HALCYON DAYS IN H-1B VISA PROCESSING

Much has already been written to deservedly criticize the USCIS Memo by Donald Neufeld dated January 8, 2010 (Neufeld Memo), http://tiny.cc/z3ZU8, which suddenly undermines the ability of IT consulting firms to file H-1B visas, http://cyrusmehta.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-uscis-memo-on-employer-employee.html. The latest is an excellent blog post from my friend and colleague, Angelo Paparelli, http://blogs.ilw.com/angelopaparelli/2010/02/my-entry.html, who shows how the Neufeld Memo is a thinly veiled attempt to kill a successful business model that have benefited American businesses. Our firm is beginning to see Requests for Evidence that regurgitate the language of the Neufeld Memo regardless of the substantial evidence submitted that established the nexus between the IT consulting firm and its client. Winning the H-1B visa petition filed by an IT consulting company used to be tough, but it has never been more challenging since the issuance of the Neufeld Memo. We hark back at the days when interpretations from the prior Immigration and Naturalization Service, although not a piece of cake, were far more reasonable and commonsensical.

The H-1B worker likely to be most severely jeopardized by the sudden shift in policy brought by the Neufeld Memo is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition under the EB-2 from India or China, or EB-3 from any country (especially India which is more backlogged than other countries), who must file many extensions of H-1B status while waiting endlessly for immigrant visa availability. Suddenly, this time around while requesting for the H-1B extension well beyond six years under Sections 104 (c) or 106(a) of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, the petitioner must overcome the disqualifying example, cited in the Neufeld Memo, of a third party placement where “the beneficiary reports to a manager who works for the third-party company. The beneficiary does not report to the petitioner for work assignments, and all work assignments are determined by the third-party company. The petitioner does not control how the beneficiary will complete daily tasks, and no proprietary information of the petitioner is used by the beneficiary to complete any work assignments.” Such an H-1B will likely fail since the petitioner, according to the Memo, has no right of control over the beneficiary. And even when such an IT company can demonstrate a right of control over its employee (even if the day to day assignments are overseen by the client), an adjudicator can rely on the Neufeld Memo, which will give him or her sufficient leeway to arbitrarily deny the H-1B extension request. In the recent past, it was necessary to show a link between the petitioner and the client company. Now the Neufeld Memo wants more – this esoteric right of control – which may be most difficult to establish in the context of an IT consulting firm if it does not have its own proprietary product or methodology.

We look back with dreamy eyed nostalgia at earlier guidance. A 1995 memo by the then Assistant Commissioner of legacy INS, Michael L. Aytes, Interpretations of Itinerary in H-1B Petitions, HQADN (1995), more sensibly recognized that a contractor who paid the H-1B worker at all times remained an employer. Mr. Aytes advised:

Since the purpose of the regulation is merely to insure [sic] that the alien has an actual job in the United States, the itinerary requirement…can be met in a number of ways…the regulation does not require that the employer provide the Service with the exact dates and places of employment. As long as the officer is convinced of the bona fide[s] of the petitioner’s intentions with respect to the alien’s employment, the itinerary requirement has been met. The itinerary does not have to be so specific as to list each and every day of the alien’s employment in the United States. Service officers are encouraged to use discretion in determining whether the petitioner has met the burden of establishing that it has an actual employment opportunity for the alien.

With respect to the employer-employee relationship, Mr. Aytes in the good old days of 1995 reasoned so differently from Mr. Neufeld in 2010:

In the case of an H-1B petition filed by an employment contractor, Service officers are reminded that all prospective H-1B employers have promised the Department of Labor through the labor condition application process that they will pay the alien by appropriate wage even during periods of time when the alien is on travel or between assignments. Since the contractor remains the employer and is paying the alien’s salary, this constitutes employment for purposes of H-1B classification.

