NATURALIZING IN A FLAT WORLD

by
Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the world seems to be getting far more flat than what Tom Friedman originally envisaged with people being able to deliver services and products to the US and other countries from anywhere via the internet. Also, coinciding with this flat world is the most severe US recession in living memory, which compels people, including immigrants, to find jobs in other parts of the world and yet remain firmly rooted with the US.

Gone are the days when immigrants came to the US in sailboats and steamships, destined never to return home. In today’s globalized flat world, with access to cheap direct flights across continents, broadband internet, Blackberries, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and video conferencing, an immigrant can continue to maintain deep ties and bonds even if absent from the country. It is quite typical for a US company to assign its key employee, a freshly minted green card holder, working in the US to set up operations in Mumbai or Shanghai for a few years, with the intention of ultimately returning to the US. Yet, this person’s ability to become a US citizen can get jeopardized as a result of this overseas assignment. In our previous article on a related subject, Home Is Where The Card Is: How To Preserve Lawful Permanent Resident Status In A Global Economy, 13 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin 849 (July 1, 2008), we focused on strategies to preserve permanent residence. In this blog post, we examine the tension between our citizenship laws and the global economy, and the challenges it poses to those who desire to naturalize.

An applicant must meet certain threshold eligibility criteria in order to become a US citizen. Pursuant to § 316(a) of the Immigration & Naturalization Act (INA), the applicant must establish that immediately preceding the filing of the application, he or she has resided continuously within the US for at least five years after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence. If the applicant has been in marital union with a US citizen spouse for three years, the continuous residence requirement is three years instead of five years. Moreover, under INA § 316(a), the applicant must also establish that he or she has been physically present in the US for periods totaling at least half of that time and has resided within the State or district of the Service where the applicant filed the application for at least three months.

Furthermore, INA § 316(a)(2) also requires the applicant to establish that he or she has resided continuously within the US from the date of the application up to the time of citizenship. INA § 316(a)(3) requires the applicant to establish, inter alia, that he or she is still a person of good moral character during the relevant 5 or 3-year period.

INA § 316(b) states that an absence from the US of more than six months but less than one year during the 5-year period immediately preceding the filing of the application may break the continuity of such residence. INA § 316(b) notes that should such a presumption arise, it may be rebutted if the applicant can establish that he or she in fact did not abandon his or her residence during such period.

This is the killer provision, which we focus on in this post, and which creates problem when a permanent resident is based overseas and wishes to naturalize after completing 3 or 5 years, but is not able to continuously reside in the US even though he or she still returns to the country frequently and maintains extensive ties. Naturalization is a most desired goal, since paradoxically, once the person successfully naturalizes, he or she is no longer required to maintain a residence in the US. However, in order to naturalize, the applicant must maintain continuity of residence, and this is often thwarted by the fact that he or she is working overseas. The spouse who is overseas because he or she is accompanying the other spouse and who is often caring for the children, also suffers as a result.

There appear to be two views of what constitutes residence. INA § 101(a)(33) states: “The term ‘residence’ means the place of general abode; the place of general abode of a person means his principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.” Note that the concept of domicile, which considers the applicant’s intent rather than the place where he or she actually lives, is not relevant in determining whether the applicant for naturalization has resided continuously in the US. Under this provision, an applicant may be deemed to not being a resident regardless of the number of days he or she is away from the US. An applicant who is getting nowhere during the naturalization interview because of the examiner’s invocation of § 101(a)(33) should remind the examiner that the statute requires not mere residence but continuous residence in the US, and must point him or her to 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(i), which provides that an absence of between six months and one year shall disrupt the continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish otherwise to the satisfaction of the Service. Thus, unless the applicant was outside the US for six months or more but less than a year, he or she should argue that there was no disruption of continuous residence. Yet the authors have known of naturalization examiners improperly clubbing two back to back lengthy trips although each one was less than 180 days. Remember, if your client did not stay away one year, he or she must be considered a resident of the same state where they lived before leaving. 8 C.F.R. 316.5 (b)(5). See Accardi V. Shaugnessey, 347 US 260(1954); Morton v.Ruiz, 415 US 199, 235 (1974)(“Where the rights of individuals are affected, it is incumbent upon agencies to follow their own procedures.”).

What if the person was out of the US for more than six months and less than a year and has disrupted continuity of residence? Don’t lose hope. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(i) provides examples of the types of documentation which may establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of his or her residence. Specifically, the regulation states that the evidence may include “but [is] not limited to” evidence that during an extended absence:

(A) The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the US;
(B) The applicant’s immediate family remained in the US;
(C) The applicant retained full access to his or her US abode; or
(D) The applicant did not obtain employment while abroad.

In Li v. Chertoff, 490 F.Supp.2d 130 (D. Massachusetts 2007), a federal district court held that an applicant who had absences of more than six months but less than 1 year as a student in Canada did not disrupt the continuity of residence even though she had obtained permanent residence in Canada. The plaintiff, after being downsized from a US employer, went to Canada to pursue an opportunity to study in a dental program at the University of Alberta. Her husband accompanied her to Canada and took up a job with the same contractual term as the plaintiff’s course of study. The rest of the plaintiff’s family still lived in the US and she retained a home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where mail was delivered and she also continued to file tax returns in the US. While rejecting the application of the generic definition of residence in § 101(a)(33) in favor of continuous residence, the court clarified that that the four criteria in 8 C.F.R. §316.5(c)(1) may establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of her residence, but also noted that it may consider other relevant factors. Although the court did not accept her argument that she did not terminate her employment in the US under prong (A) since her employer forcibly terminated her, the court accepted the fact that her extended family remained in the US under prong (B), even though her most immediate family member, her husband, accompanied her to Canada, and it was undisputed that she retained access to her home in the US under (C) and she did had not obtained employment in Canada under (D).

Compare Li v. Chertoff with an earlier case In Re Bartkiw, 199 F.Supp. 762 (E.D. Pa. 1961), where the former INS granted naturalization based on incorrect information, not knowing about Bartkiw’s relocation to Canada. The district court in Pennsylvania in denying Bartkiw’s claim that she had not disrupted residence made an observation which was redolent of an era prior to feminism’s onset a few years later:

We find it impossible to conclude that this young woman, married, with her husband holding a responsible position in Canada where he was a citizen, and who thereafter maintained a home with him, did not intend to live in Canada as a resident. It may very well be, as stated in our findings of fact, that both she and her husband hoped that at some time in the future she would become a citizen of the United States; that he would obtain employment in the United States and that they would live here permanently as husband and wife. But, unfortunately for the position of the respondent, that hope for the future and not a present fact.

Bartkiw, 199 F.Supp. at 766.

Clearly, Li v. Chertoff is the better decision, and naturalization examiners ought to be taking into account other factors besides the four factors set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1). What if the accompanying spouse of the rotational executive is pregnant with complications and both are unable to return to the US within 180 days? Should this not be considered a relevant factor? After all, the regulation suggests that the evidence that may be used to rebut the disruption of continuity of residence need not be limited to these four factors. In analogous cases involving the abandonment of permanent residence, which can be avoided if the trip abroad was temporary, the term “temporary visit abroad” has recently been subject to interpretation by the Circuit Courts. The Ninth Circuit’s interpretation is generally followed:

A trip is a “temporary visit abroad” if (a) it is for a relatively short period, fixed by some early event; or (b) the trip will terminate upon the occurrence of an event that has a reasonable possibility of occurring within a relatively short period of time. If as in (b) the length of the visit is contingent upon the occurrence of an event and is not fixed in time and if the event does not occur within a relatively short period of time, the visit will be considered a “temporary visit abroad” only if the alien has a continuous, uninterrupted intention to return to the United States during the visit.

