immigration attorneys have faithfully upheld asylum law and have had to hold the government accountable in its failure to apply the law fairly. Good lawyers, using all of their talents and skill, work every day to vindicate the rights of their clients pursuant to the INA, contrary to Sessions’ assertions.

But more importantly, asylum-seekers have suffered from serious human rights abuses and merit protection under our laws. Their cases are not denied because they are not bona fide. Their cases are not denied because they do not qualify as refugees under the INA. Indeed, most of these asylum-seekers were found to possess a credible fear of return upon their initial apprehension. Through a combination of lack of access to counsel, unfair and uneven adjudication by IJs, and impermissible interference by the Attorney General, credible and bona fide cases are frequently denied.

We’ve previously blogged about the due process concerns in immigration courts under Sessions’ tenure. Instead, I want to highlight the stories of some of the asylum-seekers I met in Folkston. If these individuals do not obtain counsel for the bond or parole proceedings, and/or if they are denied release, they will be forced to adjudicate their claims in the Atlanta Immigration Court where they will almost certainly be ordered removed. It is important that we understand who it is that we’re actually deporting. Through sharing their stories, I want to demonstrate to others just how unfair our asylum system is. Asylum was meant to protect these people. Instead, we treat them as criminals by detaining them, do not provide them with adequate access to legal representation, and summarily remove them from the United States. Below are their stories:

Twenty-Five Year Old From Honduras Who Had Been Sexually Assaulted on Account of His Sexual Orientation

At the end of my first day in Folkston, I was asked to inform an individual, Mr. J-, that SIFI would be representing him in his bond proceedings. He’s been in detention since March 2018 and cried when I told him that we were going to try and get him out on bond.

Mr. J- looks like he’s about sixteen, and maybe weighs about 100 pounds. Back home in Honduras, he was frequently ridiculed because of his sexual orientation. Because he is rather small, this ridicule often turned into physical assault by other members of his community, including the police. One day when Mr. J- was returning from the store, he was stopped by five men from his neighborhood who started berating him on account of his sexual orientation. These men proceeded to sexually assault him, one by one, until he passed out. These men warned Mr. J- not to go to the police, or else they would find him and kill him. Mr. J- knew that the police would not help him even if he did report the incident. These men later tracked down Mr. J-’s cellphone number, and continued to harass and threaten him. Fearing for his life, Mr. J- fled to the United States.

Mr. J-’s asylum claim is textbook and ought to be readily granted. However, given Sessions’ recent unilateral change in asylum law based on private acts of violence, Mr. J- will have to fight an uphill battle to ultimately prevail. See Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018). If released on bond, Mr. J- plans to move in with his uncle, a US citizen, who resides in Florida. Mr. J-’s case will then be transferred to the immigration court in Miami. Although the Immigration Court in Miami similarly has high denial rates, where nearly 90% of all asylum claims are ultimately denied, Mr. J- will at least have a better chance of prevailing there than he would in Atlanta.

Indigenous Mayan from Guatemala Who Was Targeted on Account of His Success as a Businessman

During my second day, I met with an indigenous Mayan from Guatemala, Mr. S-. He holds a Master’s degree in Education, owned a restaurant back home, and was the minister at his local church. He had previously worked in agriculture pursuant to an H-2B visa in Iowa, and then returned to Guatemala when the visa expired to open his business.

He fled Guatemala earlier this year on account of his membership in a particular social group. One night after closing his restaurant, he was thrown off his motorcycle by several men who believes were part of a local gang. They beat him and threatened to kill him and his family if he did not give them a large sum of money. They specifically targeted Mr. S- because he was a successful businessman. They warned him not to go to the police or else they would find out and kill him. The client knew that the police would not protect him from this harm on account of his ethnic background as an indigenous Mayan. The day of the extortionists’ deadline to pay, Mr. S- didn’t have the money to pay them off, and was forced to flee or face a certain death.

Mr. S- has been in immigration detention since March. The day I met with him at the end of August was the first time he had been able to speak to an attorney.

Mr. S-’s prospects for success are uncertain. Even prior to the recent decision in Matter of A-B-, asylum claims based on the particular social group of “wealthy businessmen” were seldom granted. See, e.g., Lopez v. Sessions, 859 F.3d 464 (7th Cir. 2017); Dominguez-Pulido v. Lynch, 821 F.3d 837, 845 (7th Cir. 2016) (“wealth, standing alone, is not an immutable characteristic of a cognizable social group”); but see, Tapiero de Orejuela v. Gonzales, 423 F.3d 666 (7th Cir. 2005) (confirming that although wealth standing alone is not an immutable characteristic, the Respondent’s combined attributes of wealth, education status, and cattle rancher, satisfied the particular social group requirements). However, if Mr. S- can show that he was also targeted on account of his indigenous Mayan ancestry, he can perhaps also raise an asylum claim based on his ethnicity. The combination of his particular social group and ethnicity may be enough to entitle him to relief. See, e.g., Ordonez-Quino v. Holder, 760 F.3d 80, 90 (1st Cir. 2014) (Respondent demonstrated that his “Mayan Quiché identity was ‘at least one central reason’ why he” was persecuted).

As business immigration attorneys may also point out, if Mr. S- can somehow locate an employer in the US to sponsor him, he may be eligible for employment-based relief based on his Master’s degree, prior experience working in agriculture, and/or his business acumen on account of his successful restaurant management. Especially if Mr. S- is not released on bond and forced to adjudicate his claims in the Atlanta Immigration Court where asylum denial rates are high, his future attorney may also want to explore these unorthodox strategies.

Indigenous Mam-Speaking Guatemalan Persecuted on Account of His Race, Religion, and Particular Social Group

My third day, I met with Mr. G-, an indigenous Mam from Guatemala. Mr. G- is an incredibly devout Evangelical Christian and one of the purest souls I have ever met. He has resisted recruitment by rival gangs in his town and has been severely beaten because of his resistance. He says his belief in God and being a good person is why he has resisted recruitment. He did not want to be responsible for others’ suffering. The local gangs constantly assaulted Mr. G- due to his Mam heritage, his religion, and his resistance of them. He fled to the US to escape this persecution.

Mr. G- only speaks Mam, an ancient Mayan dialect. He does not speak Spanish. Because of this, he was unable to communicate with immigration officials about his credible fear of return to his country upon his initial arrival in November 2017. Fortunately, the USCIS asylum officer deferred Mr. G-’s credible fear interview until they could locate a Mam translator. However, one was never located, and he has been in immigration detention ever since.

August 29, 2018, nine months into his detention, was the first time he was able to speak to an attorney through an interpreter that spoke his language. Mr. G- was so out of the loop with what was going on, that he did not even know what the word “asylum” meant. For nine months, Mr. G- had to wait to find out what was going on and why he was in detention. My colleague, Jessica, and I, spoke with him for almost three hours. We could not provide him with satisfactory answers about whether SIFI would be able to take his case, and when or if he would be let out of detention. Given recent changes in the law, we couldn’t tell him if his asylum claim would ultimately prevail.

Mr. G- firmly stated that he will be killed if he was forced to go back to Guatemala. He said that if his asylum claim is denied, he will have to put his faith in God to protect him from what is a certain death. He said God is all he has.

Even without answers, this client thanked us until he was blue in the face. He said he did not have any money to pay us but wanted us to know how grateful he was for our help and that he would pray for us. Despite the fact that his life was hanging in the balance, he was more concerned about our time and expense helping him. He went on and on for several minutes about his gratitude. It was difficult for us to hold back tears.

Mr. G- is the reason asylum exists, but under our current framework, he will almost certainly be deported, especially if he cannot locate an attorney. Mr. G- has an arguable claim under Ordonez-Quino v. Holder, on account of his Mam heritage, and an arguable claim on account of his Evangelical Christianity, given that Mr. G-’s persecution was compounded by his visible Mam ethnicity and vocal Evangelical beliefs. His resistance to gang participation will be difficult to overcome, though, as the case law on the subject is primarily negative. See, e.g., Bueso-Avila v. Holder, 663 F.3d 934 (7th Cir. 2011) (finding insufficient evidence that MS-13 targeted Petitioner on account of his Christian beliefs, finding instead that the evidence supported the conclusion that the threats were based on his refusal to join the gang, which is not a protected ground). Mr. G-’s low prospects of success are particularly heart-wrenching. When we as a country fail to protect those seeking refuge from persecution, especially those fleeing religious persecution, we destroy the very ideals upon which this country was founded.

[Update: 9/10/2018 at 3:00PM: Shortly after posting this blog, the author received word that Mr. G- had been ordered removed. Despite the fact that his hearing was conducted entirely in Spanish and he has arguable claims to relief, Mr. G- has decided not to appeal his removal order and instead return to Guatemala. Prolonged detention has taken a serious toll on Mr. G-‘s physical and mental health.]

Twenty-Year Old Political Activist From Honduras, Assaulted by Military Police on Account of His Political Opinion

I also assisted in the drafting of a bond motion for a 20 year-old political activist from Honduras, Mr. O-, who had been severely beaten by the military police on account of his political opinion and activism.

Mr. O- was a prominent and vocal member of an opposition political group in Honduras. During the November 2017 Honduran presidential elections, Mr. O- assisted members of his community to travel to the polling stations. When election officials closed the polls too early, Mr. O- reached out to military police patrolling the area to demand that they re-open the polling stations so Hondurans could rightfully cast their votes. The military police became angry with Mr. O-’s insistence and began to beat him by stomping and kicking him, leaving him severely wounded. Mr. O- reported the incident to the police, but was told there was nothing they could do.

A few weeks later, Mr. O- was specifically targeted again by the military police when he was on his way home from a political meeting. The police pulled him from his car and began to beat him, accusing him of being a rioter. He was told to leave the country or else he would be killed. He was also warned that if he went to the national police, that he would be killed. Fearing for his life, Mr. O- fled to the US in April 2018 and has been in detention ever since.

SIFI was able to take on his bond case in August, and by the end of my trip, the SIFI team had submitted his request for bond. Since Mr. O-’s asylum claim is particularly strong, and because he has family in the US, it is highly likely that his bond will be granted. From there, we can only hope that he encounters an IJ that appropriately follows the law and will grant him asylum.

(The author thanks Jessica Greenberg and Deirdre Stradone for their constant mentorship as well as providing the author the opportunity to go to Folkston. The author also thanks Lucia della Paolera for her advocacy, passion, and critical interpretation assistance. Finally, the author expresses the utmost gratitude to the team at SIFI, who work day in and day out to provide excellent representation to the detained migrants and asylum-seekers detained at Folkston ICE Processing Center.)

Photos from my trip to Folkston, GA:

The Folkston ICE Processing Center.

Downtown Folkston, GA.

 

Volunteers from Left to Right: Sophia Genovese (author), Deirdre Stradone (Staff Attorney at African Services Committee), Jessica Greenberg (Staff Attorney at ASC/ICLC), and Lucia della Paolera (volunteer interpreter).

Assisted Reproductive Technology and Transmission of American Citizenship: Is There Any Need For A Biological Link After Jaen v. Sessions?