Mr. Aytes’ guidance on determining the employer of an H-1B petition, based on who pays the alien’s salary, was so much simpler and consistent with real world economic reality and tax law. Take a look at this Op-Ed in last Sunday’s NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/opinion/21shulman.html?scp=5&sq=shulman&st=cse, drawing attention to Section 1706 (especially after the plane crash by a computer programmer pilot into the IRS building in Austin), which specifically requires people in the IT consulting industry to be treated as employees and not as independent contractors, and excludes computer programmers from the safe harbor Form 1099 requirement under Section 560 of the IRC. The Neufeld Memo assumes, in contradiction of Section 1706, that H-1B programmers are not considered employees of the IT staffing firm, when Congress specifically directed them to be treated as such, at least for tax purposes, under 1706. Moreover, in a letter dated October 23, 2003 to Lynn Shotwell, Efren Hernandez III, then Director, Business and Trade Branch of USCIS recognized that if a new LCA was obtained as a result of a change in work location after the H-1B petition was filed, an amendment to the H-1B petition was not required. It is noted that the Neufeld Memo also contradicts DOL regulations that allow an H-1B worker to be placed for 30 or 60 days without the need to obtain a new LCA. 20 C.F.R. § 655.735(c). All this points out to the fact that an employer who assigns employees at third party sites, contrary to the Neufeld Memo, need not determine the location of every job site when filing the H-1B petition.

When a management consulting firm that may either use employees in-house to work on various client projects, or station its employees at client sites for extended periods of time, files H-1B petitions on behalf of prospective employees, it is not expected that such a firm will pinpoint every client engagement in which an H-1B employee may be involved and every client site at which an H-1B employee may be stationed. Similarly, when a law firm that may use associates in-house to handle various client matters, or station associates at client corporations for extended periods of time, files an H-1B petition, it is not expected that such a firm will pinpoint every client engagement in which an H-1B employee may be involved, and every client site at which an H-1B employee may be stationed. The rules do not differ for IT consulting firms in this respect simply because its business is software development and consulting rather than management consulting or the practice of law. And in the event of a lag between work assignments, INA 212(n)(2)(C)(vii) and 20 C.F.R. §655.731(c)(7)(i) prohibit an employer from “benching” and must continue to pay the required wage. Congress contemplated time lags between assignments, and enacted a law that required the employer to pay during the unproductive period.

We demand that USCIS immediately withdraw the Neufeld Memo and to revert back to the halcyon days of Mr. Aytes’ 1995 guidance. The Neufeld Memo not only hurts the competitiveness of U.S. business but also jeopardizes the status of H-1B workers who are waiting endlessly for the green card. If there were no backlogs in the EB quotas, they would be permanent residents by now and would not be needlessly harassed by the Neufeld Memo when applying for the next round of H-1B extensions.

WILL THE NOTICE OF ENTRY OF APPEARANCE REQUIREMENT BY AN ATTORNEY HINDER PRO BONO ASSISTANCE TO IMMIGRANTS?

By
Cyrus D. Mehta
* and Myriam Jaidi**

 

On February 2, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published an interim rule, (available at http://tiny.cc/GvK9A), which adopts the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) rule at 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 1003.102 that provides grounds to discipline practitioners for ethical violations. One specific provision, § 1003.102(t), which is the focus of this article, sanctions practitioners for failing to file a Notice of Entry of Appearance or sign pleadings, applications, motions or other filings if they have been engaged in practice and preparation.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) rules at 8 CFR § 1003.102, which were revised on January 20, 2009, significantly expanded the grounds under which a practitioner who practices before the EOIR can be disciplined. These rules can be found on the USCIS website at http://tiny.cc/j1rrs and will become part of the new DHS rule on March 4, 2010, and will extend to practitioners who practice before all of the components of DHS in immigration matters. This article raises preliminary questions about the impact of the specific section, 8 CFR § 1003.102(t), on pro bono clinics and services and illustrates that practitioners need further clarification from DHS to ensure that the rule does not undermine the provision of quality pro bono services.

Immigration practitioners are encouraged, even challenged, to take on pro bono representation and to participate in pro bono clinics. These clinics do a yeoman’s job in providing desperately needed assistance to indigent individuals who are unable to afford counsel and often require assistance on applications that are relatively straight forward and tend to require a simple, though thorough, review by an immigration attorney to spot important issues. In some clinics, non-attorney volunteers also assist in the filling up of applications that are supervised by volunteer lawyers. Typical examples of such applications are the N-400 for naturalization and more recently in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the I-829 for Temporary Protected Status applicable to Haitian nationals. The need is significant and has prompted Second Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann and Second Circuit judicial nominee Denny Chin (currently a Federal District Court judge in the Southern District of New York) to bring together judges, private practitioners from large firms and solo offices, academics, clinicians, legal aid providers, and grievance committee members to study what could be done to promote good legal representation for low income immigrants. The reports of the study group are available here, http://tiny.cc/t95Wm.