See Singh v. Reno, 113 F.3d 1512, 1514 (9th Cir. 1997); Chavez- Ramirez v INS, 792 F.2d 932 (9th Cir. 1985).

The Second Circuit, with respect to the second prong, has further clarified that when the visit “relies upon an event with a reasonable possibility of occurring within a short period to time…the intention of the visitor must still be to return within a period relatively short, fixed by some early event.” See Ahmed v.Ashcroft, 286 F.3d 611, 613 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Hana v. Gonzales, 400 F.3d 472 (LPR status not abandoned where LPR was compelled to return to Iraq to resume her job and be with her family while they were waiting for immigrant visas to materialize).

Practitioners should creatively argue on behalf of their clients that unforeseen events may have delayed a return back to the US in less than 180 days. Moreover, even if one’s intent is not relevant in determining disruption of residence, unlike the law on abandonment of permanent residency, these decisions can still be helpful to argue that there were relevant factors to assess whether or not residence had been abandoned for purposes of naturalization. We should also forcefully argue that working for a US corporation overseas on a temporary basis ought to be a relevant factor and not a negative. See Matter of Wu, 14 I&N Dec. 290 (R.C. 1973) (denial of reentry permit was erroneous since the LPR was employed for an American firm overseas and had successfully applied for preservation of continuity of residence for purposes of naturalization).

Finally, while beyond the scope of this post, always explore if there are other ways to naturalize that would obviate the perpetual anxiety of a permanent resident living outside the US. Under INA § 319(b), spouses of US citizens working overseas for US corporations or their subsidiaries, or in certain other capacities, can naturalize without meeting the residency requirements, http://tiny.cc/so5p3. Employees working abroad can preserve their residency by filing Form N-470 if, inter alia, they work for an American firm or corporation, or a subsidiary thereof, that is engaged in the development of foreign trade or commerce of the US. But in order to be eligible, the applicant must demonstrate one year of actual unbroken physical presence in the US after acquiring permanent residency. Matter of Graves, 19 I&N Dec. 337 (Comm’r. 1985); Matter of Copeland, 19 I&N Dec. 788 (Comm’r. 1988). Very few can meet this requirement as even a brief day trip to Canada during that one year period will disqualify the applicant from filing the N-470 application. Remember what an N-470 will do and what it will not do. If approved, the N-470 means that concerns over continuity of residence can be put aside. However, all other substantive requirements for naturalization, including satisfaction of physical presence requirements still must be satisfied. The N-470 may avoid disruption of continuity of residence but your client could still be deemed to have abandoned permanent resident status. That is where and why the re-entry permit can be a lifesaver especially since, if the issue of green card abandonment is raised when the person returns to the US, contrary to what you and your client might expect, there is some recent case authority for placing the burden of proof that abandonment did not occur squarely upon the unsuspecting shoulders of the soon to be surprised permanent resident. And if you are out for more than one year, you will need to accumulate another round of 4 years and 1 day to naturalize. 8 C.F.R. 316.5(c)(1)(ii). This could be true even if it was Uncle Sam that prevented your client from coming back sooner. In Gildernew v. Quarantillo, 594 F.3d 131, 133 (2d Cir. 2010) TSA put the permanent resident on a “No Fly” list for a year while he cooled his heels in Ireland. Ultimately concluding that there was no”derogatory information” against him , TSA let him come home but too late to save his ability to naturalize as he had been out of the US for more than one year.

As the immortal philosopher Will Rogers was fond of saying: “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll still get run over if you just sit there.”

DIFFERENT STROKES: USING DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS ON A LABOR CERTIFICATION AND I-140 PETITION

by Cora-Ann V. Pestaina

We’ve pretty much gotten used to (but not accepted!) the vast inconsistencies that exist in degree-equivalency requirements with regard to filing an H-1B, a PERM or an I-140. We’ve been forced to cope with (though we will never understand!) the fact that the degree-equivalency regulations that govern EB-2 and EB-3 professionals are inconsistent with the degree-equivalency regulations that govern H-1B specialty occupations and that USCIS degree-equivalency regulations and the DOL’s SVP scheme applied to labor certifications widely differ. We’ve come to understand how vital it is that we map out the entire green card process prior to filing a PERM application and that we anticipate every potential pitfall and make early strategic decisions to prevent them. Yet, despite all our hard-earned knowledge and efforts, most of us will, at some point, be forced to deal with an unanticipated snag on an equivalency issue especially when the government changes its interpretation on an particular foreign degree.

Ronald Y. Wada, who many of us turn to for guidance through the frustratingly obscure law of degree-equivalency, has written a new article, The Nth Degree – Issues and Case Studies in Degree Equivalency: Crossing the Borderland Between DOL and USCIS Requirements, 15 Bender’s Immigr. Bull. 863 (June 15, 2010). The article addresses the differences between the reviewing practices of the DOL and USCIS. While we’ve always focused on degree-equivalency requirements, the article highlights a different issue – experience.

The PERM program established a “substantially comparable” standard when considering whether prior experience gained on-the-job with the same employer may be used to qualify a foreign national for the job offered. Specifically, under the PERM regulations, a sponsoring employer is permitted to consider experience gained with that employer in instances where it establishes that the position in which the alien gained the qualifying experience is not “substantially comparable” to the job for which labor certification is being sought. Substantially comparable is defined by the regulations as a job or position requiring performance of the same job duties more than 50 percent of the time. 20 C.F.R. § 656.17(i)(5)(ii). Then, there is the USCIS rule, established in Matter of Wing’s Tea House, 16 I&N Dec. 158 (Acting Reg’l Comm’r 1977), a precedent decision, which holds simply that the foreign national must possess the qualifications specified on the labor certification as of the priority date.

In his article, Mr. Wada writes, “Since the AAO has stated in numerous nonprecedent decisions (and federal courts have affirmed) that USCIS has the authority to determine whether the beneficiary meets the job requirements shown on the PERM application, once the labor certification is approved by the DOL the rule regarding what experience can be counted shifts to the USCIS rule.” This circumstance could provide the escape from the snare of a badly designed PERM, provide another option when the foreign national presents new information at the I-140 phase (“Sorry, I guess I can’t get all those experience letters after all!”) or even help in instances where the USCIS attempts to revoke a previously approved I-140.

The Wada article presents the case where a PERM was designed with a Master’s degree requirement and was certified. At the I-140 phase, the USCIS refuses to accept the foreign national’s Master’s degree deeming his credentials equivalent to only a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree plus five years of post-baccalaureate progressive experience equates to a Master’s degree. If the foreign national is able to demonstrate five years of progressive, post-degree work experience prior to the priority date of the PERM application, then under the USCIS policy in Matter of Wing’s Tea House, the foreign national may yet qualify for the offered position and for EB-2. Importantly, the foreign national may even utilize experience gained on the job with the sponsoring employer – something he could not do during the labor certification phase especially if the two positions with the same employer were not more than 50% different! He may combine experience gained with a previous employer and experience gained with the sponsoring employer to arrive at the requisite 5 years of post-degree experience. It is only necessary that the foreign national meet the job requirements prior to the priority date, which is established when the labor certification is filed. USCIS does not set forth any “substantially comparable” standard à la the DOL.

Matter of Wing’s Tea House could also work in instances where, whether it’s an EB-2 or an EB-3 I-140, the foreign national belatedly discovers that her previous employer still harbors ill-will toward her and thus refuses to issue her an experience letter. If the foreign national is left short 1 year of experience and she had been employed with the sponsoring employer for at least 1 year before the labor certification was filed on her behalf, under Matter of Wing’s Tea House, the foreign national could combine experience gained with the sponsoring employer and her previous experience to qualify her for the offered position despite the fact that her on-the-job experience would not have qualified her for the offered position at the labor certification phase due to the DOL’s “substantially comparable” rule.