When a child is born abroad to a US citizen parent, the Department of State (DOS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has always insisted on a biological relationship with a US citizen parent in order to acquire U.S. citizenship from that parent. This has always meant a genetic relationship, but with the advancement of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), the DOS and USCIS have made an exception for a gestational mother who is recognized as the child’s legal parent who used a donor egg but still carried and gave birth to the child.

While including the gestational mother who may not have a genetic relationship to the child is a worthwhile exception, it deprives the mother who may neither be the gestational mother nor have a genetic relationship with the child from passing US citizenship. For instance, when a US citizen mother is medically unable to bear a child and needs to use a surrogate mother overseas to carry the child to birth, and the egg is not hers and the sperm is from a non-US citizen father, US citizenship cannot be passed onto the child. It is acknowledged that commercial surrogacy has generated controversy as a result of instances of unethical and exploitative practices, and is banned in many countries.  India, until recently, was the hub of commercial surrogacy, but is also proposing a law to completely ban it. In the interim, foreign nationals have not been allowed to enter India for surrogacy arrangements on medical visas as of November 3, 2015 and they are also not allowed to take the child out of India after its birth. Still, countries such as Georgia and Ukraine are emerging as new international surrogacy hubs, and even if other countries have banned commercial surrogacy, altruistic surrogacy exceptions exist.  Thus, under current US policy, such a mother who for medical reasons is unable to establish a biological link to her child, and also cannot serve as the gestational mother herself, is unable to transmit US citizenship to her child. This is unfair for such mothers.

Fortunately, federal courts are adopting a broader view of who a parent can be in order to transmit US citizenship. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Jaen v. Sessions  recently held that a U.S. citizen who is a parent of a child as a result of marriage can also pass along U.S. citizenship to that child notwithstanding the prevalent DOS and USCIS policy that insists on a biological or genetic relationship for passage of US citizenship.  David Isaacson’s blog, Jaen v. Sessions: The Government Reminds Us That Government Manuals Aren’t Always Right, correctly points out that US government policy or guidance may not actually be the law, and federal courts need to step in to point this out. “But this will only happen if attorneys, and their clients, ask the federal courts to do so,” he adds.

In Jaen v. Sessions, Levy Alberto Jaen was born in Panama in 1972 to a non-U.S.-citizen mother, Leticia Rogers Boreland, who was then married to a naturalized U.S. citizen named Jorge Boreland.  But Jaen’s Panamanian birth certificate indicated that his father was another man named Liberato Jaen. Jaen moved to the US at the age of 15 as a nonimmigrant in 1988 and lived with the Boreland family. In 2008, Jaen was placed in removal proceedings based on controlled substance violations and he moved to terminate proceedings on the ground that he was a US citizen. The Immigration Judge denied the motion, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Second Circuit reversed.

David Isaacson’s blog nicely summarizes the Second Circuit’s reasoning in finding that Jaen was a US citizen even if there was no biological link with his US citizen parent:

The government had sought to interpret this language as referring only to biological “parents”.  As the Second Circuit pointed out, however, the historic common-law definition of the term “parent” included a common-law presumption of legitimacy that held a married man to be the father of a child to whom his wife gave birth.  As it was put in Blackstone’s Commentaries, “Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant”—the nuptials show who is the father.  Jaen, slip op. at 13 & n. 5.  This common-law definition of parent, the Second Circuit held, would be sufficient to render Jorge Boreland the parent of Levy Jaen for citizenship purposes even if it were not also the case, as it was, that he would have been recognized as Levy Jaen’s father under New York law.

The government urged the Court of Appeals to follow the guidance in the DOS Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and USCIS Policy Manual, which required biological parenthood to qualify as a “parent”.  But as the Second Circuit noted in a footnote, those internal guidance manuals are not entitled to Chevron deference.  Jaen, slip op. at 11-12 n.4.  Nor did the Second Circuit evidently find them persuasive.

As the Second Circuit observed, it was not the first Court of Appeals to hold that the father by marriage of a child need not have a biological link to that child in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to that child.  The Ninth Circuit had held to the same effect in Scales v. INS, 232 F.3d 1159, 1161 (9th Cir. 2000).  Indeed, the Ninth Circuit in Solis-Espinoza v. Gonzales, 401 F.3d 1090 (9th Cir. 2005), extended this holding to cover a man whose U.S. citizen mother was not his biological mother but had been married to his biological father at the time of his birth.  (It remains to be seen whether the Second Circuit’s holding in Jaen will be extended in the same way, as the Second Circuit did not have occasion to address this fact pattern.)

The reasoning in Jaen v. Sessions can be extended to a US citizen mother who uses a surrogacy arrangement as she is unable to bear her own child, and where the sperm donor spouse is not a US citizen. Although Jaen dealt with the term “parent” in old INA 301(a)(7), it is virtually identical to current INA 301(a)(g) other than requiring different periods of physical presence by the US citizen parent prior to the birth of the child.  The US citizen mother could potentially be considered a “parent” under INA 301(g), if she is married to the non-US citizen parent, notwithstanding the lack of a biological connection in the same way that there was no biological connection between Jaen and his US citizen father.  Indeed, the facts in Solis-Espinoza v. Gonzales, supra,  are more analogous to the example of a surrogacy arrangement as they involved a US citizen mother with no biological connection to the child. Though born in Mexico, Solis-Espinoza claimed citizenship by virtue of the U.S. citizenship of the woman he knew as his mother whose name was Stella Cruz-Dominguez.   Cruz-Dominguez, who was married to Solis-Espinoza’s biological father, a Mexican national, at the time of his birth, acknowledged Solis-Espinoza from his infancy as a member of her family and raised him as his mother, though he did not in fact have a biological connection with Cruz-Dominguez.  His biological mother, a Mexican citizen, had abandoned him. The Ninth Circuit nevertheless held that Solis-Espinoza had acquired US citizenship through Cruz-Dominguez, his US citizen mother, even though there was no biological connection with her, as she was married to his father, and both had accepted Solis-Espinoza into their family. The Ninth Circuit quite correctly observed that “[i]n every practical sense, Cruz-Dominguez was [Solis-Espinoza’s] mother and he was her son.  There is no good reason to treat [Solis-Espinoza] otherwise.   Public policy supports recognition and maintenance of a family unit.   The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) was intended to keep families together.   It should be construed in favor of family units and the acceptance of responsibility by family members.”

Notwithstanding these decisions in the Second and Ninth Circuits, the DOS will likely still adhere to its existing policy. If the US citizen is unable to show a biological link to the child, and she was also not the gestational mother, the DOS will most likely deny an application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America (CRBA). In such a situation, if there is a biological link with the child’s non-US citizen father as the sperm donor, the US citizen mother may file an I-130 petition for the child as her step child for permanent residence. If the step child wishes to become a US citizen after the grant of permanent residence, the parent would have to adopt the child or the child would need to naturalize upon reaching the age of 18. However, this will be more time consuming than obtaining a CRBA in the child’s name In the event that there is also no biological link with the other parent, such as where the father is not the sperm donor, or the other parent is also female (and assuming her egg was not used), then even an I-130 petition cannot be filed unless the child is adopted. This may entail spending 2 years with the child abroad to get around the restrictions in the Hague Convention, if the child is born in a country that is a party to the Convention. Moreover, even a same sex marriage between two males will result in the same sort of problem if they resort to a surrogate arrangement, and the US citizen cannot use his sperm with the donor egg that is implanted in the surrogate overseas who would also not be a US citizen.

A direct challenge to a consular officer’s determination in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment can be attempted. Although in Rusk v. Cort, the Supreme Court allowed a native born US citizen whose citizenship had been revoked while living overseas to directly challenge the revocation in federal court, a recent 2018 Fifth Circuit decision, Hinojosa v. Horn, a three judge (2-1) panel  held that a person claiming US citizenship while outside the US must first apply for a certificate of identity under 8 USC 1503(b) in order to come to the US to seek entry as a US citizen. If the application is denied, then the child may be permitted to challenge the denial in federal court.” No other circuit thus far has issued a decision similar to Hinojosa that negates a direct challenge under Rusk v. Cort.

While there might be many cumbersome and circuitous ways to ultimately bring a child denied a CRBA into the US, it would be far simpler for the DOS and the USCIS to modify it policy so that it would be in line with Scales, Solis-Espinoza and Jaen. The DOS as recently in 2014 made an exception for a gestational mother to transmit US citizenship to a child born abroad, even though there was no biological link. It would not be a stretch for DOS to issue a new policy that would allow transmission of citizenship by a US citizen parent, without any reference to any genetic or biological link, based on a common law definition of “parent” through marriage. Such a definition would not only be consistent with the common law meaning of “parent” in the INA, especially INA 301(g), but it would also be in keeping with public policy that supports the recognition and maintenance of a family unit.

 

 

 

 

Indirect Refoulement: Why the US Cannot Create a Safe Third Country Agreement with Mexico

The Trump Administration is seeking to create and implement a safe third country agreement with Mexico. Under this agreement, asylum seekers arriving at the US border who have travelled through Mexico would be denied the ability to file their asylum claims in the US. Such an agreement would trample on the rights of asylum-seekers, violating both international and US asylum law. In particular, the US would be violating the international principle of non-refoulement, which provides that no State “shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his [or her] life or freedom would be threatened,” where Mexico has a proven track record of being anything but safe for asylum seekers. The US has also codified Article 33(1) of the Refugee Convention into Section 208(a)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which provides that it will not return an asylum seeker to his or her country of origin, but may, at the determination of the Attorney General, remove the asylum seeker to a “safe third country… where the [asylum seeker] would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection.” Although Mexican officials have not yet indicated whether they would sign a safe third country agreement with the US, asylum advocates should proactively seek to prevent such a devastating policy with a country that lacks adequate asylum protections.

As reported by Human Rights First and Amnesty International, 75 percent of asylum seekers apprehended and detained by the National Institute of Migration (INM), the Mexican immigration enforcement agency, were not informed of their right to seek asylum. Even if asylum seekers are able to make their claims, only 30% of the asylum proceedings are ever concluded, and even fewer are granted, leaving many bona fide asylum seekers stranded without a resolution. The treatment of unaccompanied minors’ asylum claims in Mexico are even more dismal. Of the 35,000 minors apprehended by the INM in the first half of 2016, only 138 were able to apply for asylum, of which only 77 were granted protection. Beyond the failing asylum system in Mexico, asylum seekers are also in extreme danger of kidnapping, murder, rape, trafficking, and other crimes by INM officers and civilians.

A safe third country agreement with Mexico would violate the United States’ international obligations under the 1967 Optional Protocol to the Refugee Convention, to which we are a signatory, which adopts by incorporation the obligations outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the US is not a signatory. Take the example of an asylum-seeker, Mrs. H, who is fleeing politically-motivated violence in Honduras. Her husband, Mr. H, was a vocal political activist who opposed the National Party and members of the Honduran government. Mr. H began to receive death threats due to his political beliefs and reported such threats to the authorities. The authorities, however, did nothing to protect Mr. H and his family. Not long thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. H are attacked as they leave their home. Mrs. H is severely wounded, but her husband, Mr. H, dies. As Mrs. H recovers in the hospital, she begins to receive death threats on account of her husband’s political beliefs. Fearing for her life, she flees Honduras, travels through Guatemala and Mexico, and presents herself at the US border claiming asylum. Given her extraordinary claims, Ms. H would most likely be granted asylum in the United States. However, under a safe third country agreement, if she travelled through Mexico to get to the US, the US would return Mrs. H to Mexico without first adjudicating her asylum claim. If Mexico in turn denies the asylum application (or worse, denies the asylum seeker access to its asylum procedures) where the US may have granted the application, and if the asylum seeker is thereafter refouled, the US is thus violating its international obligations and potentially under INA § 208(a)(2)(A) for indirectly refouling that individual.