The rule DHS will adopt on March 4, 2010 and which concerns us here, 8 CFR § 1003.102 (t), sanctions a practitioner who:

t) Fails to submit a signed and completed Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative in compliance with applicable rules and regulations when the practitioner:

(1) Has engaged in practice or preparation as those terms are defined in §§1001.1(i) and (k), and

(2) Has been deemed to have engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to submit such forms, in compliance with applicable rules and regulations. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in each case where the respondent is represented, every pleading, application, motion, or other filing shall be signed by the practitioner of record in his or her individual name…

The terms “practice” and “preparation” are defined in new sections 8 CFR § 1.1 (i) and (k), as follows:

The term practice means the act or acts of any person appearing in any case, either in person or through the preparation or filing of any brief or other document, paper, application, or petition on behalf of another person or client before or with DHS.

The term preparation, constituting practice, means the study of the facts of a case and the applicable laws, coupled with the giving of advice and auxiliary activities, including the incidental preparation of papers, but does not include the lawful functions of a notary public or service consisting solely of assistance in the completion of blank spaces on printed DHS forms, by one whose remuneration, if any, is nominal and who does not hold himself or herself out as qualified in legal matters or in immigration and naturalization procedure.

As is quite evident, “practice” and especially “preparation” have been defined broadly to encompass pro bono assistance that an attorney may provide at a clinic where he or she may assist numerous individuals in understanding the requirements of and filling out particular applications. After these forms are completed, the applicant is responsible for submitting the application on his or her own to the appropriate filing address. Does this mean that a pro bono volunteer attorney needs to submit a notice of entry of appearance and sign his or her name on, for example, the I-829 or N-400 form? Given that these clinics often include a system whereby some volunteers check individuals in to determine whether they have the necessary documents with them, other volunteers may rove and answer questions raised by individuals as they complete the forms on their own, and another set of volunteers who do a final review of the application and documents, which of these volunteers would be required to sign as the preparer or put in the G-28?

Clearly, this rule was not intended to target pro bono lawyers who render assistance at a pro bono clinic for a deserving cause. The preamble to the proposed rule that sought to expand the grounds for disciplining practitioners in 8 CFR §1003.102, published in the Federal Register at page 44183 (http://tiny.cc/N3Jkt) states,

This provision is intended to address the growing problem of practitioners who seek to avoid the responsibilities of formal representation by routinely failing to submit the required notice of entry appearance forms. Furthermore, the difficulties in pursuing a practitioner for discipline for participating in the preparation of false or misleading documents are apparent when the practitioner fails to submit a completed notice of entry of appearance.

Nevertheless, without clarification, it appears that pro bono attorneys may need to submit a notice of appearance or to sign forms as preparers under 8 CFR § 1003.102(t).

While 8 CFR § 1003.102(t)(2) appears to make the failure to file a notice of entry of appearance a ground of discipline only applicable to one who is deemed to have “engaged in a pattern and practice of failing to submit such forms,” the signing of the form by the practitioner in his or her name is a separate requirement in the next sentence of § 1003.102(t)(2). That sentence indicates that the attorney would be required to sign the forms only where “the respondent is represented . . . by the practitioner of record.” However, considering that “the term representation . . . includes practice and preparation as defined in paragraphs (i) and (k),” 8 CFR § 1.1(m), what triggers the signature requirement is unclear. Overall, the rules do not provide clear guidance as to whether a pro bono attorney who is participating in a clinic to assist individuals who will submit forms pro se must sign as preparer.

The scope of acts that may fall under the rule must be clarified, given that the definition of “practice” includes not just a person appearing in a case, but also includes, through the added definition of “preparation” activities such as “the study of the facts of a case and the applicable laws, coupled with the giving of advice and auxiliary activities, including the incidental preparation of papers…” This definition is broad enough to include acts such as an attorney giving only brief advice through a consultation. Under those circumstances it is virtually impossible for such an attorney to submit a notice of entry of appearance if nothing is prepared or filed after the conclusion of such brief advice. On the other hand, if an attorney assists in the preparation of a motion, pleading or application, or reviews an application prepared pro se by the applicant, in addition to giving the brief advice, and even if the applicant will ultimately file pro se, it would trigger the requirement, at the very minimum, of the attorney signing his or her individual name on the application.