But will it actually work? Having said all that, we should bear in mind that the USCIS is afforded grounds in 20 C.F.R. §656.30(d) to invalidate a labor certification based on a finding of fraud or willful misrepresentation of a material fact involving the labor certification application. While the scenarios outlined above would not compel such a finding, is there a chance that the USCIS could request that the DOL revoke the labor certification? Under 20 C.F.R. §656.32(a) the DOL may revoke an approved labor certification, based on a finding that the certification was not justified. If the foreign national is found not to possess the degree or the experience listed on the PERM, which is not being used consistently at the time of the I-140, could it be held that the certification was not justified? It is interesting food for thought. However, Matter of Wing’s Tea House indeed presents an innovative path that could possibly be used to save an I-140 in trouble.

STUDY SHOWS THAT H-1B AND L-1 WORKERS ARE PAID HIGHER WAGES THAN THEIR US-BORN COUNTERPARTS

Here is a refreshing new study on H-1B wages. It is refreshing because unlike most other studies that take pains to show that H-1B workers are paid less than US workers and depress the labor market, this one by Professors Lucas and Mithas of the University of Maryland’s Business School demonstrates quite the opposite. H-1B and L visa workers in the IT Industry were paid 6.9% more than their American counterparts, and green card holders took home more than 12.9% than their American counterparts. This study confirms what we immigration lawyers have always known – that US employers seek out workers on H-1B and L visas because they are really good and not because they can get away by paying them cheaply. We also know that employers are not going to go through the hoops and hurdles of filing an H-1B or L visa petition, pay filing and attorney fees, take pains to comply with all of the complex regulatory requirements (including paying the prevailing wage for H-1B workers and those being sponsored for green cards through labor certification), and respond to burdensome requests for evidence, unless they believed in the worth of this foreign worker. Then, sponsoring this same person for a green card through the onerous labor certification process is even more difficult. Of course, opponents of the H-1B and L programs such as Ron Hira will continue to gripe and poke holes at the study, as the article in CIO suggests, but I am glad that our anecdotal experience has been backed up by a solid peer reviewed academic study. Hopefully, USCIS officials and Congressional folks will also read this study, and refrain from trying to restrict the H-1B program through burdensome memos, like the January 8, 2010 Neufeld Memo, or pass legislation to restrict these visas like Senators Grassley, Durbin and Sanders have been doing.

http://www.cio.com/article/594381/H_1B_Visa_Holders_Earn_More_Than_U.S._Born_IT_Professionals_Study_Claims

H-1B Visa Holders Earn More Than U.S.-Born IT Professionals, Study Claims
– Stephanie Overby, CIO
May 20, 2010

One of the biggest complaints about the federal government’s H-1B and L-1 visa programs is that they could be used by corporations to hire skilled workers born outside the U.S. at wages lower than the U.S. market rate. Indeed, anti-H-1B visa activists say the program depresses American IT workers’ salaries and robs them of jobs.
But new research from the University of Maryland seems to contradict anti-H-1B visa activists’ claims about the immigration program’s impact on American wages. In fact, the research suggests that foreign-born IT professionals with temporary skilled worker visas actually earn more than their American counterparts, not less.
Hank Lucas, professor of information systems at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and assistant professor Sunil Mithas examined the effect of immigration policies on IT salaries using data from online salary surveys conducted from 2000 to 2005 by InformationWeek and management consultancy Hewitt Associates.
After adjusting for educational qualifications, work experience, and other individual characteristics, Lucas and Mithas found that IT professionals without U.S. citizenship earned 8.9 percent more than American citizens. Tech workers on temporary visas, such as the H-1B and L-1, were paid 6.8 percent more than those with U.S. citizenship, and green card holders took home 12.9 percent more than their American-born counterparts, according to Lucas’ and Mithas’ research, published this month by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
The professors say restrictive visa policies resulted in even higher salary premiums. In years when applications exceeded the annual caps for H-1B visas, salaries for all non-U.S. citizen IT workers—that is, visa or green card recipients—rose relative to the salaries of American-born IT professionals, say Lucas and Mithas.
Mithas says the study was driven by the lack of compelling data around claims that foreign-born IT professionals are taking away jobs from American workers. “Much of the immigration debate in this country ignores skill levels,” says Lucas, adding that the influx of non-U.S. citizens has a much different impact on job availability and wages for unskilled labor than it does for skilled workers. U.S.-born citizens and foreign workers can potentially benefit from an influx of skilled workers, Lucas says.
H-1B Salary Survey Ignites Controversy
The Lucas-Mithas research deviates from the findings of other studies investigating the effect of temporary visa programs on the salaries of U.S. IT professionals. According to Lucas and Mithas, H-1B visa holders earned an average of $75,358 from 2000 to 2003, compared with the average U.S. citizen’s salary of $66,836. (The InformationWeek survey did not ask about visa status in 2004 and 2005). But according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the median salary for H-1B visa holders in computing professions during the 2000 to 2003 period was just over $50,000.
“It [seems]strange to me that the authors would depend on sampled data when we have the whole census of new H-1B recipients’ salaries reported [by] the USCIS, at least in aggregate terms,” says Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. “For computing occupations those data show low wages relative to Bureau of Labor Statistics wages for Americans. The median salary for new H-1Bs is comparable to the entry-level wages for freshly minted bachelors in computer science, as reported by the National Association of Colleges & Employers. So half the new H-1Bs are being paid at- or below entry-level wages.”
Lucas and Mithas say the USCIS and BLS numbers aren’t granular enough to make meaningful comparisons. “You don’t get a good sense of who these people are, what is their educational background, how long have they been in IT, what industry are they working in,” says Mithas. “If you don’t have data at an individual level, you don’t know if you’re comparing apples to apples.”
Hira suggests there may be a self-selection bias at play when using a sample population. The data Lucas and Mithas used comes from 50,000 IT professionals, including 809 temporary visa holders, who opted to participate in an online salary survey. The researchers say the overall sample and sample of non-U.S. citizen foreign-born IT professionals in their study is reasonably representative of the U.S. population.
While those numbers may line up, it’s unlikely that H-1B or L-1 grantees who depend on their employers for their visas and who earn lower than average wages would participate in such a survey, says Hira. “The [Lucas-Mithas] report may be able to control for some additional factors that affect wages, but there is no doubting the USCIS characteristics data ,” says Hira. “It is a census, not a sample.”
Lucas admits that selection bias could be a factor in any survey, but he remains confident in his data. “In situations like this, there’s always the possibility for the sample not to be truly random,” he says. “But I feel more comfortable with this survey with 50,000 respondents than I would if we did a random sample of a couple hundred IT professionals on our own.”
Why Corporations Pay More for H-1Bs
Lucas and Mithas say their research proves that corporations use foreign-born IT professionals as a complement to, not as a cheaper substitute for, their American workforce. But the data does not provide any explanations for why employers would pay non-citizen IT workers more.
Lucas and Mithas have their own theories. For one, they think companies recruit foreign IT professionals for skills or expertise that they can’t get from American workers, whether it’s a stronger work ethic, multi-cultural experience, or willingness to travel.
“We were searching for an explanation, and it wasn’t education or anything we could measure. So it had to be something intangible, like how aggressive you are or how much of a risk taker,” says Lucas. “I’d have to say it’s motivation. You have to be motivated to break out of the rut you’re in, get out of the city you were born in, go to another country and work in IT.”
Hira is not buying it. “There’s no doubt in my mind that, in general, H-1B workers are underpaid. That’s why the offshore outsourcing majors rely almost exclusively on H-1Bs rather than hiring Americans,” he says. “Plus they are beholden to their employer, making it more difficult for them to protest against poorer [wages and] working conditions.”
Hira notes that it’s possible the compensation among IT workers on temporary visas falls into two camps: “lots of low wage workers and a good portion of high wage workers.”
B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies for Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, has been analyzing the salaries of H-1B visa holders in science and technology using data from the National Science Foundation’s National Survey of College Graduates. He has found that H-1Bs are paid lower average wages during the first three years of their permitted stay, but once they reapply for another three years or change employers, they may earn more than comparable U.S. citizens.
“The NSCG is an odd survey itself, but it’s the largest random survey of graduates in the United States,” says Lowell. “The reason we think there’s an increase in wages is due to a change in bargaining power on the part of the H-1B. Of course, the first three years still reflects a savings to the employer.”
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, examined the Department of Labor’s database of labor condition applications (LCAs) and surmised that many large U.S. corporations and educational institutions frequently offer their H-1B recipients salaries substantially above the prevailing U.S. wage. However, he says, “offshoring/outsourcing type IT services providers” aggressively pursue all legally available paths to cut labor costs, including paying foreign workers only the legally mandated 95 percent of the prevailing wage.
“That suggests another point I’ve long argued, and which is supported in my and others’ research,” says Lowell, “which is that the H-1B labor market is softly segmented with different types of employers who pay less than the mainstream to the H-1Bs in their employ.”
Lucas and Mithas consider the LCA data unreliable because it does not provide actual salary data, and many approved LCAs don’t result in the granting of an actual visa.
“There are an awful lot of anecdotes of this or that company bringing in foreign workers and paying them less than the going wage, but you can’t take that and generalize it to thousands of people,” says Lucas. “We’d love to get inside of Infosys and Accenture and get detailed individual information, but privacy concerns enter into this, and they wouldn’t want to give us the information anyway. They’re afraid, no matter which way the research comes out, they’ll be criticized.”
More Research Into H-1B Wages Needed
There are as many as 700,000 temporary high-skill foreign professionals in the United States on visas today (approximately 500,000 in the H-1B category alone), and 60 percent of them work in IT, according to some estimates. More detailed data from USCIS or some other source would go a long way toward settling the debate over whether or not these visa programs depress the wages of IT professionals.
“This may be a good thing for the DHS or GAO to do,” says Hira.
© 2010 CXO Media Inc.