The US currently has a safe third country agreement with Canada that has been similarly criticized, both at the initial signing and now with renewed fervor on account of Sessions’ evisceration of the US asylum system. The first challenge to the agreement was in 2007 in Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, [2007] FC 1262 (Can. Ont.). The Court began by recalling that the US and Canada are both parties to the 1967 Optional Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention and thus both possessed the same international obligations with respect to the treatment of asylum seekers, including the principle of non-refoulement. The Court found, however, that the US was “not compliant with international conventions,” especially with respect to its one-year asylum filing deadline (which Canada does not have), and thus concluded that the US was not a safe third country for asylum seekers. Accordingly, the Court reasoned that by returning asylum seekers to the US without first adjudicating their asylum claims, which results in their subsequently denied asylum application in the US and refoulement to their country of origin, Canada was also in violation of its international obligations and under the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, Canada was indirectly responsible for impermissible refoulement. Unfortunately, the decision was ultimately overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal, thus preserving the safe third country agreement.

There was another challenge to the US-Canada safe third country agreement at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in John Doe et al. v. Canada, Case 12.586, Inter-Am. Comm’n H.R., Report No. 24/11, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.141, doc. 29 (2011). The IACHR similarly found that Canada was in violation of its international obligations of non-refoulement by failing to adjudicate asylum claims of individuals who had travelled through the US. Lacking enforcement authority, the IACHR merely offered recommendations to Canada so that they remain compliant with their international obligations. Legal challenges to the agreement in Canada laid dormant until July 2017 when Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees again initiated litigation against the agreement, where they outlined the numerous ways the US asylum system failed to meet international standards, and identified how US asylum policy has continued to deteriorate under the Trump regime. This suit remains pending. If the US were to adopt a safe third country agreement with Mexico, the Canadian Council for Refugees would certainly want to amend their pleadings and raise the issue of an asylum seeker potentially being subject to two safe third country agreements, implicating Canada in chain refoulement.

As we have blogged about extensively, the US asylum system, especially under the Trump Administration, is certainly not the best asylum model out there. This article does not suggest that the US asylum framework is the be-all end-all, nor do we suggest that Mexico is a bad country. Nevertheless, a safe third country agreement with Mexico would cause the United States to be in further violation of our international, and arguably domestic, obligations of non-refoulement. Violence in Mexico has reached record levels and the US State Department has issued multiple travel advisories to various Mexican states. Further, as discussed above, Mexico is extremely dangerous for vulnerable populations such as asylum-seekers and migrants, especially women. Access to asylum procedures is astonishingly low in Mexico, and even if an individual is lucky enough to file their claim, it is still more likely than not that their claim will be denied.

It is unclear if the incoming Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will be more open to the agreement than the departing president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Under the backdrop of the NAFTA renegotiations, the US may seek to leverage their continued participation in NAFTA in return for a safe third country agreement with Mexico. Nevertheless, advocates should continue to speak out against this devastating policy ahead of any official negotiations. If the US and Mexico end up creating a safe third country agreement, advocates should vigorously contest the legality of this agreement in Court, as such an agreement will undoubtedly result in the impermissible return of bona fide asylum seekers to their country of origin.

Heightened Ethical and Strategic Considerations for Business Immigration Attorneys Under USCIS’s New Removal Policy

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued updated policy guidance on July 5, 2018, PM-602-0050.1,  that aligns its policy for issuing Form I-862, Notice to Appear, with the immigration enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

A Notice to Appear (NTA) instructs a person to appear before an immigration judge on a certain date. The issuance of an NTA starts removal proceedings against the person. Under the new guidance, USCIS notes  that its officers will now issue NTAs “for a wider range of cases where the individual is removable and there is evidence of fraud, criminal activity, or where an applicant is denied an immigration benefit and is unlawfully present in the United States.”

Although it has always been possible for the USCIS to issue an NTA when an applicant is denied a benefit, it has generally not done so in the past for a number of sensible and practical reasons. Many applicants choose to leave the United States on their own upon the denial of the benefit, or delay their departure, if they legitimately seek to appeal the denial or seek reconsideration. It therefore makes no sense to further burden the already overburdened immigration courts with new cases, especially involving people who may already be departing on their own volition.

While David Isaacson’s  excellent blog “Another Brick in the (Virtual) Wall: Implications of USCIS’s Policy Regarding Removal Proceedings Against Denied Applicants Who Are Not Lawfully Present” gets into the implications behind the new policy, including its malicious intent, as “the new guidance implies that it will not matter if the person issued the NTA was lawfully present until just prior to the unfavorable decision,”  I highlight some of the ethical considerations for attorneys arising under the new NTA policy.

As denials of H-1B extension requests have been happening more frequently under the Trump administration, I will use the H-1B to illustrate some of the ethical conundrums that may arise. Routine requests that were previously approved for H-1B occupations such as systems analyst or financial analyst are now frequently being denied. The new policy exacerbates this problem by now requiring that an NTA be issued upon the denial of such a request and the prior H-1B status has expired.  Sure enough, the USCIS policy does not change any law. Prior to the issuance of the policy, attorneys representing an employer and an employee in a request for an extension of H-1B status were mindful of the consequences when an H-1B extension request was denied. The issuance of an NTA has always been factored in as a worst case scenario in the event of a denial.  But now this will become a new reality and no longer a theoretical possibility. Petitioners should consider filing extension requests on behalf of the beneficiary well in advance of the expiration date of the underlying status – the law allows one to so up to six months prior- and should also consider doing so via premium processing.  In the event that the extension request is denied, it will happen while the beneficiary is still in status thus obviating the NTA.

The H-1B worker is considered unlawfully present when the request for an H-1B extension is denied, and the prior H-1B status has already expired. The issuance of an NTA does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence, and it is now important to deal with unlawful presence in the context of a removal proceeding.  Any accrual of unlawful presence that exceeds 180 days will trigger a 3 year inadmissibility bar under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) once the individual departs the United States prior to the commencement of removal proceedings. If this individual accrues one or more than one year of unlawful presence and then departs the United States, she or she will be inadmissible for 10 years. Attorneys have been mindful of this eventuality especially when the employer chooses to appeal the decision or file a motion to reopen or reconsider. In the event that the decision is not rendered prior to the accrual of 180 days of unlawful presence, and the foreign national still remains in the United States beyond 180 days and then departs, in the event of an unfavorable decision, he or she will be precluded from reentering the United States for a 3 year period.

A business immigration attorney who may understandably not be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of a removal proceeding will need to come up to speed. After all, one of the cardinal ethical obligations of an attorney is to competently represent the client. Under ABA Model Rule 1.1 “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client.” The model rule goes on to state, “Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.” [While this blog will refer to ABA Model Rules,  attorneys must refer to their own state bar rules of ethical conduct that are analogous to the ABA Model Rules].  One way for an attorney to become competent is to associate with a lawyer who is competent in the removal matters. Alternatively, the lawyer who chooses to restrict her expertise to business immigration, thus limiting the scope of representation under ABA Model Rule 1.2(c), may refer the matter out to another competent lawyer who knows removal proceedings when the NTA is issued.

Once removal proceedings have been instituted, the foreign national may no longer leave even if he wants to. Moreover, the first master calendar hearing is scheduled after several weeks or months.  Indeed, it is becoming more obvious that the goal of this Trump Administration is to harass non-citizens in light of yet another more recent policy that gives authority to USCIS officials to deny applications based on lack of “sufficient initial evidence” without a request for evidence or notice of intent to deny. This could be viewed subjectively resulting in more denials followed by NTAs. If the foreign national leaves in the middle of the proceeding, it would trigger a new ground of inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(6)(B), which provides that “Any alien who without reasonable cause fails or refuses to attend or remain in attendance at a proceeding to determine the alien’s inadmissibility or deportability and who seeks admission to the United States within 5 years of such alien’s subsequent departure or removal is inadmissible.”

If the foreign national remains in the US and receives a removal order, it would trigger a ten year bar to inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(9)(A) after the individual leaves pursuant to this order. It may be worthwhile for the attorney to stave off a removal order, and instead try to get the Immigration Judge (IJ) to issue a voluntary departure order. If voluntary departure is issued prior to the accrual of unlawful presence of one year or more, then under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I), the 3 year bar does not apply to those who departed after the commencement of proceedings and before the accrual of 1 year of unlawful presence. If the voluntary departure order is not issued prior to the 1 year period then the ten-year bar for one year of unlawful presence under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) would apply. Due to immense backlogs in the immigration courts, there is a good likelihood that an IJ may not be able to get to the matter timely and could end up issuing a voluntary departure order after the accrual of one year of unlawful presence. Thus, an attorney representing such an individual in removal must creatively strategize to ensure that a voluntary departure order is rendered before the 1 year mark.

While the lawyer has been used to contesting the denial of an H-1B, it now has to also be done in the context of a removal proceeding. An IJ has no jurisdiction to hear an H-1B petition denial in a removal proceeding, and the denial must still be appealed to the AAO or through a motion to reopen or reconsider or potentially even challenged in federal court. While the denial is being appealed, it is important to try to seek a continuances in the event of another meritorious pending benefits application under Matter of Hashmi and Matter of Rajah.  In the event that the denial is overturned, and the foreign national is still in removal proceedings, one can seek to terminate removal proceedings. Under Matter of Castro-Tum recently decided by AG Sessions, an IJ can no longer administratively close a case thus overruling Matter of Avetisyan. However, it may still be possible to terminate based on a joint motion with the government’s attorney, but the ability to for the government attorney to exercise such discretion has also been limited.  Note that Attorney General Sessions is also seeking to overturn Hashmi and Rajah, but until that happens one can seek a continuance for good cause based on a pending meritorious application at the USCIS.    If the foreign national has already left, presumably under a voluntary departure order and has not triggered any ground of inadmissibility, he or she may be able to return if the denial is overturned, or if the appeal is not pursued or is unsuccessful, it may be prudent to re-file the H-1B petition, and have the individual return on a visa pursuant to the approval of the new petition.

All this raises another important ethical consideration – conflicts of interest. Most immigration attorneys represent both the employer and the employee as there is always a common goal, which is to obtain the visa benefit.  Still, there is always potential for a conflict of interest in the event that the employer wishes to terminate the employment or the employee wishes to quit and seek greener pastures elsewhere.  Under ABA Model Rule 1.7(b), notwithstanding the possibility of a conflict of interest, a lawyer may represent both clients if the lawyer reasonably believes that the lawyer will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client and the clients have provided informed consent, confirmed in writing. The possibility of the foreign national being placed in removal proceedings heightens the potential for a conflict of interest. Will the employer client still be willing to hold out the job offer for the employee during a long drawn out removal hearing? In the event that the employer pulls out, then will the attorney be able to continue to represent the employee who is in removal proceedings or would this matter need to be referred out to another attorney and thus limit the scope of the representation under ABA Model Rule 1.2(c)? All these considerations need to be discussed preferably in advance between the employer and the employee. It may be possible to craft conflict waivers and get informed consent that would allow the attorney to deal with all these contingencies, including representation in removal proceedings.