Although the regulations do not target pro bono attorneys, language in the preamble to the EOIR proposed rule indicates that pro bono attorneys are meant to be covered by the rule if their actions are found to fall within the definitions of “practice” and/or “preparation”:

11. Section 1003.102(t)–Notice of Entry of Appearance

Comment . One commenter thought that the proposed provision was too broad because it subjects practitioners who provide pro bono services to discipline if they do not sign pleadings or submit a Form EOIR-27 or EOIR-28. The commenter suggested that disciplinary sanctions only be imposed when filings demonstrate a lack of competence or preparation, or the practitioner has undertaken “full client services.” Another commenter approved of this change, but suggested that pro se aliens be provided notice of this requirement in their own language and that immigration judges inform all who appear before the court of the requirement.

Response. The Department believes that all practitioners should submit Forms EOIR-27 and EOIR-28, and sign all filings made with EOIR, in cases where practitioners engage in “practice”’ or “preparation” as those words are defined in 8 CFR 1001.1(i) and (k). It is appropriate to require practitioners who engage in “practice” or “preparation,” whether it is for a fee or on a pro bono basis, to enter a notice of appearance and sign any filings submitted to EOIR. As stated in the supplemental information to the proposed rule, this provision is meant to advance the level of professional conduct in immigration matters and foster increased transparency in the client-practitioner relationship. Any practitioner who accepts responsibility for rendering immigration-related services to a client should be held accountable for his or her own actions, including the loss of the privilege of practice before EOIR, when such conduct fails to meet the minimum standards of professional conduct in 8 CFR 1003.102. It is difficult for EOIR to enforce those standards when practitioners fail to enter a notice of appearance or sign filings made with EOIR. However, in an effort to ensure clarity of this ground for discipline, a sentence will be added to this provision that makes it clear that a notice of appearance must be submitted and filings signed in all cases where practitioners engage in “practice” or “preparation.” If a practitioner provides pro bono services that do not meet these definitions, then a notice of appearance is not necessary.

As for the suggestions made by the second commenter, the Department declines to codify in the regulations a rule that requires notice to pro se aliens or anyone appearing before an immigration judge of an attorney’s obligation to enter a Notice of Appearance. The scope of this rule is to provide notice to attorneys of their responsibilities when engaging in practice and preparation before EOIR and to provide grounds for discipline when an attorney fails to carry through on his or her responsibilities.

73 Fed. Reg at 76914 (July 30, 2008). This fact makes clarification essential to the continued viability of pro bono clinics. In order to meet the challenges proclaimed by Judge Katzmann and the needs presented by human crises, such as the recent devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti, pro bono attorneys need to know how to proceed when they assist indigent immigrants in preparing applications.

Clearly, 8 CFR § 1003.102 (t) appears to be in conflict with ABA Opinion 07-446 (May 5, 2007), http://tiny.cc/18eBI, which holds, “A lawyer may provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals ‘pro se’ and help them prepare written submissions without disclosing or ensuring the disclosures of the nature or extent of such assistance.” Although the opinion is not binding and assumes a context in which no law regulates undisclosed advice, it raises the important issues, not contemplated in the preamble or the rule itself, of the right of an individual to proceed pro se without disclosing a lawyer’s involvement, the importance of “unbundling” legal services to allow assistance tailored to a specific need (and this is authorized under ABA Model Rule 1.2(c)), and the question of whether the fact of the assistance is material or the failure to disclose that assistance would constitute fraud in some way.

Although some may question the harm pro bono attorneys are concerned about in signing an application as a preparer, the signing requirement may dissuade volunteers from participating for fear of sanctions or potential litigation against them. Many clinics require individuals seeking assistance to sign a waiver or a limited scope of services agreement in order to protect the sponsoring organization and individuals volunteering from legal action. Most lawyers participating in pro bono clinics do not expect to be sanctioned as a result of reviewing a document or answering simple questions about a form that may be unclear to a non-lawyer. The new rule therefore jeopardizes the availability of pro bono services for the immigrant poor because it fails to clarify the scope of its reach.

The authors suggest that interested bar associations and organizations organizing pro bono clinics around a brief services model send in comments to the DHS rule on or before March 4, 2010 asking for modification of this requirement for pro bono volunteers providing pro se assistance to indigent immigrants.

(The views expressed in this article are solely of the authors and do not represent the views of any of the organizations they have any involvement with, presently or in the past.)

* Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, is the Managing Member of Cyrus D. Mehta & Associates, PLLC in New York City. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School where he will teach a course on Immigration and Work. Mr. Mehta has received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and is listed in Chambers USA, International Who’s Who of Corporate Immigration Lawyers, Best Lawyers and New York Super Lawyers. Mr. Mehta is a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Immigration Law Foundation (2004-2006). He was also the Secretary and member of the Executive Committee (2003-2007) and the Chair of the Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law (2000-2003) of the New York City Bar. He is a frequent speaker and writer on various immigration related topics.
** Myriam Jaidi is an Associate with Cyrus D. Mehta & Associates, PLLC where she represents clients on a full range of employment- and family-based immigration matters. Ms. Jaidi received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Journal of Race & Law and was awarded the Dores McCree Award for Service to the Law School Community. She received her M.A. from Stanford and her B.A. cum laude from Harvard University in History.

RARE GESTURE OF REASONABLENESS TO H-1B FILERS

So USCIS has at long last heard and understood about the hardships that the new iCERT system of DOL was causing H-1B workers. Normally, the USCIS does not care what the DOL does and vice verse, and so this gesture comes as a pleasant surprise.

The new iCERT system consistently denies Labor Condition Applications if it cannot verify the employer’s Federal Employment Identification Number (FEIN) even if it is valid, and the employer has been routinely using this number for years on its tax forms. If one’s H-1B status was about to expire, and iCERT denied the LCA due to an “invalid” FEIN, the employer’s H-1B petition also got denied if it could not be filed with a certified LCA. The poor H-1B worker fell out of status.

USCIS issued today a news bulletin, but dated November 5, 2009, http://tiny.cc/pYEyl, that it would accept an H-1B petition with an uncertified LCA between November 5, 2009 till March 4, 2010. Such a filing, though, will only be accepted if the LCA was filed at least 7 days before the H-1B petition is filed, and there is evidence of such a filing. After the filing, the USCIS will issue a Request for Evidence asking for submission of the certified LCA within 30 days.

We need further clarification. It makes no sense that the LCA should be pending for 7 days. If an LCA is filed, within 2 days, iCERT denies it erroneously for an allegedly invalid FEIN. One then needs to submit proof of the employer’s FEIN such as a document issued by the IRS. After 2-3 days, iCERT indicates that it has verified the FEIN and invites the employer to submit an LCA. Once a new LCA is submitted, it gets certified after another 2-3 days. None of these individual steps take 7 days, but the whole process of filing and receiving an initial denial, submission of proof of the FEIN, and re-submission of the LCA can take longer than 7 days. Hopefully, USCIS should accept an H-1B petition even after the initial LCA was denied and the employer has submitted proof that it has a valid FEIN.

Also, what happens to the unfortunate filers whose H-1Bs were denied because they could not file with a certified LCA prior to this policy change on November 5?

Clearly, the ability to file H-1Bs without a certified LCAs will also increase the number of H-1Bs. As of last count on October 30, 2009, USCIS had received 53,800 H-1B petitions towards the 65,000 cap.

New Indian Immigration Regime for Foreign Nationals in India

*By Poorvi Chothani, Esq.

Recently, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (the MCI), India announced (the MCI Announcement) that business visas cannot be granted to foreign nationals to work on projects or specific contracts in India. The formal announcement also requires all foreign nationals on such visas to leave India and return on employment visas. Initially they were required to leave before the end of September 30, 2009, but the deadline was later extended by the Ministry of Home Affairs by way of a clarification (the MHA Clarification), till October 31, 2009. Individuals who are in India on business visas in connection with investments, joint ventures or buying and selling industrial products can continue to remain in the country. Both the government communications also state that going forward business visas will only be issued for activities specified in their circulars. However, since the circulars were rather ambiguous the Ministry of Home Affairs published a set of frequently asked questions on October 29, 2009 (the FAQs). These provide some clarity but have not resolved all ambiguities.

Companies and expatriates in India are concerned as many of these foreign nationals are currently in India on business visas and are expected to remain in India for short periods usually to train local personnel, hold meetings or supervise the working of the Indian affiliate.

In addition, hundreds of expatriates have received letters from the Indian Government asking them to leave the country before the deadline and return on appropriate employment visas. Even individuals who have not received such letters but are here on project or contract work were required to leave the country. It is important to note that the Indian company or organization that has engaged foreign nationals to execute projects or contracts will be held responsible for the conduct of the foreign national during his or her stay in India and for the departure of such a foreign national.

Business Visas

In order to highlight the impact of these recent changes this article provides background information about the older system.

Generally, business visas were issued for short term visits or for long term stay depending on the individual’s circumstances. Short Term Business Visas is a term used in this article to differentiate it from the business visas that permitted an individual to remain in India for long periods, which are referred to, here, as Long Term Business Visas.