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM THROUGH EXECUTIVE FIAT

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

While the Obama administration struggles to get votes to overhaul our dysfunctional immigration laws in Congress, http://tinylink.com/?Pky1KrfcfI, and Arizona passes its shameful immigration bill, SB 1070, which legalizes racial profiling, http://tinylink.com/?a2IUa39ATc, there is a growing yearning for Congress to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) that would provide more pathways to visas and permanent residency and legalize the millions who remain undocumented. But do we need to wait endlessly for Congress to Act? We demonstrate in our article Tyranny of Priority Dates, http://scr.bi/i0Lqkz, that it is possible for the Executive to legalize the status of non-citizens without Congressional intervention to achieve something close to CIR.

Work Authorization and Parole

For instance, there is nothing that would bar the USCIS from allowing the beneficiary of an approved employment based I-140 or family based I-130 petition, and derivative family members, to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD) and parole. The Executive, under INA § 212(d)(5), has the authority to grant parole for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits. The crisis in the priority dates where beneficiaries of petitions may need to wait for green cards in excess of 30 years may qualify for invoking § 212(d)(5) under “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.” Similarly, the authors credit David Isaacson who pointed out that the Executive has the authority to grant EAD under INA §274A(h)(3), which defines the term “unauthorized alien” as one who is not “(A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this Act or by the Attorney General” (emphasis added). Under sub paragraph (B), the USCIS may grant an EAD to people who are adversely impacted by the tyranny of priority dates.

Likewise, the beneficiary of an I-130 or I-140 petition who is outside the U.S. can also be paroled into the U.S. before the priority date becomes current. The principal and the applicable derivatives would enjoy permission to work and travel regardless of whether they remained in nonimmigrant visa status. Even those who are undocumented or out of status, but are beneficiaries of approved I-130 and I-140 petitions, can be granted employment authorization and parole. The retroactive grant of parole may also alleviate those who are subject to the three or ten year bars since INA § 212(a)(9)(B)(ii) defines “unlawful presence” as someone who is here “without being admitted or paroled.” Parole, therefore, eliminates the accrual of unlawful presence.

While parole does not constitute an admission, one conceptual difficulty is whether parole can be granted to an individual who is already admitted on a nonimmigrant visa but has overstayed. Since parole is not considered admission, it can be granted more readily to one who entered without inspection. On the other hand, it is possible for the Executive to rescind the grant of admission under INA §212(d)(5), and instead, replace it with the grant parole. As an example, an individual who was admitted in B-2 status and is the beneficiary of an I-130 petition but whose B-2 status has expired can be required to report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). who can retroactively rescind the grant of admission in B-2 status and instead be granted parole retroactively.

Historic Role Of Executive In Granting Immigration Benefits

While the authors have proposed the use of parole and EAD benefits to those who are beneficiaries of approved immigrant petitions and are on the path to permanent residency, but for the crushing backlogs in the employment and family quotas, parole and EAD can also be potentially granted to other non-citizens such as DREAM children or those who have paid taxes and are otherwise admissible. The Executive’s use of parole, sua sponte, in such an expansive and aggressive fashion is hardly unique in post-World War II American history. The rescue of Hungarian refugees after the abortive 1956 uprising or the Vietnamese refugees at various points of that conflict comes readily to mind. While these were dramatic examples of international crises, the immigration situation in America today, though more mundane, is no less of a humanitarian emergency with human costs that are every bit as high and damage to the national interest no less long lasting. Even those who are in removal proceedings or have already been ordered removed, and are beneficiaries of approved petitions, will need not wait an eternity for Congress to come to the rescue.

The government has always had the ability to institute Deferred Action, which is a discretionary act not to prosecute or to deport a particular alien. Like our proposal, Deferred Action is purely discretionary. They are both informal ways to allow continued presence in the United States. The INA never mentions deferred action. Neither does deferred action depends upon regulation. Deferred action is not mentioned in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations (“8 C.F.R.”) but only in the old, and now inapplicable, Operations Instructions. Both, our proposals and deferred action, are the products of limitations. The exercise of prosecutorial discretion to grant deferred action status is an expression of limited enforcement resources in the administration of the immigration law. Our advocacy of EAD and Parole outside the adjustment context is an expression of limited EB quotas and the impact of visa retrogression. Since both are inherently discretionary, they are not proper subjects for judicial review since, in both cases, there is no law to apply.

Deferred Action has also been applied to battered spouse and children self-petitioners who had approved I-360 petitions under the Violence Against Women Act, so that they could remain in the United States and obtain work authorization. In 2006, Congress, in recognition of this informal practice, codified at INA § 204(a)(1)(k) the grant of employment authorization to VAWA self-petitioners. Deferred Action has also been granted to U visa applicants. More recently, the DHS provided interim relief to surviving spouses of deceased American citizens and their children who were married for less than two years at the time of the citizen’s death. Mr. Neufeld’s memo, issued on June 15, 2009, provides extraordinary relief to spouses whose citizen spouses died regardless of whether the I-130 petitions were approved, pending or even not filed. Such beneficiaries may request deferred action and obtain an EAD. Then, on October 28, 2009, Congress amended the statute to allow, inter alia, a widow who was married less than two years at the time of the citizen’s death to apply for permanent residence. See Pub. L. No. 111-83, 123 Stat. 2142 (2009).