The very issuance of the NTA will cause other problems. At the denial of the H-1B request, the USCIS could potentially serve the NTA on the attorney who is the attorney of record on the notice of entry of appearance that was submitted with the H-1B request. If the attorney represents both the employer and the foreign national employee in the H-1B matter, the attorney must at least notify the employee, although the attorney has no obligation to appear at the master calendar hearing. The attorney may need to explain what the master calendar hearing is, though.  This is akin to being counsel in a lower court and receiving an appealable unfavorable decision: the existing counsel may not have to do the appeal, but would have to advise the client of the possibility so they can retain someone else to do the appeal if they want. In a case where the attorney only represents the employer, but receives the NTA on behalf of the foreign national employee, it would still be prudent to inform the employee.  Of course, if the NTA is served on an attorney who has not yet made an appearance on behalf of the respondent in immigration court and not the respondent, that would be a basis to terminate a removal proceeding or to vacate an in absentia order. However, the attorney handling the H-1B matter must still advise the beneficiary upon receipt of an NTA and forward the NTA to the beneficiary and advise her to seek independent counsel if the H-1B attorney will not represent the beneficiary in the removal proceeding or may be conflicted from doing so.

In the event that the H-1B worker has already departed the United States prior to the issuance of the NTA, it can be clearly argued that jurisdiction does not vest when an NTA is issued when the foreign national is not present in the United States. INA 240(c)(3)(a) provides that “the Service has the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that, in the case of an alien who has been admitted to the United States, the alien is deportable.” INA  237(a) refers to “[a]ny alien (including an alien crewman) in and admitted to the United States may be removed.” Since the former H-1B worker is not in, and admitted to, the United States, she cannot fall under the literal text of the‎ statute and, thus, is not deportable.

It remains to be seen whether the USCIS will be able to fully implement the NTA policy or whether this is just a wish list of the Trump administration. If the new policy is implemented as intended, an already overburdened immigration court system will face even further backlogs. Attorneys must be aware of the various heightened ethical and strategic considerations in representing a client who has received an NTA after a denial and this blog is an attempt to provide a preliminary overview.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Brick in the (Virtual) Wall: Implications of USCIS’s New Policy Regarding Removal Proceedings Against Denied Applicants Who Are Not “Lawfully Present”

In a November 2017 article, the Washington Post described “How Trump is building a border wall that no one can see”: how the Trump Administration was, “in a systematic and less visible way . . . following a blueprint to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States those who are undocumented and those here legallyand overhaul the U.S. immigration system for generations to come.”  A month later, the New York Times published a similar article on Trump Administration efforts to reduce legal immigration using existing executive authorities.  The latest guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding when USCIS will issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) is another step in that direction, and an even more problematic one than it might appear to be at first glance.

USCIS recently announced in a Policy Memorandum, PM-602-0050.1, that it is changing the way it decides whether to issue an NTA placing someone into removal proceedings in immigration court.  In all cases other than those involving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is the subject of separate NTA guidance, this new memorandum supersedes the previous USCIS NTA guidance that had been in effect since 2011.

The new NTA guidance in PM-602-0050.1 is said to be intended to implement the Trump Administration’s enforcement priorities as set out in the January 2017 Executive Order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  It lists a number of scenarios in which an NTA will generally be issued absent high-level approval to do otherwise, but perhaps the most significant is one buried at the bottom of page 7 of the memorandum, after discussion of various scenarios relating to fraud or criminal cases.  The memorandum states there that “USCIS will issue an NTA where, upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present in the United States.”  This encompasses a wide variety of scenarios.

The new guidance’s apparent conversion of USCIS into an immigration-enforcement entity, contrary to the agency’s originally-intended mission as a benefits-granting entity distinct from the enforcement activities of other Department of Homeland Security components, has drawn criticism from the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, among others.  The criticism has understandably been from a broad, overarching perspective, and the new NTA policy is indeed deeply problematic from that perspective.  Some of the practical implications of the new policy, however, are also worth exploring in more detail.

By indicating that an NTA will be issued when, “upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present,” the new guidance implies that it will not matter if the person issued the NTA was lawfully present until just prior to the unfavorable decision.  That is, if an applicant for extension of nonimmigrant stay, change of nonimmigrant status, or adjustment of status was protected from the accrual of unlawful presence by the pendency of their application, but became unlawfully present the day that the denial was issued and mailed, it would seem that an NTA will follow.

Given the substantial processing times for many applications for change of status or extension of stay, this criterion could capture a great many nonimmigrants who in good faith applied to change to a different status, or extend their stay, well before their initial period of authorized stay expired.  According to the USCIS webpage regarding processing times, for example, an I-539 application for extension of stay or change of status which is processed at the USCIS Vermont Service Center is estimated to take between 9 months and 11.5 months.  So even someone who applies 9 months before the expiration of their initially authorized stay likely will not receive a decision before that period expires, and will thus be unlawfully present upon the issuance of an unfavorable decision on their application and subject to an NTA under the new USCIS policy.  Indeed, if a tourist or business visitor admitted for 6 months wishes to apply for an extension of stay or change of status, it would be mathematically impossible to do so far enough in advance to avoid this consequence in the event of a denial, because the projected processing time is longer than their entire initial period of admission!

Petitions and applications for extension of stay or change of status could also be denied for reasons which the nonimmigrant in question may not have anticipated.  As my partner Cyrus Mehta has pointed out, the new NTA guidance could apply, for example, to an H-1B skilled worker affected by new stricter USCIS policies regarding H-1B approvals, if the denial of an application for extension of stay comes after the expiration of the worker’s prior status.  It could also apply to an F-1 student who is the innocent victim of a mistake by a Designated School Official (DSO), or a B tourist or business visitor whom a USCIS officer decides has not given a sufficiently compelling explanation of why they want to remain for an extended but still temporary period of time.

Even one who has applied in good faith for a change of status or extension of stay, expecting it to be granted, may therefore under the new policy be placed in removal proceedings. Subjecting well-meaning temporary workers, students, tourists and other nonimmigrants to immigration court proceedings, and even potential detention, just because USCIS disagrees with the merits of their application for extension of stay or change or adjustment of status, is indicative of a malicious attitude towards noncitizens that we have also seen in other contexts from this Administration.

Because of what is likely to happen next in many such cases, this new policy is not merely malicious, but counterproductive as well, even when evaluated according to the goals that the Administration is presumably trying to accomplish (unless the Administration is more interested in harassing noncitizens, and generally deterring them from coming to the United States, than in encouraging timely departure following the denial of particular applications).  Initial hearings in removal proceedings often take several months to schedule even with the current backlog at the immigration courts, which will presumably get worse, not better, under the new NTA policy.  So our hypothetical denied applicant for change of status or extension of stay, who may have been planning to depart from the United States shortly after receiving the denial, will now be instructed to await an immigration court hearing in several months.  If he or she chooses to leave the United States in the meantime, and is unable to return for the removal hearing, this could result in a five-year bar to returning to the United States, pursuant to section 212(a)(6)(B) of the INA, which provides that “Any alien who without reasonable cause fails or refuses to attend or remain in attendance at a proceeding to determine the alien’s inadmissibility or deportability and who seeks admission to the United States within 5 years of such alien’s subsequent departure or removal is inadmissible.”  An order of removal issued at such a hearing could also potentially lead to inadmissibility for ten years under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the INA, although the text of the statute (which refers to seeking admission “within 10 years of the date of such alien’s departure or removal”) suggests that this second bar ought not to apply where the person has already left at the time of the removal order (and unlike section 212(a)(6)(B) inadmissibility, 212(a)(9)(A) inadmissibility can at least be overcome by a grant of permission to reapply for admission under section 212(a)(9)(A)(iii) of the INA).  Thus, the statute provides a strong incentive for our hypothetical denied applicant, having been placed in removal proceedings, not to leave the United States before his or her hearing.

As long as the immigration court proceedings take place within one year of the denial of a timely-filed application for change of status or extension of stay by one who has not worked without authorization, our hypothetical denied applicant is likely to be better off staying in the United States to attend his or her hearing, so as to avoid the above-discussed types of inadmissibility, and then seeking voluntary departure under section 240B of the INA.  (The three-year bar for those unlawfully present for more than 180 days but less than one year, under section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the INA, only applies by its terms to those who departed “prior to the commencement of proceedings under  . . . section 240” and so does not apply to someone placed in removal proceedings, though the ten-year bar for one year of unlawful presence under section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) would apply.)  Thus, in this instance, the virtual wall will operate to keep in the United States for a substantial additional period of time someone who may have been perfectly willing to leave on their own shortly after the denial of their application for change of status or extension of stay, had they not been placed in removal proceedings.

In the presence of ever more outrageous immigration policies from the Trump Administration, such as the separation of children from their parents and the recent news that the Administration will likely fail to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunify separated children under 5 with their parents, there is a risk that more subtle anti-immigration measures may be overlooked.  As with other Trump Administration malfeasance, however, it is important not to succumb to such “outrage fatigue”.  The fact that the Administration has done even worse things does not mitigate the callous and counterproductive nature of a decision to place many well-meaning nonimmigrants in removal proceedings, and effectively prevent them from leaving the United States in a timely fashion after denial of an application even if they wish to do so.

USCIS Improperly Blurs Distinction Between Violation of Status and Unlawful Presence for F, J and M Nonimmigrants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy memorandum on May 10, 2018, “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants.” The memo abruptly revises previous policy guidance in the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual relating to this issue. The new guidance is effective August 9, 2018, and after reading this blog, it is hoped that readers are sufficiently shocked and motivated to submit comments as the radical departure from previous policy will jeopardize the ability of many nonimmigrants, mainly foreign students, from returning to the United States for unwitting or inadvertent status violations.

There has always been a strict distinction between violating status and being unlawfully present in the United States. One can be in violation of status without being unlawfully present. Even if an F, J and M student dropped out of school or engaged in unauthorized work, he or she would be considered to have been in violation of status but not accruing unlawful presence. This is because an F, M and J nonimmigrant is usually admitted for a Duration of Status (D/S) rather than up to a certain date. An F, M or J can maintain status so long as they remain enrolled in the educational institution or participate in activities pursuant to that status, which is why they are admitted under D/S.  On the other hand, one who is the beneficiary of an approved H-1B or L nonimmigrant petition is admitted only up to the validity date of the petition. F, M and J nonimmigrants are not beneficiaries of prior approved petitions filed by sponsors.

The new policy states various ways in which F, J, and M nonimmigrants and their dependents begin accruing unlawful presence. For example, F, J, and M nonimmigrants who failed to maintain nonimmigrant status before August 9, 2018, will start accruing unlawful presence based on that failure on August 9, 2018, unless the nonimmigrant had already started accruing unlawful presence based on several scenarios under the prior policy discussed below.

Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then depart, may be subject to 3-year or 10-year bars to admission, depending on how much unlawful presence they accrued before they departed the United States. See INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) & (II).  Individuals who have accrued a total period of more than one year of unlawful presence, whether in a single stay or during multiple stays in the United States, and who then reenter or attempt to reenter the United States without being admitted or paroled, are permanently inadmissible. See INA 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(1).

The new policy supersedes existing policy, which is that foreign students (F nonimmigrants) and exchange visitors (J nonimmigrants) who were admitted for, or present in the United States in, Duration of Status started accruing unlawful presence on the day after USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigrant benefit or on the day after an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first. F and J nonimmigrants, and foreign vocational students (M nonimmigrants), who were admitted until a specific date certain accrued unlawful presence on the day after their Form I-94 expired, on the day after USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit, or on the day after an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first.

By contrast, one admitted under an approved H-1B or L visa petition up to a certain date starts accruing unlawful presence after remaining beyond that date while a student who was admitted under D/S did not unless there was a violation of status finding by the USCIS or by an immigration judge. This holds true even with respect to a nonimmigrant admitted under a date certain visa. If the H-1B or L nonimmigrant violates status during the validity period of the admission, he or she will be in violation of status but will not accrue unlawful presence unless there is a formal finding by the USICS or an immigration judge.

The prior policy made more sense, and maintained the important distinction between maintenance of status and lawful or unlawful presence. The 3 and 10 year bars, or the permanent bar, are extremely draconian and should only be triggered when the nonimmigrant goes beyond a date certain expiration date. This is consistent with the statutory definition of unlawful presence under 212(a)(9)(B)(ii), which provides:

“….an alien is deemed to be unlawfully present in the United States if the alien is present in the United States if the alien is present in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled

The new policy blurs the difference between being out of status and unlawfully present. Unlawful presence ought to only trigger when one goes beyond an expiration date and not when there is a contestable violation of status. If a student in F status is in violation of that status, he or she can be placed in removal proceeding and may contest the allegation in the proceeding. If the Immigration Judge orders the person removed based on the violation, then the unlawful presence period may commence upon the order. Similarly, when one who is in F status applies for a change of status, and the USCIS finds that the applicant violated status, which the applicant may have been able to contest,  unlawful presence may commence after such a finding.

Under the new policy, a nonimmigrant in F, J or M status may have unwittingly violated that status by not pursuing a full course of study or engaging in an unauthorized activity, and may never get notice of it until much later. Even F-1 students in post-completion practical training could potentially be deemed later to have engaged in unauthorized activity, such as not working in an area consistent with their field of study or a STEM trainee being placed at a third party client site, which USCIS has without notice abruptly disfavored,   or if a school’s curricular practical training does not meet the USCIS’s subjective interpretation of whether the school was in compliance when it authorized such training.   In the meantime, this person would have started accruing unlawful presence and triggered the 10 year bar to reentry upon departing the United States. The dependent spouse would also unfairly accrue unlawful presence as a result of a status violation by the principal spouse. This individual may never get a chance to contest the violation of status after the fact. Unlawful presence should only trigger when there is clear notice of remaining beyond an expiration date of authorized stay in the United States and not when there is a contestable allegation of violation of status. An F, J or M nonimmigrant is now in a worse off position than say an H-1B nonimmigrant admitted under a date certain validity period. A violation of status by the H-1B nonimmigrant during the period of authorized stay would not trigger unlawful presence.  Even after 9/11, when immigration policies concerning students were tightened, we did not see such a cynical change in policy for students as now under the Trump administration where they may not know in time of a status violation only to later realize they have unwittingly accrued unlawful presence triggering the 10 year bar.

This is my preliminary reaction to the new unlawful presence policy relating to F, M and J nonimmigrants. There will be many other good arguments that will be developed and interested persons, along with those who will be potentially affected by 3 and 10 year bars,  are strongly urged to send in comments before June 11, 2018. The memo will take effect on August 9, 2018, but the abrupt change in policy without any proper rationale or justification also potentially makes it ripe for litigation.

Guidance To The Perplexed After USCIS Sneaks In Ban On Third-Party Placement Of STEM OPT Workers

Recently, without any prior notice, USCIS quietly updated its STEM OPT webpage to reflect a ban on the placement of STEM OPT workers at third-party client sites. As background, on March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule amending regulations to expand Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students with U.S. degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM). This new rule took effect on May 10, 2016 and replaced the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students most significantly expanding the extension period to 24 months. The rule set forth various requirements that must be met by schools, students and employers. Briefly, in order to obtain 24-month STEM OPT, the employer must have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and be enrolled in the E-Verify program. The employment opportunity must be directly related to the student’s qualifying STEM degree and there must be an employer-employee relationship between the employer and the student.  Therefore, employment for staffing agencies where an employer-employee relationship is not maintained or other labor-for-hire arrangements will not qualify. Within 10 days of the employment start date, the student and the new employer must complete a Training Plan on Form I-983 and submit it to the Designated Student Officer (DSO). I previously blogged about STEM OPT here where I examined the Form I-983.

In another blog, I specifically examined whether the student could be employed at a third-party client site and argued that there isn’t anything in the governing regulations that expressly forbids this type of employment. The employer should be able to satisfactorily demonstrate the employer-employee relationship and its control over the student despite placement of the student at an end client site. The Form I-983 must, among other things: (1) Identify the goals for the STEM practical training opportunity, including specific knowledge, skills, or techniques that will be imparted to the student; (2) explain how those goals will be achieved through the work-based learning opportunity with the employer; (3) describe a performance evaluation process; and (4) describe methods of oversight and supervision. Although having the student work at a client site makes for a more difficult case, I opined that if the employer already has employees at that site who can implement the employer’s training program by providing the training, on-site supervision and evaluation of the student, then the Form I-983 ought to be approvable. Since the implementation of the STEM OPT rule, thousands of students have obtained the required authorization to receive their STEM OPT at third party client sites. This authorization required the full disclosure of the employment arrangement to the DSO.

USCIS recently updated its website to now state:

[T]he training experience must take place on-site at the employer’s place of business or worksite(s) to which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the employer is meeting program requirements. This means that ICE must always have access to a student’s worksite; if the student is sent to different worksite locations as part of the training opportunity, ICE must be able to access such worksite locations. For instance, the training experience may not take place at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers because ICE would lack authority to visit such sites.

Based on this update, the placement of a STEM OPT worker at a third-party client site is apparently unacceptable because ICE lacks authority to visit third-party client sites.  No explanation was provided as to exactly why ICE supposedly lacks the authority to conduct a site visit on the premises of a third-party client if that client site had been clearly listed on an approved Form I-983. The Form I-983 sets forth that DHS may, at its discretion, conduct a site visit. It would be reasonable to conclude that by listing a third party client site as the student’s work location on the I-983, that the worksite is open to a site visit by ICE.

By updating the USCIS website with no prior notice and no opportunity for comment, USCIS has effectively created a state of confusion and has left employers and students, with previously approved Forms I-983, unsure of what action they must now take. Have employers been unknowingly violating the STEM OPT rule? Will USCIS now deny H-1B petitions for change of status for OPT students employed at third party client sites? Despite a denial of a request for a change of status, the underlying H-1B petition could still be approved but the STEM OPT worker would have to leave the US and apply for an H-1B visa abroad, a process that can come with its own set of issues such as administrative processing delays that can force the visa applicant to remain abroad for weeks or even several months.

Should employers scramble to relocate all STEM OPT workers to their headquarters or other office locations? And, if they do relocate them, would this change in worksite location be considered a material change necessitating a modification of the approved I-983? Based on how USCIS chose to update the STEM OPT rule, there are no immediate and definitive answers to these questions. However, some immigration attorneys are advising employers to relocate STEM OPT workers to headquarters or other office locations where there would be no question regarding ICE’s authority to conduct a site visit. On the issue of a relocation being a material change, while the regulations at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(9)(ii) do not specifically list relocation as an example of a material change, relocation is considered a material change in the H-1B context which leads one to think that it would similarly be considered in the STEM OPT context. Also, there is the potential practical problem of the student not being at the location listed on the I-983 when ICE attempts to conduct a site visit. On the other hand, since USCIS claims that ICE would not go to a client site anyway, due to a supposed lack of authority to do so, then there is a good argument that a relocation is not a material change that necessitates a modification of the I-983.

Is there any basis for continuing to employ STEM OPT workers at third-party client sites? Some immigration attorneys are advising employers to stay the course while we wait for additional guidance regarding USCIS’ update to its STEM OPT page. One main basis is the fact that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is governed by ICE and not by USCIS and therefore ICE ought to present any amendments to the program. Another reason is the fact that the mere modification of a web page does not have the same force as an amendment to the regulation or a Policy Memorandum. USCIS should issue a proposed regulation and allow a period for public comment. In addition, provided all the requirements are being met under the regulations found at 8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(6)-(12), then the employer’s decision to continue to employ the STEM OPT worker at the third party client site may be justifiable. The following could serve as a reasonable defense although there is no guarantee that the DHS will agree:  Under 8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(7)(ii), the I-983 clearly identified the goals of the training and explained how these goals would be met through a work-based learning opportunity with the employer and described the employer’s performance evaluation process including how oversight and supervision would occur at the third party client site perhaps by the employer’s more senior staff also stationed at that site.  This in turn may also meet the requirement under 8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(10)(i) that the employer have sufficient resources and personnel to provide the training. Furthermore,  if ICE would be welcomed at the client site (similar to how USCIS site visits are welcomed in the H-1B context) where ICE could satisfy itself that the employer possesses and maintains the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences (8 C.F.R. §214.2(f)(10)(ii)(C)(11)), then the mere fact that the STEM OPT worker is stationed at a third party client site ought not invalidate a previously approved placement.

Still, the practical fallout may not be worth it and employers and students alike are justifiably worried.  There are many unanswered questions and employers are hesitant to make any changes when it is not clear that these changes are actually required under the regulations. It appears that this is yet another way that USCIS is seeking to comply with President Trump’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order that allegedly protects US workers. The ultimate success of a challenge to USCIS’ modification of their webpage is therefore hard to predict. But what is also clear is that the STEM OPT rule ought to encompass all kinds of modern work arrangements, including working at third party sites. US businesses should not be deprived of the opportunity to engage talented foreign students. DHS ought to bear in mind that the industries which rely on assigning workers to third party client sites – such as the Information Technology industry – are the industries that give American businesses that necessary competitive edge. It is not clear how seeking to destroy theses industries by wholly affecting how they do business is supposed to make America great again.

 

Analyzing the Definition of a Specialty Occupation Under INA 214(i) to Challenge H-1B Visa Denials

In recent denials of H-1B petitions, the USCIS has been taking the position that the occupation for which H-1B classification is sought must require a degree in the specific field.  This position runs contrary to the definition of a specialty occupation. An occupation that may require a degree is diverse fields may also qualify.  Denials resulting in the wholesale reading out of qualifying occupations will likely continue when H-1B cases selected under the FY 2019 cap are adjudicated. A careful analysis of the statutory definition of specialty occupation provides a good starting point to challenge such denials.