Short Term Business Visas were issued with a validity of six months or longer while permitting a stay of a maximum of 180 days on each visit. Short Term Business Visas were also issued to individuals who wanted to visit India on business for short term assignments. Intra-company transferees often used the Short Term Business Visas to remain in India for training, supervision, execution of projects, migration of work to outsourcing service providers and other activities. Since a Short Term Business Visa permitted a foreign national to remain in India for not more than 180 days, individuals who wished to remain in India for longer periods would depart from the country and return after a brief absence enabling them to stay for additional periods of 180 days. Some companies rotated the deputation of their representatives in India to avoid a stay of 183 days, which would establish an individual as a resident in India for tax purposes. Indian residents are required to pay income tax in India on their world wide income.

Long Term Business Visas were issued with a validity of periods up to 10 years to foreign nationals from specific countries or to those who have set up or intend to set up business ventures in India. Individuals on a Long Term Business Visa were permitted to stay for extended periods without any limitations per visit or on the cumulative period in India.

The MCI Announcement states that business visas may be only granted to individuals in connection with the following activities and in strict compliance with the Visa Manual for Business Visas.

1. Establish industrial or business ventures in India;
2. Explore possibilities to establish industrial or business ventures; or
3. Purchase or sell industrial products in India.

Since individuals who seek to travel to India in connection with a project or contract do not meet the above mentioned criteria they are ineligible for a business visa and are required to apply for employment visas. This in effect eliminates the Short Term Business Visa.

Summary of FAQs Regarding Business Visas

The FAQs published by the MHA confirm that Business Visas may be granted to individuals who wish to establish or explore the possibility of establishing an industrial or business venture in India or wish to purchase or sell industrial products in India. Additionally, the FAQS provide that a Business Visa can be granted subject to a set of criteria including the financial standing and relevant expertise of the applicant. It cannot be granted to an individual who wishes to come to India in connection with money lending or petty trading or to undertake full time employment in India.

The FAQs also specify that the grant of Business Visas will be subject to any instructions that may be issued by the government of India, based on reciprocity with foreign countries.

The FAQs also provide an indicative list of situations where applicants may be granted a Business Visa. Some of the situations are described below:

1. Foreign nationals coming to set up or explore the possibility of setting up a business or industrial venture in India.
2. Foreign nationals coming to India for technical meetings or attending board meetings or other general meetings for business services support.
3. Foreign experts/specialists coming on a short duration in connection with an on-going project with the objective of monitoring progress, conducting meetings or providing high level technical guidance.
4. Foreign national trainees of multinational companies or corporate houses who wish to attend in-house training conducted at the regional hub of the company located in India.
5. Foreign nationals coming to India to purchase/sell industrial products or commercial products or consumer durables.
6. Foreign nationals coming to India to recruit manpower.
7. Foreign nationals who are partners in a business or are on the Board of Directors of an Indian company.
8. Foreign nationals who wish to participate in, or render consulting services with regard to exhibitions, trade fairs, business fairs, etc.
9. Foreign buyers who come to transact business with suppliers, potential suppliers or to evaluate or monitor quality, provide specifications, place orders, negotiate further supplies etc., in connection with goods or services procured from India.
10. Foreign nationals coming to India for pre-sales or post-sales activity not amounting to actual execution of any contract or project.
11. Foreign students sponsored by AIESEC as interns on project based work in Indian companies or industries.

Employment Visas

The MCI Announcement specified that Employment Visas should be issued in “strict conformity with the Visa Manual” and described its salient points, briefly set out below. Employment Visa will be issued only to:

1. Skilled and qualified professionals; or
2. Persons employed by an Indian entity, including a company, organization, industry or undertaking on contract or employment basis at senior level, skilled positions in the capacity of:
a. Technical experts;
b. Senior executives; or
c. Managerial positions.

The MCI Announcement emphasized that Employment Visas should not be granted for jobs in positions where large numbers of qualified Indians are readily available. Also, Employment Visas should not be granted to individuals who will be employed in routine, ordinary, secretarial or clerical jobs in India.

Further, the MCI Announcement requires all consular missions abroad to return Business Visa applications in connection with project or contract work in India requiring the applicant to reapply for an employment visa.

Summary of FAQs Regarding Employment Visas

The FAQs confirm what the MHA had specified in its earlier announcement that Employment Visas can only be granted to skilled and qualified individuals to undertake non-routine, ordinary, secretarial or clerical jobs for which there are already a large number of qualified Indians.