Even more recently, on November 30, 2009, USCIS announced in a press release that certain affected persons in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) would be granted parole under INA § 212(d)(5). The Consolidated Natural Resource Act of 2008 (CNRA) extends most provisions of the United States immigration law to the CNMI beginning on November 28, 2009. As of this date, foreign nationals in the CNMI will be considered present in the United States and subject to U.S. law. In order to avoid their removal from the CNMI, the grant of parole will place individual members of CNMI groups in lawful status under the United States immigration law and permit employment authorization. Parole status will also allow for the issuance of advance parole when the individual seeks to depart the CNMI for a foreign destination.

In another display of Executive legerdemain, in March of 2000, a former INS official Mr. Cronin, in a Memo, http://www.boulettegolden.com/H_and_L_Travel_and_Advance_Parole.pdf, allowed nonimmigrants holding H-1B or L status to travel overseas while their adjustment of status applications were pending and be admitted on advance parole and still be able to work as if they were in H-1B or L status without first obtaining an EAD. The following Q&A extract in Mr. Cronin’s memo is worth noting:

4. If an H-1 or L-1 nonimmigrant has traveled abroad and reentered the United States via advance parole, the alien is accordingly in parole status. How does the interim rule affect that alien’s employment authorization?

A Service memorandum dated August 5, 1997, stated that an ‘adjustment applicant’s otherwise valid and unexpired nonimmigrant employment authorization…is not terminated by his or her temporary departure from the United States, if prior to such departure the applicant obtained advance parole in accordance with 8 CFR 245.2(a)(4)(ii).’ The Service intends to clarify this issue in the final rule. Until then, if the alien’s H-1B or L-1 employment authorization would not have expired, had the alien not left and returned under advance parole, the Service will not consider a paroled adjustment applicant’s failure to obtain a separate employment authorization document to mean that the paroled adjustment applicant engaged in unauthorized employment by working for the H-1 or L-1 employer between the date of his or her parole and the date to be specified in the final rule.

A close examination of this astonishingly creative policy reveals that the Executive presumably allowed such an individual to continue working without any formal work document. Admitting an H-1B on advance parole (and thus presumably as a parolee rather than as an H-1B nonimmigrant), and allowing him or her to extend H-1B status subsequently, while permitting this individual to continue working for the employer without an EAD, required creative thinking on the part of the government. These are a few examples of how the Executive has creatively found ameliorative solutions within the four corners of the INA.

No Violation of Separation of Powers

While some may argue that there is no express Congressional authorization for the Executive to enact such measures, the President may act within a “twilight zone” in which he may have concurrent authority with Congress. See Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring). Unlike Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, where the Supreme Court held that the President could not seize a steel mill to resolve a labor dispute without Congressional authorization, the Executive under our proposal is well acting within Congressional authorization. In his famous concurring opinion, Justice Jackson reminded us that, however meritorious, separation of powers itself was not without limit: “While the Constitution diffuses power the better to secure liberty, it also contemplates that practice will integrate the dispersed powers into a workable government. It enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity.” Id. at 635. Although President Truman did not have authorization to seize the mill to prosecute the Korean War, Justice Jackson laid a three-pronged test to determine whether the President violated the Separation of Powers clause. First, where the President has express or implied authorization by Congress, his authority would be at its maximum. Second, where the President acts in the absence of congressional authority or a denial of authority, the President may still act constitutionally within a “twilight zone” in which he may have concurrent authority with Congress, or in which its distribution is uncertain. Under the second prong, Congressional inertia may enable, if not invite, measures of independent presidential authority. Finally, under the third prong, where the President acts in a way that is incompatible with an express or implied will of Congress, the President’s power is at its lowest and is vulnerable to being unconstitutional.

Under our proposal, the President is likely acting under either prong one or two of Justice Jackson’s tripartite test. We have shown that INA § 212(d)(5), which Congress enacted, authorizes the Executive to grant interim benefits for “urgent humanitarian reasons” or “significant public benefits.” Moreover, INA § 274A(h)(3)(B) provides authority to the Executive to grant employment authorization. Even if such authority is implied and not express, Congress has not overtly prohibited its exertion but displayed a passive acquiescence that reinforces its constitutional legitimacy. Operating in Justice Jackson’s “twilight zone,” such constructive ambiguity creates the opportunity for reform through Executive initiative. From this, we must conclude that, had Congress not enacted INA § 212(d)(5), the President could not act by fiat to broaden or diversify its application beyond the adjustment context. In terms of EAD issuance, Congress has rarely spoken on this except via INA § 274A(h)(3)(B), so that many instances of EAD issuance are purely an act of executive discretion justified by that one statutory provision. Furthermore, INA § 103(3) confers powers on the Secretary of Homeland Security to “establish such regulations, prescribe such forms or bonds, reports, entries and other papers; issue such instructions; and perform such other acts as he deems necessary for carrying out his authority under the provisions of this Act.”

The President is not divorced from lawmaking; that is the very reason why the Framers provided an executive veto power. If the President was totally divorced from the making of laws, why give such a weapon to limit congressional prerogative? Once we accept the fact that the Executive is a junior partner in lawmaking, then the use of executive initiative to promulgate implementing and interpretative regulations, as we propose be done in the grant of parole and EAD benefits, becomes a valid extension of this well settled constitutional precept.

Chevron and Brand X Doctrine

We proffer yet another legal theory to support our proposal. When the Service extended Occupational Practical Training from twelve months to twenty-nine months for STEM students, the Programmers Guild sued DHS. in Programmers Guild v. Chertoff, 08-cv-2666 (D.N.J. 2008), challenging the regulation, and initially seeking an injunction, on the ground that DHS. had invented its own guest worker program without Congressional authorization. The court dismissed the suit for injunction on the ground that DHS was entitled to deference under Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U.S. 837 (1984). Under the oft quoted Chevron doctrine, courts will pay deference to the regulatory interpretation of the agency charged with executing the laws of the United States when there is ambiguity in the statute. The courts will step in only when the agency’s interpretation is irrational or in error. The Chevron doctrine has two parts: Step 1 requires an examination of whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If Congress had clearly spoken, then that is the end of the matter and the agency and the court must give effect to the unambiguous intent of the statute. Step 2 applies when Congress has not clearly spoken, then the agency’s interpretation is given deference if it is based on a permissible construction of the statute, and the court will defer to this interpretation even if it does not agree with it. Similarly, the Supreme Court in Nat’l Cable & Telecomm. Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967 (2005), while affirming Chevron, held that if there is an ambiguous statute requiring agency deference under Chevron Step 2, the agency’s interpretation will also trump a judicial decision interpreting the same statute. Brand X involved a judicial review of an FCC ruling exempting broadband Internet carrier from mandatory regulation under a statute. The Supreme Court observed that the Commission’s interpretation involved a “subject matter that is technical, complex, and dynamic;” therefore, the Court concluded that the Commission is in a far better position to address these questions than the Court because nothing in the Communications Act or the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the Court, made unlawful the Commission’s use of its expert policy judgment to resolve these difficult questions.

The District Court in dismissing the Programmers Guild lawsuit discussed the rulings in Chevron and Brand X to uphold the DHS’s ability to extend the student F-1 OPT regulation. Programmers Guild appealed and the Third Circuit also dismissed the lawsuit based on the fact that the Plaintiffs did not have standing. Programmers Guild, Inc. v. Chertoff, 338 Fed. Appx. 239 (3rd Cir. 2009), petition for cert. filed, (U.S. Nov. 13, 2009) (No. 09-590). While the Third Circuit did not address Chevron or Brand X – there was no need to – it interestingly cited Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 580 (1978), which held that Congress is presumed to be aware of an administrative interpretation of a statute and to adopt that interpretation when it reenacts its statutes without change. Here, the F-1 practical training regulation was devoid of any reference to the displacement of domestic labor, and Congress chose not to enact any such reference, which is why the Programmers Guild lacked standing.