Under INA § 214(i)(1) a “specialty occupation” is  defined as an occupation that requires

–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

The regulation at 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(ii) parrots INA § 214(i)(1) by defining “specialty occupation” as follows, except that the regulation requires a bachelor’s degree in “a” specific specialty while the statute requires a bachelor’s degree in “the” specific specialty, which may be a distinction without a meaningful difference:

Specialty occupation means an occupation which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields of human endeavor including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts, and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.

At issue is whether the occupation, in order to qualify for an H-1B visa, must require a bachelor’s degree in the specific specialty. A lawyer would qualify as a specialty occupation as only a degree in law would allow entry into the occupation. But INA § 214(i)(1) reads more broadly. It also ought to encompass a marketing analyst, even though this occupation may require a bachelor’s degree in diverse fields such as marketing, business or psychology. Unfortunately, the USCIS does not always agree. Is the USCIS correctly interpreting INA §214(i)(1).

The answer lies with how the phrase in the parenthetical “or its equivalent” is interpreted in INA § 214(i)(1). In Tapis International v INS, 94 F. Supp. 2d 172, the court held that a “position may qualify as a specialty occupation if the employer requires a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. For the “equivalent” language to have any reasonable meaning, it must encompass …….various combinations of academic and experience based training. It defies logic to read the bachelor’s requirement of “specialty occupation” to include only those positions where a specific bachelor’s degree is offered.” The phrase “or its equivalent” in INA 214(i)(1) is distinct from what the H-1B beneficiary is required to possess to qualify for specialty occupation.  INA 214(i)(2) sets forth separate requirements, such as completion of a bachelor’s degree or experience in the specialty through progressively responsible positions relating to the specialty. Therefore, the phrase “or its equivalent” actually broadens the requirement for a bachelor’s degree is a specific specialty to encompass “not only skill, knowledge, work experience, or training ….. but also various combinations of academic and experience based training.” See Tapis, supra. Thus, if an occupation requires a generalized degree, but specialized experience or training, it should still qualify as a specialty occupation. The AAO often cites Royal Siam Corp v. Chertoff, 484 F.3d 139 (First Cir. 2007) for the proposition that a general purpose degree is not sufficient to meet the definition of a specialty occupation. In Royal Siam Corp, the First Circuit stated that a degree requirement in a specific specialty-one that relates directly to the duties and responsibilities of a particular position-is given more weight by the agency than a requirement for a generic degree. Thus, if the position carefully outlines the specialized degrees or experience that are essential to perform the duties of the position duties, it should be distinguished from the holding in Royal Siam Corp.

If USCIS does not consider this interpretation of “or equivalent”, it would be impossible to classify most occupations for H-1B classification. Under Residential Finance Corp. v. USCIS, 839 F. Supp.2d. 985(S.D. Ohio 2012), the court found that “[t]he knowledge and not the title of the degree is what is important. Diplomas rarely come bearing occupation specific majors. What is required is an occupation that requires highly specialized knowledge and a prospective employee who has obtained the credentialing indicating possession of that knowledge.” The AAO has accepted this finding and has added that when there are disparate fields listed as minimums into the field, the petitioner must establish “how each field is directly related to the duties and responsibilities of the particular position such that the required body of highly specialized knowledge is essentially an amalgamation of these different specialties.” Matter of N-L-, Inc. AAO August 3, 2016.

Accordingly, there is a clear basis to challenge a USCIS denial on grounds that the occupation does not always require a degree in the specific specialty or that the degree may be too generalized, especially where an employer has taken pains to connect the specialized duties with the degree requirement. Indeed, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) is further  consistent with INA § 214(i) as it provides several ways in which a petitioner can establish that the position can qualify as a specialty occupation.  Those criteria are:

(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.

8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).  The petitioner is required only to show that the position meets one of the four criteria. Defensor v. Meissner, 201 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2000), which the USCIS also relies on when denying H-1B petitions,   held that the four criteria in 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) were only necessary conditions, but not necessary and sufficient conditions to establish that the occupation is a specialty occupation. In other words, an employer may under prong 3 require a bachelor’s degree for an occupation that ordinarily never requires a degree, but that may still not meet the statutory definition of a specialty occupation under INA § 214(i)(1). On the other hand, if the employer provides probative evidence of its need for a bachelor’s degree, and that its past hiring practices were also consistent with that need, as well as consistent with industry standards, the USCIS ought to accept the employer’s justification for a bachelor’s degree in a specialized field under the preponderance of evidence standard.

For a petition that has a proffered position of computer systems analyst, for example, USCIS has been selective in its reading of the Occupational Outlook Handbook in order to justify a denial on the ground that a bachelor’s degree in a computer science is not always a requirement. A denial often focuses on the following language in the OOH:

A bachelor’s degree in a computer or information science field is common, although not always a requirement. Some firms hire analysts with business or liberal arts degrees who have skills in information technology or computer programming.

(…)

Although many computer systems analysts have technical degrees, such a degree is not always a requirement. Many analysts have liberal arts degrees and have gained programming or technical expertise elsewhere.

Petitioners and their attorneys should closely review the OOH themselves rather than rely on the few sections USCIS provides in its denial. If attorneys do this, they will realize that USCIS chooses to leave out an important section of the educational requirements that “[m]ost computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field.” USCIS ignores this language in order to support its faulty determination that a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, is not normally the minimum requirement for the position and that the degree requirement is not common to the industry under the first and second criteria of 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A). However, where the regulation uses the words “normally” and “common” it would be erroneous to determine that a proffered position is not a specialty occupation merely because not all employers require a bachelor’s degree. If most employers require a bachelor’s degree, this should be sufficient to meet the statutory definition of a specialty occupation.

Next Generation Tech., Inc. v. Johnson, No. 15 cv 5663 (DF), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165531, at *30-31 (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 29, 2017) emphasized that if “most” computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in the appropriate field, as is provided in the OOH, then it follows that the degree is “normally” required for the position, and thus, the position qualifies as a specialty occupation.” In (Redacted Decision) 2012 WL 4713226 (AAO February 08, 2012), and  consistent with the Next Generation Tech reasoning, the AAO has explained in at least 2,415 unpublished decisions that “USCIS regularly approves H-1B petitions for qualified aliens who are to be employed as engineers, computer scientists, certified public accountants, college professors, and other such occupations.” For computer scientists, for example, the OOH provides that “[m]ost computer and information research scientists need a master’s degree in computer science or a related subject, such as computer engineering.” This illustrates that, provided the specialties are closely related, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or higher in more than one specialty satisfies the “degree in the specific specialty” requirement of INA § 214(i)(1)(8). In reversing the CSC’s denial of a petition, Residential Finance said that the “premise that the title of a field of study controls ignores the realities of the statutory language involved and the obvious intent behind them. The knowledge and not the title of the degree is what is important. Diplomas rarely come bearing occupation-specific majors.”

It is clear that both USCIS and the courts have repeatedly held that where most employers in an occupation require a bachelor’s degree in a narrow range of majors, or a related major, or its equivalent, it is a specialty occupation. In situations where the OOH is unhelpful, such as with respect to a Food Service Manager, where the OOH makes clear that a bachelor’s degree is not always required to enter the field, the employer must take pains to even further describe the specialized and complex duties of the position within the context of the employer, and potentially rely on the fourth prong of 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii) for establishing the specialty occupation. The fourth prong provides that “the nature of 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)(4); Fred 26 Importers, Inc. v. DHS, 445 F. Supp.2d 1174 (C.D. Cal. 2006)(although agreeing that the degree must directly relate to the position where an HR manager did not have a degree in HR management, reversed AAO for ignoring evidence, including expert opinion, that the duties were specialized and complex). Indeed, 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(4), arguably like in Tapis, recognizes that INA 214(i)(1) requires that the specialty occupation encompasses a bachelor’s degree in the specific specialty “or its equivalent”.

INA §214(i)(1) clearly provides for a broader interpretation of a specialty occupation. The USCIS is erroneously interpreting this provision when denying H-1B cases. The denials have become more rampant under President Trump’s Buy American Hire American Executive order, and we have blogged extensively on this unfortunate trend, herehere and here.  There is a good basis to challenge these H-1B denials based on the statutory provision itself.

Fearlessly Challenging H-1B Visa Denials Through Litigation

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Eleyteria Diakopoulos

As we have blogged about extensively in the past, President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order No. 13788 has had the most negative impact on the H-1B visa program. Following this pattern, the recent trend by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) heading into the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 H-1B Cap filing season has been to rely on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to arbitrarily deny H-1B visa petitions for Information Technology (IT) positions, such as computer systems analysts. In RFEs and denial decisions, USCIS states that they recognize the OOH as an “authoritative source on the duties and educational requirements” of a variety of occupations, and has used the OOH’s general statements on such requirements to deny H-1B petitions for failing to establish that a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty is the normal minimum requirement for entry into the position, despite statements in the OOH to the contrary. In addition, USCIS recently put out a statement entitled Combatting Fraud and Abuse in the H-1B Visa Program expressing an intent to continue to target H-1B dependent employers in the IT industry who assign H-1B workers at client sites.

One should expect the same sort of H-1B carnage like last year. No matter how well one responds to the request for evidence or argues the case before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), the outcome could still be a preordained denial – as if Trump’s wall is already up. The key issue is whether there may be a different and effective strategy for overcoming next year’s H-1B cap denials, such as suing the USCIS in federal court.

USCIS has typically based these types of denials on claims that the proffered positions fail to qualify under any of the specialty occupation criteria listed in 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A). The USCIS has also challenged H-1Bs based on allegedly inappropriate wage levels, but the main concern is the USCIS entirely reading out acknowledged specialty occupations from the law.

As background, in order for a petitioner to hire a foreign worker in a specialty occupation under the H-1B visa program, the proffered position must meet the regulatory definition as one that “requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.” 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(ii). This definition is met by satisfying at least one of the following criteria:

  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.

8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) (emphasis added).

For a petition that has a proffered position of computer systems analyst, for example, USCIS has been selective in its reading of the OOH in order to justify a denial. A denial often focuses on the following language:

A bachelor’s degree in a computer or information science field is common, although not always a requirement. Some firms hire analysts with business or liberal arts degrees who have skills in information technology or computer programming.

(…)

Although many computer systems analysts have technical degrees, such a degree is not always a requirement. Many analysts have liberal arts degrees and have gained programming or technical expertise elsewhere.

Petitioners and their attorneys should closely review the OOH themselves rather than rely on the few sections USCIS provides in its denial. If attorneys do this, they will realize that USCIS chooses to leave out an important section of the educational requirements that “[m]ost computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field.” (emphasis added). USCIS ignores this language in order to support its faulty determination that a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, is not normally the minimum requirement for the position and that the degree requirement is not common to the industry under the first and second criteria of 8 CFR §214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A). However, where the regulation uses the words “normally” and “common” it would be erroneous to determine that a proffered position is not a specialty occupation merely because not all employers require a bachelor’s degree. If most employers require a bachelor’s degree, this should be sufficient to meet the statutory definition of a specialty occupation. If a petitioner receives a denial of an H-1B petition based on this same reasoning, which is contrary to the law, mounting a challenge in federal court may be worth considering. Petitioners are gun shy about suing the government in federal court out of fear that the government may retaliate against them on other cases. That may not be necessarily so as one has anecdotally heard that the USCIS is terrified of litigation as it creates more work and could also result in a precedent that may be unfavorable for the government’s position in future cases. This is not surprising, however, given the repeated failure of USCIS to appropriately interpret the law in accordance with the INA. In reality, due to the quota system on which USCIS operates, the vast majority of USCIS officials do not care and do not have time to retaliate against litigious petitioners. Indeed, USCIS may pay more attention to cases that may potentially be litigated and give the benefit of doubt to the petitioner over a close call.