Additionally, the FAQs clarify that a foreign company that does not have a base in India, in the form of a project or branch office, a subsidiary or a joint venture, cannot sponsor an applicant’s Employment Visa. Indian companies that have awarded a contract to a foreign company can sponsor an applicant’s Employment visa. It is important to note that according to the FAQs, if an Indian company sponsors an applicant on an Employment Visa, the Indian company is not necessarily the employer of the foreign national.

The FAQs also provide an indicative list of situations where applicants may be granted an Employment Visa. Some of the situations are described below:

1. Foreign nationals coming to execute a project or contract irrespective of the duration of the visit.
2. Foreign nationals on short visits to customer locations to repair plants or machinery as part of a warranty or maintenance contract.
3. Foreign experts coming to impart training or to provide technical support/services or to take up employment as coaches in India.
4. Foreign nationals coming as consultants for a fixed remuneration.
5. Self-employed foreign nationals providing skilled services like engineering, medical, accounting, legal or such other highly skilled services as independent consultants.
6. Foreign, interpreters, teachers, chefs and artists employed in hotels, clubs or other organizations.
7. Foreign engineers or technicians coming to India for installation and commissioning of equipment, machines or tools that have been supplied under a contract.
8. Foreign personnel traveling to India in connection with technical support, technical services or transfer of know-how for which the Indian company pays fees/royalty to the foreign company.
9. Foreign sportsmen under time bound contracts with local clubs or organizations.
A foreign company or organization that does not have any Project Office, subsidiary, joint venture or branch office in India cannot sponsor a foreign national as an employee of a foreign company for employment in India.

An Indian company or organization which has awarded a contract for execution of a project to a foreign company, which does not have any base in India, can sponsor an Employment Visa for an employee of that foreign company.

Where to Apply

A very important stipulation in the MCI Announcement stated that employment visas could only be obtained in the applicant’s country of origin. Earlier, consular posts issued visas to third country nationals who could prove that they were residents of the host country where they were applying for the visa. The MCI Announcement would have posed an immense burden on long term residents who would need to travel to their country of nationality to obtain an Indian Business or Employment Visa Thankfully, the FAQs have solved this problem and applicants who have resided in a country for two years or more can now apply at an Indian Consular Post in the host country.

Miscellaneous Provisions

It is important to note that the MCI Announcement makes Indian companies engaging foreign nationals responsible for the conduct of the employees and for their departure from the country. Additionally, individuals and/or employers who violate the visa regime will face penalties, which currently include monetary fines, blacklisting of the employers, deportment, ban on re-entry for the individual, and/or imprisonment. The enforcement authorities exercise wide discretionary powers when determining penalties.

A foreign national will also have to comply with all statutory requirements and pay taxes.

Indian Consular Posts may grant an ‘X’ or dependant visas to the family members of a foreign national granted who has been issued a Business Visa or Employment Visa at their discretion, subject to usual security checks provided the family members are otherwise eligible for such visas. ‘X’ Visas granted in conjunction with a principal applicant’s Employment Visa is likely to be issued to co-terminate with the principal visa. In some instances it may be granted for a shorter duration.

The FAQs also provide a list of documents that should be presented in support of each of the categories and indicates the duration of each type of visa.

It is important to note that the MCI Announcement also prescribes specific procedures for the application and issue of employment visas to Chinese nationals.

Conclusion

We have been advising our clients that all foreign nationals who are still present in India on a Business Visa, and the purpose of their visit does not conform to the stipulations of the FAQs, should depart from India on or before 31 October 2009.

These new stipulations will have a significant impact on foreign nationals wanting to visit India on short term assignments. As per the announcement some of these individuals will now require an Employment Visa as opposed to a Short Term Business Visa. Further, the issuance of a Business or Employment Visa will continue to depend upon the discretion of the consular officer. The change in the visa category would definitely have tax and social security ramifications for the foreign nationals and their employers during their stay in India. Additionally, these changes may also generate corporate tax ramifications in rare cases, depending on the nature of the individual’s activities in India.

It is important that companies seeking to assign foreign nationals to India on a short term basis should assess their projects to identify and comply with visa requirements and tax implications. It is expected that the outcome of a business or employment visa, which will be based on evidence submitted at the time of application will be subject to severe scrutiny to determine the caliber of the applicant and the nature of the job or business in India.

*Poorvi Chothani, Esq. is a founder and managing member of LawQuest, a law firm in Mumbai, India. She is admitted to the New York State Bar with an LL.M from the University of Pennsylvania, USA, and is registered as a Solicitor in England and Wales. Poorvi has been practicing law in India since 1984 and is admitted to the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa. She can be reached at poorvi@lawquestinternational.com.
Disclaimer:
The contents of this publication are not a comprehensive consideration of the subjects discussed and are designed to provide preliminary, general information. The Business and Employment Visa Manuals are not available for public inspection. Readers should not conclusively rely on the information as legal advice and should seek independent counsel before any action is taken with respect to these or other specific issues.

WHY IS THE THREE YEAR DEGREE SO PROBLEMATIC IN IMMIGRATION LAW?

A recent article in Newsweek, http://bit.ly/39fduB, notes a trend toward 3 year bachelor’s degree programs in the United States instead of the usual four year program. The main advantage of cutting a year from the 4 year program is to reduce the tuition costs by 25%. Neither the quality nor length of the education gets affected in a 3 year degree program since the program can extend into the summer months over each of the 3 years. Also, the fall to spring academic year is a relic of an era prior to the American Revolution, where students would put down their books and work on the farms during the summer months.

While the Newsweek article suggests that there are good reasons for a shift towards the 3 year degree program, and educational systems in other countries have sensibly followed the 3- year program, possessing a 3 year degree puts a foreign national at a severe disadvantage when being sponsored by a US employer for the green card. Within the employment-based preference system, being classified under the Employment-based Second Preference (EB-2) puts one at a significant advantage over one who is classified under the Employment-based Third Preference (EB-3). There is no backlog in the EB-2 for most countries while the EB-3 is hopelessly backlogged, http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/bulletin/bulletin_4576.html. Even if the EB-2 for countries like India and China is backlogged, it is less so than the EB-3.

To be classified under the EB-2 under Section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the job must require an advanced degree or its equivalent, which the USCIS defines as a bachelor’s degree plus five years of post baccalaureate experience. This is a reasonable interpretation of the equivalency requirement to satisfy the advanced degree under Section 203(b)(2). Unfortunately, under the strained interpretation of Section 203(b)(2) by United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the bachelor’s degree must be a 4 year degree program in the foreign country in order for it to be equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree. If the foreign national possesses a 3 year degree, it would generally not be recognized as being equivalent to a 4 year degree even if the course load during the 3 year program is comparable to the course load of a 4 year program. While the USCIS makes an exception to some 3 year degree programs, such as a U.K. degree, it only does so because the student spends one year in the A-level prior to college, which is comparable to a year in college in the United States. Other 3 year degree programs, such as the Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor of Science degrees of India, do not qualify as being equivalent to a 4 year US degree. To add further insult to injury, even if the holder of a 3 year Indian degree has additional education such as a Charted Accountancy certification or a post-graduate diploma in Computer Science, that would not suffice. The USCIS, especially its Nebraska and Texas Service Centers, which adjudicates I-140 immigrant visa petitions, insist on a single source 4 year degree.

It serves absolutely no public policy purpose for the USCIS to deny EB-2 classification to those who graduate from universities that have 3 year degree programs, even though it can be demonstrated that such a degree may be qualitatively similar to a 4 year US degree. And even if such an individual seeks EB-3 classification, it is imperative that the labor certification properly define what the employer means by a degree that is less than a 4 year bachelor’s degree. Thus, in the above examples, if the employer fails to state on the labor certification that it will accept a 3 year bachelor’s degree plus one or more years of educational course work, the I-140 petition will get denied even if it is filed under EB-3 rather than EB-2. Most of these individuals are here legally in H-1B status and must wait for endless years in the EB-3 to get the green card even though their employers have undertaken a good faith, albeit unsuccessful, test of the domestic labor market. Many out of frustration will leave and return to their home countries, and the United States will be the loser of their valuable skills which were found to be in short supply.

If the USCIS chose to interpret the EB-2 provision, Section 203(b)(2), more broadly and sensibly, there is enough leeway to do so. Also, there is now sufficient evidence even in the US of 3 year degree programs. On the other hand, if the agency still desires to cling onto its narrow interpretation, which has caused needless hardship to 3-year degree holders, Congress must step in and clarify the degree equivalency requirement under EB-2. Indeed, the degree equivalency requirement to establish eligibility for an H-1B visa is so much more sensible as it allows the foreign national to combine education and experience to demonstrate the equivalency of a US 4 year degree. The same standards of equivalency ought to apply when the foreign national is being sponsored by an employer for permanent residency.