Brand X tells us that federal agencies and Congress have a commingled role to play in making new law: “Chevron’s premise is that it is for agencies, not courts, to fill statutory gaps.” Is there a more effective constitutional answer to the charge that our argument violates separation of powers? If the FCC can use its policy expertise to exempt broadband Internet carriers from mandatory regulation under the Communications Act, why can’t the USCIS use its policy expertise to extend Parole and broaden EAD issuance, especially since the latter is entirely a creature of regulation? The raison d’être for the Chevron defense that federal agencies are owed deference when they seek to execute the law through regulatory interpretation suggests, if not compels, the conclusion that, while only Congress can enact laws, the executive agencies charged with their enforcement can say what these laws mean, this in turn, determines how they are applied or enforced. Those who argue that we seek to violate the separation of powers doctrine take an artificially cramped view of what lawmaking involves and ignore the fact that, like the idea of judicial review itself, no law can live apart from interpretation that, by its very nature, inevitably changes the law itself.

Chevron and Brand X are more than just constitutional justifications of agency action but an invitation to action where the Congress has stayed its hand. Until now, Brand X has been feared by the immigration bar and immigration advocates for its negative potential as a legitimization of government repression. Yet, it has a positive potential by enabling the Executive to expand individual rights and grant benefits sua sponte. We do not need to live in fear of Brand X. We can make it our own.

While Arizona has restored the relevance of CIR and provided its advocates within the Democratic Party with a new political imperative, the prospects for ultimate passage remain as uncertain as ever. Spurred by their triumph in Arizona, advocates of state immigration laws are moving ahead on a broad front all across the land. We need action now. Set against such a turbulent backdrop, there is a clear and present need for moving forward through executive action to combat the Arizona law and the many copycat versions that are and will continue to appear in other states. Only through such agency initiative can the nativist surge be checked until CIR becomes a reality.

DOL UPDATE ON PERM AND PREVAILING WAGE ISSUES

by Cora-Ann V. Pestaina

On April 5, 2010 AILA published the minutes of the DOL stakeholders teleconference held on March 25, 2010. See AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 10040533. These minutes presented some important/interesting information worth noting:

Employee Referral Programs:

The DOL now requires more from employers who utilize the Employee Referral Program in fulfillment of one of the three additional forms of recruitment required for professional positions under PERM. Specifically, the DOL now has new requirements as to what is considered “acceptable” evidence to demonstrate the “existence and use” of the Employee Referral Program. Thus far, employers have been able to utilize their existing Employee Referral Programs and to document its use by submitting a description of the program. In response to audits, the DOL has previously accepted photocopies of pages from the employer’s employee handbook describing the ongoing program.

Now, the DOL requires documentation that employees were made aware that they could refer applicants to the specific position sponsored for PERM. The DOL wants to see dated copies of correspondence to employees linking the Employee Referral Program to job openings within the company and to the PERM position in particular! The minutes suggest that employers execute a memo confirming the existence of an ongoing Employee Referral Program and addressing how the company’s employees were made aware that they could refer applicants to the PERM position.

While the PERM regulations do not require documentation that employees were made aware of the specific PERM position, to be on the safe side and prevent a possible PERM denial and then motion/appeal down the road, employers may want to consider adding an “available positions” section at the end of the Employee Referral Program description, including a copy of the specific PERM ad(s) and posting the program in a conspicuous location on the business premises for a specific number of days (and publishing via employer’s intranet, if any) as they do with the Posting Notice.

Processing Issues:

PERMs have recently been moving more quickly because the DOL assigned some PERMS to adjudicators in DC and Chicago. (Let’s hope they keep it that way!)

Sunday ads are still required despite changes in the newspaper industry resulting in some newspapers being eliminated or in a reduction in the number of publication days for certain newspapers.

DOL is looking into implementing PERM fees. (It was too good to last much longer.)

Expect an increase in the number of applications subjected to supervised recruitment.

DOL is frustrated, and rightly so in my opinion, with employers and attorneys who still insist on filing PERMs via mail which consumes substantial DOL resources.

HealthAmerica Issues:

Denials where the PWD issued by SWA was too short or too long: DOL agreed that it is possible that these will be HealthAmerica type issues.

It is not clear what this means since HealthAmerica refers to typos on the PERM. If the SWA issued the employer a PWD valid for less than 90 days then this validity period must be listed on the PERM. The DOL previously advised (AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 07060461) that certifying officers are trained to know that the PWD is never valid for less than 90 days.

Prevailing Wage Determinations:

DOL verified that the Form 9141 certifying officers can see the extra words typed into various fields on the Form 9141 even if these words do not show when we print the form for our records. But, the DOL pointed out that for PERM audit purposes, this will not help us and we have to find a way to prove what was on the form.

Form 9141 certifying officers are now trained to understand abbreviations like EE for Electrical Engineering and CS for Computer Science so we can save space here if needed.

IMPORTANT: On the Form 9141 put only the PRIMARY requirements that will be the PRIMARY requirements listed on the PERM. (So, it’s not which requirements we think are higher (e.g. a BS+5 might be considered higher than the alternative MS+2 requirement) but it’s what will be the PRIMARY requirements on the Form 9089!)

If there will be multiple unanticipated worksites (as with many IT professionals), still answer NO to the Form 9141 question about multiple worksites and in another field such as D.a.6 include the language about unanticipated work locations.

DOL is working on fixing the problem with the missing SOC codes on Form 9141. It will take a while.

If we neglect to include information on the Form 9141 it will be rejected but where the certifying officer just needs clarification on an issue, they will not reject but will e-mail the attorney or employer and allow 7 days for response. Once the response is received, the PWR will be promptly adjudicated.

DOL is getting ready to increase the number of officers which will help reduce the processing time on PWDs.

AAO SAYS “NO” TO JOB PORTABILITY WHEN LABOR CERTIFICATION HAS BEEN SUBSTITUTED

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

Given the crushing backlogs in the EB-2 preference for India and China, and the EB-3 for India, where the wait can exceed 30 years, one would hope that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Appeals Administrative Office (AAO) would read INA § 204(j) more generously, which allows a foreign national to “port” to a new job in a same or similar occupation so long as the I-485 adjustment of status application has been pending for more than 180 days. This should happen even if the employer substituted another person on the labor certification after the original beneficiary left the employer.

Unfortunately, the AAO does not think so in an unpublished decision dated March 26, 2010, http://drop.io/aao_26mar10_substitution. Even though the Department of Labor got rid off labor substitutions on July 16, 2007, pursuant to 20 CFR § 656.30(c)(2), substitutions were permissible prior to that date, and many thousands of foreign nationals who are beneficiaries of labor certifications may have been substituted by their employers with other foreign nationals unbeknownst to them after they left the employer. If they have I-485 applications they can “port” to new jobs in a same or similar occupation without fear of the labor certification or the I-140 petition being invalidated, but after the recent AAO’s decision, they are now in a very difficult predicament. This decision would have a disproportionate impact on people born in India and China who are caught in the EB quota backlogs.

The crux of the AAO’s reasoning is that notwithstanding INA § 204(j), which was introduced by the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 (AC 21) – legislation clearly intended by to ameliorate the hardships brought about by delays in processing and visa backlogs – the underlying labor certification must still remain valid for the foreign national beneficiary. INA § 212(a)(5)(A)(i) requires an alien who seeks to enter the US to perform skilled or unskilled labor to have a labor certification. Hence, if the labor certification has been now substituted for another beneficiary, as was permissible prior to July 16, 2007, under the AAO’s strained interpretation, there is no longer a valid labor certification and the requirements of INA § 212(a)(5)(A)(i) are no longer being fulfilled. According to the AAO, “USCIS cannot interpret sections 204(j) and 212(a)(5)(A)(iv) of the Act as allowing the adjustment of two aliens based on the same labor certification when section 212(a)(5)(A)(i) of the Act explicitly requires a labor certification as evidence of an individual alien’s admissibility.”