Recently, attorney Michael E. Piston, a fearless litigator, on the behalf of petitioner Delta Information Systems, bypassed the AAO and filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with this argument pursuant to §10b of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 702. In the complaint, plaintiffs Delta Information Systems, Inc. (Delta) and Srinivasa Narasimhalu allege that the Director of the California Service Center (CSC) of the USCIS erred in denying Delta’s Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker as a temporary worker in a specialty occupation (H-1B) on behalf of Mr. Narasimhalu and in denying Mr. Narasimhalu’s application to extend his H-1B nonimmigrant status in the United States. Plaintiffs ask the court to hold unlawful and set aside these decisions of the CSC Director that were arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law. Mr. Narasimhalu is a native of India who Delta lawfully employed as a computer professional from November 1, 2011 to February 27, 2018 with the authorization of USCIS. His education and experience has been evaluated as the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems.

The plaintiffs first argue that USCIS erroneously determined that no employer-employee relationship existed between Delta and Mr. Narasimhalu. In fact, Mr. Narasimhalu has been an employee of Delta, with USCIS authorization, for over six years, and it is undisputed that the sole right to control Mr. Narasimhalu’s work activities belongs to Delta. This ground is frequently invoked by the USCIS when the H-1B worker is placed at a third party site.  In its decision, USCIS concedes that for purposes of H-1B visa classification, the terms “employer,” “employed,” “employment,” or “employer-employee relationship” are undefined. The complaint notes that because these terms are undefined by the agency, it is necessary to look to the common law definition. Citing to Clackamas Gastroenterology Assocs., P.C. v. Wells, 538 U.S. 440 (2003) and Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 323 (1992), the complaint explains that in determining whether one is an employee, the consideration is the hiring party’s right to control. Citing to Chin v. United States, 57 F.3d 722, 725 (9th Cir. 1995), the complaint argues that the decision was not in accordance with the law to the extent that it was premised upon the assertion that Delta had to actually direct or control the work of Mr. Narasimhalu rather than merely having the right to control his work. In fact, USCIS in its decision observes that a “United States employer” is defined as one who “has an employer-employee relationship with respect to employees under this part, as indicated by the fact that it may hire, pay, fire, supervise, or otherwise control the work of any such employee …” (emphasis added). Consistent with Clackamas, Darden, and Chin, the fact that an employer “may” control the work of an employee, instead of “must,” proves that it is only the right to control rather than the actual exercise of the right that is determinative of an employer-employee relationship. In Mr. Narasimhalu’s case, his contract with Delta expressly provides that Delta has the complete right to control his work. Additionally, the entity controlling the location where Mr. Narasimhalu will perform his work, Nabco Entrances, Inc., disaffirms having any right to control Mr. Narasimhalu’s work and fully corroborates that Delta has the complete right to control Mr. Narasimhalu’s work and will control his work. Thus, it was arbitrary and capricious to decide that Delta lacks an employer-employee relationship with Mr. Narasimhalu.

The plaintiffs also argue that USCIS erred in concluding that the job of computer systems analyst was not a specialty occupation where it is undisputed that most computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in a computer related field. As a reminder, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1) provides that if a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position, then that position qualifies as a specialty occupation. Citing to Next Generation Tech., Inc. v. Johnson, No. 15 cv 5663 (DF), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165531, at *30-31 (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 29, 2017), the complaint emphasizes that if “most” computer systems analysts have a bachelor’s degree in the appropriate field, as is provided in the OOH, then it follows that the degree is “normally” required for the position, and thus, the position qualifies as a specialty occupation. Furthermore, in its decision, USCIS pointed out, as a basis for its denial, that “computer system[s] analysts have degrees in a wide range of unrelated degrees including computer related degrees, business degrees and liberal arts degrees.” Citing to (Redacted Decision) 2012 WL 4713226 (AAO February 08, 2012), the complaint notes that consistent with the Next Generation Tech reasoning, the AAO has explained in at least 2,415 unpublished decisions that “USCIS regularly approves H-1B petitions for qualified aliens who are to be employed as engineers, computer scientists, certified public accountants, college professors, and other such occupations.” For computer scientists, for example, the OOH provides that “[m]ost computer and information research scientists need a master’s degree in computer science or a related subject, such as computer engineering.” (emphasis added). This illustrates that, provided the specialties are closely related, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or higher in more than one specialty satisfies the “degree in the specific specialty” requirement of INA § 214(i)(1)(8). In reversing the CSC’s denial of a petition, a U.S. District Court said that the “premise that the title of a field of study controls ignores the realities of the statutory language involved and the obvious intent behind them. The knowledge and not the title of the degree is what is important. Diplomas rarely come bearing occupation-specific majors.” Residential Fin. Corp. v. United States Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 839 F. Supp. 2d 985, 996 (S.D. Ohio 2012). The complaint makes clear that both USCIS and the courts have repeatedly held that where most employers in an occupation require a bachelor’s degree in a narrow range of majors, or a related major, or its equivalent, it is a specialty occupation. Since it is undisputed that most computer systems analysts hold degrees in a computer related area, USCIS did not act in accordance with the law in deciding the position not to be a specialty occupation.

Attorneys who also face this obstacle should similarly challenge an H-1B denial directly in federal court in order to avoid wasting any time. Under Darby v. Cisneros, 509 U.S. 137 (1993) it is permissible to bypass the AAO and challenge the denial in federal court where exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required by law. Some examples of recent successful litigation include Next Generation Tech., Inc. v. Johnson, No. 15 cv 5663 (DF), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165531 (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 29, 2017) and Raj & Co. v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 85 F. Supp. 3d 1241 (2015). In Next Generation Tech., the court failed to see a rational connection between the evidence in the OOH stating that “most computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree” and USCIS’s conclusion that “computer programmers are not normally required to have a bachelor’s degree.” 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165531 at *20-21.The Court found that USCIS did not present a fair reading of the OOH and failed to satisfactorily explain its determination that a computer programmer was not a specialty occupation. Id. at *21-22. In Raj & Co., the Court found that USCIS abused its discretion in determining that a position for a market research analyst did not come within the first criterion of the regulation of a specialty occupation. 85 F. Supp. 3d at 1246. The Court reasoned that USCIS impermissibly narrowed the plain language of the statute when it concluded that a bachelor’s degree being typical did not require the degree as a minimum for entry into the occupation. Id. at 1247. Even if the USCIS invokes the lack of an employer-employee relationship as a ground for denial when an H-1B worker is assigned to a client site, one should point out that the goal of USCIS’s latest policy memo concerning third party relationships is to exercise more scrutiny on contractual arrangements with third parties rather than deny the legitimacy of such an arrangement. The USCIS in its policy memo acknowledges that such arrangements may be a legitimate and frequently used business model under the H-1B visa program. These cases show that it is unjustified to deny highly qualified foreigners the opportunity to work in specialty occupations in the United States based on a narrowed reading of the OOH. Hopefully, with continued pushback, the federal courts will put an end to such arbitrary denials.

Another reason to sue is that advocacy is no longer effective with the Trump administration. Although there are good policy arguments to approve legitimate H-1B visa petitions in a full employment economy as it makes U.S. employers more competitive, resulting in further jobs, they make no difference if high level immigration officials are driven by another agenda based on white nationalism and xenophobia. The same officials who spend their time conjuring up restrictive policies for purposes of denying H-1B petitions will need to focus their efforts in defending litigation within an agency with a finite budget. Moreover, challenging a denial under the APA is not as time consuming as it seems as there is generally no discovery, depositions, or interrogatories, although there may be some exceptions. It requires drafting a complaint, researching and writing a motion for summary judgment, reviewing and opposing the government’s motion for summary judgment and drafting a reply brief. Business immigration lawyers and their clients have generally refrained from suing. This is understandable as litigation is time consuming and a federal court may still give deference to the government’s reasoning behind a denial. We can try to overcome denials by responding to RFEs and appealing to the AAO. But after that, if you still want to show that you are right and the government has gotten it completely wrong, then it may be time to sue the government. Federal judges may have a different reaction than the typical USCIS adjudicator. They may be shocked and viscerally angry at the way the USCIS is interpreting the law and may just about reverse the denial!

Update: After the blog was posted, it was noticed that the complaint in Delta Information Systems, Inc. v. USCIS had been voluntarily dismissed. Michael Piston has informed the authors that a new complaint will be refiled with the beneficiary as the plaintiff. Further Update: On April 3, 2018, the complaint was refiled on behalf of the Beneficiary, Mr. Narasimhalu, as the plaintiff. The complaint asserts that plaintiff has standing to bring an action where he suffered an injury in fact, there is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

Eleyteria Diakopoulos  is a student at Brooklyn Law School and is presently an Extern at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC. The authors also thank Sophia Genovese and David Isaacson for their assistance.

The Draconian Documentation Regime For Third Party Arrangements in H-1B Visa Petitions

The attacks on the H-1B visa program by the Trump administration continue unabated. On February 22, 2018,  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  published a policy memorandum entitled Contracts and Itineraries Requirements for H-1B Petitions Involving Third-Party Worksites (Third-Party Memo) clarifying that USCIS may request detailed documentation to ensure that a legitimate employer-employee relationship is maintained while an employee is working at a third-party worksite.

USCIS said this clarifies existing regulatory requirements relating to H-1B petitions filed for workers who will be employed at one or more third-party worksites. “This policy memorandum makes clear that employers must provide contracts and itineraries for employees who will work at a third-party location,” USCIS said. The guidance explains that for an H-1B petition involving a third-party worksite to be approved, the petitioner must show by a preponderance of evidence that, among other things:

  • The beneficiary will be employed in a specialty occupation; and
  • The employer will maintain an employer-employee relationship with the beneficiary for the duration of the requested validity period.

When H-1B beneficiaries are placed at third-party worksites, petitioners must demonstrate that they have specific and non-speculative qualifying assignments in a specialty occupation for that beneficiary for the entire time requested on the petition, the guidance states. While an H-1B petition may be approved for up to three years, USCIS will, in its discretion, generally limit the approval period to the length of time demonstrated that the beneficiary will be placed in non-speculative work and during which the petitioner will maintain the requisite employer-employee relationship.

In a related news release to the Third-Party Memo, USCIS said the updated policy guidance aligns with President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order and directive to protect the interests of U.S. workers. “Employment-based petitioners who circumvent the worker protections outlined in the nation’s immigration laws not only injure U.S. workers (e.g., their wages and job opportunities), but also the foreign workers for whom they are petitioning,” the release stated.