We disagree. INA § 204(j) is broad and sweeping. It says:

A petition under subsection (a)(1)(D) [since redesignated section 204(a)(1)(F)] for an individual whose application for adjustment of status remains unadjudicated for 180 days or more shall remain valid with respect to a new job if the individual changes jobs or employers if the new job is in the same or occupational classification as the job for which the petition was filed.

Without the assistance of INA § 204(j), a labor certification can get invalidated in many ways. If the beneficiary moves to a new employer and does not intend to take up the job with the employer who filed the labor certification, it is no longer valid. Similarly, if the beneficiary does not intend to work in the area of employment, where the labor market was tested and the prevailing wage was based, the labor certification will get invalidated even if the beneficiary works for the same employer. This may be true even where the beneficiary is compelled to move to another area other than where the market was tested when an employer relocates, say from New York, where the labor market was unsuccessfully tested for qualified US workers, to California. Under all of these disqualifying circumstances, INA § 204(j) comes to the beneficiary’s rescue notwithstanding the invalidation of the labor certification, so long as she or he is working in the same or similar occupation and an I-485 has been pending for more than 180 days. It thus strains logic when the AAO distinguishes these circumstances of labor certification invalidity from when the labor certification has been substituted by the employer with another foreign national beneficiary.

In our view, the AAO argument may be countered by explaining that once the adjustment has been on file for 180 days, the sponsoring employer lost any remaining right to the labor certification ownership of which passed to original beneficiary. This AAO decision is a significant restriction on adjustment of status portability and, by making the foreign national prove a negative, that no one else has been substituted in, is fundamentally unfair. The foreign national after the 180 days should be said to have a property interest in the labor certification. Moreover, the AAO agreed that even if the employer revoked the subsequently filed and approved I-140 petition, it would not undermine the ability of the beneficiary to “port” under INA § 204(j). This is illogical to the extreme. If the I-140 is revoked, portability is still permitted, but if the labor certification is withdrawn or substituted for another beneficiary, it undermines portability. It would be consistent with INA 204(j) to argue that regardless of whether the labor certification or the I-140 have been withdrawn, both invalidating events should still allow the beneficiary to allow him or her to “port” to a same or similar occupation.

We also credit Quynh Nguyen’s powerful observation that the AAO decision concludes by stating that the beneficiary who was taken out of the labor certification has not been able to show that the substituted beneficiary who ultimately adjusted status, based on the same underlying labor certification, did so illegitimately. This is after the AAO reasons that it is not possible for the original beneficiary to adjust once substitution occurs. A substituted beneficiary may legitimately substitute, but then may adjust status when actually inadmissible, but conceals the ground of inadmissibility. Even if the original beneficiary can now successfully point to the inadmissibility that was concealed, such as disqualifying criminal conduct or a false claim to citizenship, this in itself does not take away from the substitution, and Quynh correctly states that the AAO’s conclusion is circular. Moreover, it would create an unsavory situation where the original beneficiary would be gunning for anything to show that the substituted beneficiary obtained the green card illegitimately.

Beyond this, as Quynh Nguyen cogently reminds us, the AAO reasoning suffers from the same fundamental fallacy as the labor certification process itself, namely imposing the impossible burden of proving that a negative exists. Even though labor certification is employer-specific while INA § 204(j) is alien-centric, the flexibility that must infuse both processes to make them work is stifled by an agency predilection for requiring proof of the unseen as a precondition for approval. In each case, the proper functioning of INA 212(a)(5)(A) is primordial. DOL requires a sponsoring employer to show the absence of qualified, willing, and available US workers despite the fact that only the Secretary of Labor bears this burden of proof under INA Section 212(a)(5)(A). The AAO compels the foreign national who has ported under § 204(j) to become Sherlock Holmes and show that no one has used the labor certification to get the green card. In both instances, not only is such shifting of the burden of proof logically dubious, it is legally unjustified. The adjustment of status applicant who seeks the personal freedom and occupational mobility afforded by AC 21 has no way to find out what has happened to the labor certification he or she left behind; indeed, the notice of intent to revoke the I-140 petition only goes to the former employer who has no motive save honor to respond.

While the authors do not want the original beneficiary to get jeopardized when there is a substitution, it would likewise be fundamentally unfair for the legitimately substituted beneficiary to be robbed out of permanent residency and be similarly placed in jeopardy. There need not be a winner or a loser. Both can win. Thankfully, our good friend Angelo Paparelli and a colleague proposed the “cell mitosis” theory of labor certification. See Angelo A. Paparelli and Janet J. Lee, A Moveable Feast”: An Analysis of New and Old Portability Under AC21 § 105, 6 Bender’s Immigr. Bull. 111, 126 (Feb. 1, 2001) and available at http://www.ilw.com/articles/2001,1119-Paparelli.shtm.

In their refreshingly original article, this is how they articulate the “cell mitosis” theory of labor certification:

In fairness to all three parties, the labor certification should be treated as “divisible” under what can be called the “cell mitosis” theory.[citation omitted] Under this theory, the labor certification would remain valid with respect to the employee’s new job, [citation omitted] and the sponsoring employer would also be permitted to substitute another alien worker on the labor certification. From the sponsoring employer’s perspective, the conditions under which the labor certification was granted remain the same (other than the fact that the initial worker has resigned); there is still a demonstrated shortage of U.S. workers for the position. To require the employer to test the market again would be unfair and unduly burdensome. Thus, just as in the process of cell mitosis, each party (the sponsoring employer and initial beneficiary employee) should be able to retain the benefits flowing from the single approved labor certification.

Ironically, the AAO decision does precisely what the DOL did not like about the prior practice of alien substitution: “We acknowledge that after enactment of AC 21, DOL’s practice of substitution effectively created a race between the employer seeking to use the labor certification to fill the proffered position on a permanent basis and the alien beneficiary named on the labor certification…” Id. at 9. That is precisely the effect of the AAO decision. Ironic. We do not see why INA § 204(j) cannot be generously interpreted consistent with the “cell mitosis” theory to allow for one labor certification to provide the basis for two beneficiaries to adjust and obtain permanent residency and still be in harmony with both § 204(j) and § 212(a)(5)(a)(ii).

Finally, the reliance by the AAO on two decisions to argue that the USCIS has been precluded from approving a visa petition when the labor certification has been used by someone else is completely misplaced. Neither is a substitution of alien case. Matter of Harry Bailen Builders, Inc., 19 I&N Dec. 412, 414 (Comm. 1986) is a case where the foreign national abandoned lawful permanent resident (LPR) status and then wanted to come back using the original labor certification approval. In Matter of Francisco Javier Villarreal-Zuniga, 23 I&N Dec. 886, 889-90 (BIA 2006), the foreign national wanted to re-use the I-130 petition his mother filed after he had already acquired LPR status on this basis before being placed in removal. This was not a labor certification case at all which is very relevant since the AAO focused repeatedly on the idea that the whole logic of its ruling rested on the validity of the labor certification. Also there was no substitution of beneficiaries and no application of portability under § 204(j) in those cases. They were both the same people attempting to use the original approvals after they lost LPR status through removal or abandonment. These people already got their green cards and wanted to use the earlier petitions without starting over again, which is very different from an individual legitimately relying on INA § 204(j) only to find that the USCIS does not grant LPR under certain circumstances involving labor certification invalidity but allows it under other circumstances.

Not even the wisdom of Solomon allows us to separate the validity of the I-140 petition from the validity of the labor certification on which it rests. The AAO relies on INA § 212(a)(5)(A)(i), together with the policy behind the regulation that removed substitutions, 20 CFR § 650.30(c)(2) (that a labor certification can only be used by one alien) to deprive the appellant in the case sub judice of the ability to adjust status once an unknown substituted beneficiary has won the race to the green card . This fundamentally misunderstands the scope and purpose of INA § 204(j), which allows the adjustment applicant to move to another job with another employer regardless of geographical location so long as the new job is in the same or similar occupational classification. Clearly, the DOL has not made any labor shortage determination with respect to this second role nor is this required. Such a foreign national therefore could not possibly rely upon the original labor certification filed by a different employer who might be located in a different city for a different job. That is why AC 21 allows the law itself to substitute for the original labor certification when the criteria for portability set forth in INA 204(j) have been satisfied. There is no conflict between AC 21 and DOL regulations if the AAO properly understood both.

The scope of this AAO ruling is difficult to determine but its implications for the future remain troubling. This is not the first time that the AAO has sought to curtail the flexibility afforded by INA 204(j). See for example, Herrera v. USCIS, which upheld AAO’s position that the revocation of the I-140 trumps portability under INA § 204(j), http://www.cyrusmehta.com/News.aspx?SubIdx=ocyrus200979113434&Month=&From=Menu&Page=12&Year=All. And the AAO conveniently forgets this earlier decision in now holding that the invalidation of the labor certification is more fundamental than the invalidation of the I-140 petition. The result-oriented reasoning that sustains this administrative assault on AC 21 adjustment portability will doubtless make itself felt in other cases with other facts, much as the contorted definition of “employer” that the infamous Neufeld Memorandum applied to the H-1B context is migrating to other visa categories with similarly baleful results, http://drop.io/daq8dgf. Just as the AAO since New York State Department of Transportation, http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/intdec/vol22/3363.pdf, has rewritten the national interest waiver, this current decision reminds us to our sorrow that the law changes when the AAO wants it to change; Congress can remain silent.

TWO H-1B SPOUSES AND ONE LABOR CERTIFICATION: BOTH SPOUSES SHOULD BE ABLE TO SEEK SEVENTH-YEAR H-1B EXTENSIONS UNDER AC21

By Gary Endelman and Cyrus D. Mehta

We post some of the ideas that we have proposed in the forthcoming article, The Tyranny of Priority Dates, http://www.cyrusmehta.com/news.aspx?SubIdx=ocyrus20103925436, on this blog. This post advocates that an H-1B seeking an extension beyond the six years may do so even though the other spouse is the beneficiary of a labor certification.

There is a clear basis in § 106(a) of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (“AC21”) to allow an H-1B spouse to seek an extension of H-1B status beyond six years when the other spouse is the beneficiary of an appropriately filed labor certification. There is no need for two spouses to have their own labor certifications, when only one will be required for both spouses to obtain permanent residence. USCIS must interpret existing ameliorative provisions that Congress has specifically passed to relieve the hardships caused by crushing quota backlogs in a way that reflects the intention behind the law.

On November 2, 2002, the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act (“21st Century DOJ Appropriations Act”) took effect and liberalized the provisions of AC21 that enabled nonimmigrants present in the United States in H-1B status to obtain one-year extensions beyond the normal sixth-year limitation. See Pub. L. No. 107–273, 116 Stat. 1758 (2002). The new amendments enacted by the 21st Century DOJ Appropriations Act liberalized AC21 § 106(a) and now permits an H-1B visa holder to extend her status beyond the sixth year if:

1. 365 days or more have passed since the filing of any application for labor certification that is required or used by the alien to obtain status under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) § 203(b), or

2. 365 days or more have passed since the filing of an Employment-based immigrant petition under INA § 203(b). Id. (Emphasis added).

Previously, AC21 § 106(a) only permitted one-year extensions beyond the sixth-year limitation if the H-1B nonimmigrant was the beneficiary of an EB petition or an application for adjustment of status and 365 days or more had passed since the filing of a labor certification application or the Employment-based (EB) immigrant petition. See Pub. L. No. 106-313, 114 Stat. 1251 (2000). Even under this more restrictive version of AC21 § 106(a), the Service applied a more liberal interpretation, permitting H-1B aliens to obtain one-year extensions beyond the normal sixth-year limitation where there was no nexus between the previously filed and pending labor certification application or EB immigrant petition and the H-1B nonimmigrant’s current employment. This broad reading was recently affirmed in the Memorandum of William R. Yates, Associate Director for Operations. See William Yates, Interim Guidance for Processing Form I-140 Employment-Based Immigrant Petitions and Form I-485 and H-1B Petitions Affected by the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21) (Public Law 106-313), Memo # USCIS HQPRD 70/6.2.8-P, May 12, 2005 (“Yates Memo”).

If a labor certification was filed on behalf of one spouse, the other should be permitted to benefit from the labor certification application that was filed, and remains pending, on behalf of her husband, because under the liberalized provision of AC21, as amended by the 21st Century DOJ Appropriations Act, “365 days or more have passed since the filing of any application for labor certification.” See Pub. L. No. 107–273, 116 Stat. 1758 (2002). The derivative spouse will use this application upon its approval to obtain status pursuant to INA § 203(b).

The Yates Memo unfortunately suggests that an H-1B spouse must meet all the requirements independently of the H-1B spouse’s eligibility for a seventh-year extension. See Yates Memo at 10. Now, both spouses need to have labor certifications filed on their behalf to obtain the benefit of AC21 § 106(a), which is unnecessary and absurd. The statute itself has more flexibility and speaks of “any application for labor certification…in a case in which certification is required or used by the alien to obtain status under such § 203(b).” See Pub. L. No. 106-313, 114 Stat. 1251, § 106(a) (2000). This interpretation is very much in keeping with spirit of AC21, which is to soften the hardship caused by lengthy adjudications and we certainly have that now with respect to China and India, as well as worldwide EB-3. The current interpretation placed upon AC21 § 106(a) is contrary to the intent of Congress. It is not enough to say that the H-1B spouse for whom a labor certification has not been filed can change to non-working H-4 status. Given the backlogs facing India and China in the EB-2, as well as worldwide EB- 3, it is simply unrealistic and punitive to deprive degreed professionals of the ability to work for years at a time but force them to remain here to preserve their eligibility for adjustment of status.

Finally, the USCIS has also argued that the absence of INA § 203(d) in AC21 § 106(a) – “any application for labor certification that is a required or used by the alien to obtain status under § 203(b).” – suggests that only the principal spouse can immigrate under INA § 203(b) and the derivative needs INA § 203(d). See id. But INA § 203(d) states that the spouse is “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration provided in the respective subsection (INA § 203(a), § 203(b), or § 203(c)), if accompanying or following to join, the spouse or parent.” See INA § 203(d) [8 U.S.C. § 1153(d) (2006)]. Thus, the derivative spouse still immigrates under INA § 203(b). INA § 203(d), which was introduced by the Immigration Act of 1990 (“IMMACT90”), is essentially superfluous and only confirms that a derivative immigrates with the principal. See Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978 (1990). Prior to IMMACT90, there was no predecessor to INA § 203(d), and yet spouses immigrated with the principal. Thus, it is clear that a spouse does not immigrate via INA § 203(d), and the purpose of this provision is merely to confirm that a spouse is given the same order of consideration as the principal under INA § 203(b).

(The authors thank Marcelo Martinez Zambonino, a law student at New York Law School, for his assistance in editing the post.)

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.