Although the purpose of the Third-Party Memo is to exercise more scrutiny on contractual arrangements with third parties, the USCIS acknowledges that such arrangements may be a legitimate and frequently used business model under the H-1B visa program.  The arrangement typically involves a third-party client who solicits service providers to deliver a product or fill a position at their worksite. In some cases, the petitioner may place the H-1B worker directly with the client. In other cases, there may be one or more intermediaries between the petitioner and the end client, commonly referred to as vendors. As the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary becomes more attenuated through intermediaries such as contractors, vendors or brokers, there is a greater need for the petitioner to specifically trace how it will maintain an employer-employee relationship with the beneficiary. For the very first time, the Third-Party Memo drills further into vendor concepts and acknowledges the role of “primary vendors” who have an established or preferred relationship with a client, or “implementing vendors,” who bid on IT projects with a client and then implement the contract using their own staff. Primary and implementing vendors will turn to secondary vendors to fill staffing needs on individual projects. USCIS acknowledges that the ultimate client project may be staffed by a team of H-1B beneficiaries who were petitioned by different, unrelated employers.   USCIS will need corroborating evidence to substantiate a claim of actual work in a specialty occupation, such as contracts and work orders, including documentation to show the relationship between the petitioner, intervening vendors and the end client.

The need to document such third-party arrangements is not new. The USCIS has used Donald Neufeld’s January 2010 guidance (“Neufeld Memo”) to provide a framework for demonstrating that an employer-employee relationship exists.  According to the Neufeld Memo, “The petitioner will have met the relationship test, if, in the totality of the circumstances, a petitioner is able to present evidence to establish its right to control the beneficiary’s employment. In assessing the requisite degree of control, the officer should be mindful of the nature of the petitioner’s business and the type of work of the beneficiary.” The Neufeld Memo emphasized the need for the petitioner to demonstrate its right to control the employment of the H-1B worker. As the relationship got more attenuated through intermediaries, USCIS has questioned the petitioner’s right of control over the beneficiary’s employment through requests for evidence. The new policy guidance recognizes the existence of intermediaries such as vendors as legitimate under the H-1B visa program. However, the Third-Party Memo suggests that in addition to contracts and work orders, the petitioner may be able to demonstrate that the beneficiary has an actual work assignment in a specialty occupation by providing a combination of the following or similar types of following evidence:

  • Evidence of actual work assignments, which may include technical documentation, milestone tables, marketing analysis, cost-benefit analysis, brochures, and funding documents.
  • Copies of relevant, signed contractual agreements between the petitioner and all other companies involved in the beneficiary’s placement, if the petitioner has not directly contracted with the third-party worksite.
  • Copies of detailed statements of work or work orders signed by an authorized official or the ultimate end-client companywhere the work will actually be performed by the beneficiary. The statement should detail the specialized duties the beneficiary will perform, the qualifications that are required to perform the job duties, the duration of the job, and the hours to be worked.
  • A letter signed by an authorized official of each ultimate end-client company where the beneficiary will actually work. The lettershould provide information, such as a detailed description of the specialized duties the beneficiary will perform, the qualifications required to perform those duties, the duration of the job, salary or wages paid, hours worked, benefits, a detailed description of who will supervise the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s duties, and any other related evidence.

(Emphasis added.)

The need to submit detailed statements from the end-client company documentation regarding the specialized duties that the H-1B beneficiary will perform, as well as the qualifications that are required to perform those duties, would be extremely onerous. Since the end-client is not the ultimate employer of the beneficiary, most clients would be reluctant to provide such letters. Indeed, providing such letters would be tantamount to acknowledging an employment relationship with the beneficiary, which the end client has avoided by arranging to contract with the petitioner or intervening vendors for a project or to fill positions.

Requiring the end client to provide a detailed discussion of the assignment and its requirements would directly contradict the Neufeld Memo, which insists that the employer has the right of control over the H-1B beneficiary’s employment. If the end client sets the requirements for the position, then the end client would be acting as the employer and controlling the H-1B worker’s employment. This would have other implications for the end client under a joint employer liability theory, and it would not be surprising for an end client to be reluctant in providing a detailed statement about the position and its requirements, especially when its relationship with the petitioner is attenuated through layers of vendors. However, in Defensor v. Meissner, 201 F.3d 384 (5th Cir 2000), the Fifth Circuit held that if the H-1B worker is placed at a third-party client site, it is important to demonstrate that both the petitioning employer and the client require a bachelor’s degree in a specialized field. The USCIS frequently cites   Defensor v. Meissner in requests for evidence requiring further details about the position from the end client even while it requests evidence relating to the petitioning employer’s right of control over the H-1B worker’s employment at the client’s worksite. In some ways, Defensor v. Meissner contradicts the requirements under the Neufeld Memo, although immigration practitioners are not unfamiliar in playing the role of contortionist when making arguments on behalf of clients that are subject to the USCIS’s contradictory requirements! Perhaps the conflict between Defensor v. Meissner and the Neufeld Memo can be reconciled because the petitioner must demonstrate that it has the right of ultimate control over the H-1B worker’s employment in order to demonstrate the employer-employee relationship even though there could be more immediate control by the client at its worksite.

When the end client is reluctant to issue further details of the H-1B worker’s employment, the supplementary guidance to the Neufeld Memo issued in March 12 2012 (March 2012 Supplementary Guidance) could also come to the rescue.  USCIS noted that the Third-Party Memo is intended to be read together with the Neufeld Memo and as a complement to that policy. The March 2012 Supplementary Guidance further clarifies that a petition involving a third-party worksite may be approved if the petitioner can demonstrate that it will retain the right to control the beneficiary. A number of different forms of documentation may be provided to demonstrate that a right to control exists, such as a letter from the end-client, but such a letter is not an actual requirement.  Question 5 of the March 2012 Guidance states as follows:

Q5: Am I required to submit a letter or other documentation from the end-client that identifies the beneficiary to demonstrate that a valid employer-employee relationship will exist between the petitioner and beneficiary if the beneficiary will perform services at an end-client/third-party location?

A5: No. While documents from the end-client may help USCIS determine whether a valid employer-employee relationship will exist, this type of documentation is not required. You may submit a combination of any documents to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the required relationship will exist. The types of evidence listed in the memorandum are not exhaustive. Adjudicators will review and weigh all the evidence submitted to determine whether you have met your burden in establishing that a qualifying employer-employee relationship will exist. (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, Question 13 of the March 2012 Guidance states as follows:

Q13: The memorandum provides an example of when a computer consulting company had not established a valid employer-employee relationship. Are there any situations in which a consulting company or a staffing company would be able to establish a valid employer-employee relationship?

A13: Yes. A consulting company or staffing company may be able to establish that a valid employer-employee relationship will exist, including where the beneficiary will be working at a third-party worksite, if the petitioning consulting or staffing company can demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that it has the right to control the work of the beneficiary. Relevant factors include, but are not limited to, whether the petitioner will pay the beneficiary’s salary; whether the petitioner will determine the beneficiary’s location and relocation assignments (i.e. where the beneficiary is to report to work); and whether the petitioner will perform supervisory duties such as conducting performance reviews, training, and counseling for the beneficiary. The memorandum provides a non-exhaustive list of types of evidence that could demonstrate an employer-employee relationship. (Emphasis added.)

Questions & Answers: USCIS Issues Guidance Memorandum on Establishing the “Employee-Employer Relationship” in H-1B Petitions, rev. March 2012.

Despite the issuance of the Third-Party Memo insisting on further details about the H-1B worker’s job duties and requirements from the end client, petitioners may also want to point to the March 2012 Supplementary Guidance to the Neufeld Memo, which has not been reversed. Thus, when a document may not be available, a petitioner can point to the March 2012 Supplementary Guidance and provide a combination of any documents to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the employer-employee relationship will exist. The Third-Party Memo puts additional obstacles. It rescinds a prior 1995 policy guidance and insists that a precise itinerary be submitted that requires services to be performed in more than one location. The prior guidance only required general statements, but the Third-Party Memo requires exact dates of employment and the locations of the services to be performed. The itinerary should detail when and where the beneficiary will be performing the services, and the Third-Party Memo sternly asserts that there can be no exception from the regulatory requirement at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(2)(i)(B).

On the other hand, the itinerary should only be required when the services will be performed at more than one location. If the H-1B worker will only be placed at only one client location, then there should be no insistence on an itinerary by the USCIS.  If the work assignment should change later and cannot be anticipated at the time of filing the H-1B petition, resulting in a change of location, Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC, 26 I&N Dec. 542 (AA0 2015), has already contemplated this and requires an employer to file an amended H-1B petition if the change of location requires a new Labor Condition Application. The USCIS should not be asking for an itinerary when the new job location cannot be anticipated, but the petitioner will file an amendment pursuant to Matter of Simeio Solutions. But under the Third-Party Memo, if the documentation does not clearly indicate that the work assignment will last for the duration of the proposed H-1B validity period, the petition may be approved for less than three years. At the time of filing an H-1B extension, if the petitioner cannot establish that the petitioner met the H-1B requirements when the worker was placed at the client site, including maintaining the right to control the beneficiary’s employment, the Third-Party Memo suggests that the extension may be denied even if it approved the new petition.

The H-1B visa has long been identified in the mind of its many critics with India, perhaps because of the vigorous use of this visa by Indian nationals, particularly in the IT industry. The Neufeld Memo, along with Matter of Simeio and now the Third-Party Memo, which was inspired by President Trump’s Buy American Hire American Executive Order,   is a direct attack on the business model whose consistent efficiency has promoted reliability and quality in the IT industry, a condition whose existence is directly due to the ability of major technology companies in the United States and throughout the industrialized world to obtain top-drawer talent quickly with flexibility and at affordable prices that benefit end consumers,  promote diversity of product development and more jobs for Americans.  This is what the oft-criticized “job shop” readily provides, which has been recognized as a legitimate business model in the Third-Party Memo. By making possible a source of expertise that can be modified and redirected in response to changing demand, uncertain budgets, shifting corporate priorities and unpredictable fluctuations in the business cycle itself, the “job shop” is, in reality, the engine of technological ingenuity on which progress in the global information age largely depends.  While most would not want to openly admit it, one wonders whether this business model would be so maligned and attacked if it was developed in a Scandinavian country rather than India. Indian H-1B workers have been unfairly disparaged even in the media for displacing American workers as we saw in the Disney episode (see my prior blog, Putting Disney and H-1B Visas in Perspective) without any regard to the benefits these H-1B workers ultimately bring to the American economy.  The fact that the USCIS seeks to restrict this development, rather than to nurture it not only reflects the chronically insular character of U.S. immigration policy but the new siege mentality under the Trump administration that has deprived the nation and its economic system of the capacity for job creation and growth that would otherwise benefit us all. Nowhere is this fortress mentality more evident than in the draconian document regime that was first established under the Neufeld Memo and continues to build up under the Third-Party Memo, where the lines between rhetoric and reality have become blurred, if not totally erased. Yet, even here, the increasingly difficult to comply requirements through successive policy memoranda, including the latest Third-Party Memo, cannot shield American workers from the winds of change that will continue to blow. Far better would it be for the Trump administration and USCIS to welcome what must come by shedding the shibboleths of Buy American Hire American and thereby place such winds at our back.

(The author acknowledges the assistance of Eleyteria Diakopoulous who is a student in the JD program at Brooklyn Law School and is presently an Extern at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC)