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Including Early Adjustment Filing in Proposed DHS Rule Impacting High-Skilled Workers Would Give Big Boost to Delayed Green Card Applicants

A proposed DHS rule entitled “Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers” has disappointed beneficiaries of I-140 employment-based immigration visa petitions who are caught in the crushing employment-based preferences. Everyone was waiting with bated breath about how the rule would allow beneficiaries to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) based on an approved I-140 petitions. The proposed rule was announced on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015,  but the balloon hastily deflated well before New Year. EADs would be issued in a very niggardly manner. This blog’s focus is not to explain every aspect of the proposed rule, and refers readers to Greg Siskind’s detailed summary, but suggests that the DHS also consider adding a rule to allow early filing of an I-485 adjustment application. Including a rule that would allow early filing of an I-485 application, along with some of the ameliorative provisions in the proposed rule, would truly make the rule positively impactful to those who are seeking relief.

Under the proposed rule, DHS will provide EADs to beneficiaries in the United States on E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1 or O-1 nonimmigrant status if they can demonstrate compelling circumstances. While compelling circumstances have not been defined in the rule, DHS has suggested that they include serious illness and disabilities, employer retaliation, other substantial harm to the applicant and significant disruption to the employer. Regarding what may constitute significant disruption; DHS has suggested loss of funding for grants that may invalidate a cap-exempt H-1B status or a corporate restructure that may no longer render an L-1 visa status valid. The EAD will be renewed if such compelling circumstances continue to be met, or if the beneficiary’s priority date is within one year of the official cut-off date.

As a result of these stringent standards, very few I-140 beneficiaries will be able to take advantage of this EAD provision. Furthermore, in order to keep the existing I-140 petition valid, the sponsoring employer must continue to offer the position to the beneficiary. While the recipient of an EAD can engage in open market employment, he or she must intend to work for the sponsoring employer upon the issuance of permanent residency. It is hoped that the final rule will provide a broader basis for beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions to obtain EADs without needing to show compelling circumstances. INA 274A(h)(3) provides broad authorization to the DHS to issue work authorization to any non-citizen. While there is broad authority in the INA to issue an EAD, it is difficult to conceptualize how such a beneficiary may be able to port to another employer without a pending I-485 application. INA 204(j) requires an I-485 application to be pending for more than 180 days before a worker can change jobs in a same or similar occupational classification, while still keeping the I-140 petition and underlying labor certification intact.  On the other hand, a new employer can re-sponsor a worker if he or she has an EAD through a new I-140 petition, while retaining the priority date of the old petition, upon which the worker can consular process for the immigrant visa if not in a valid nonimmigrant status at the time the final action date becomes current.

Although the centerpiece proposal is disappointing, there are some bright spots. I-140 petitions that have been approved for at least 180 days would not be subject to automatic revocation due to a business closure or withdrawal by the employer. DHS has invoked its discretion under INA 205 to retain an I-140 even if an employer withdraws it or the business closes. This assurance would allow workers who have pending I-485 applications for 180 days or more to safely exercise job portability under INA 204(j), although this dispensation is not possible if USCIS revokes the I-140 based on a prior error. Even those without pending I-485 applications could take advantage of this provision to obtain H-1B extensions beyond six years under the American Competitiveness in the 21stCentury Act (AC 21). They would also be able to keep their priority dates if a new employer files another I-140 petition.

The proposed rule would also allow workers whose jobs are terminated a grace period of 60 days if they are holding E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1 or TN status. There will also be automatic extensions of an EAD for 180 days, but will take away the mandatory processing time for an EAD within 90 days.

Notwithstanding the stingy circumstances under which the DHS proposes to issue EADs to beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions, the proposed rule could be salvaged, and truly resurrected, if workers can file early I-485 adjustment of status applications. While the proposed rule has not touched upon this, the DHS must revisit the innovation that was made in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin by creating a filing date and a final adjudication date. Although the filing dates got substantially pulled back in the EB-2 for India and China shortly before the new visa bulletin took effect on October 1, resulting in a lawsuit, DHS has a chance to redeem itself through this rule to truly benefit high skilled workers.

INA 245(a)(3) allows for the filing of an I-485 application for adjustment of status when the visa is “immediately available” to the applicant. The Department of State (DOS) has historically never advanced priority dates based on certitude that a visa would actually be available. There have been many instances when applicants have filed an I-485 application in a particular month, only to later find that the dates have retrogressed. A good example is the April 2012 Visa Bulletin, when the EB-2 cut-off dates for India and China were May 1, 2010. In the very next May 2012 Visa Bulletin  a month later, the EB-2 cut-off dates for India and China retrogressed to August 15, 2007. If the DOS was absolutely certain that applicants born in India and China who filed in April 2012  would receive their green cards, it would not have needed to retrogress dates back to August 15, 2007.  Indeed, those EB-2 applicants who filed their I-485 applications in April 2012 are still waiting and have yet to receive their green cards even as of today! Another example is when the DOS announced that the July 2007 Visa Bulletin for EB-2 and EB-3 would become current. Hundreds of thousands filed during that period (which actually was the extended period from July 17, 2007 to August 17, 2007)  . It was obvious that these applicants would not receive their green cards during that time frame. The DOS  then retrogressed the EB dates substantially the following month, and those who filed under the India EB-3 in July-August 2007, also known as the class of 2007,  are still waiting today.

These two examples, among many, go to show that “immediately available” in INA 245(a)(3), according to the DOS, have never meant that visas were actually available to be issued to applicants as soon as they filed. Rather, it has always been based on a notion of visa availability at some point of time in the future. The Visa Bulletin in its new reincarnation, notwithstanding the pulling back of the filing dates prior to October 1, 2015,  now views it more broadly as “dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process.” The USCIS similarly views visa availability opaquely as “eligible applicants” who “are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.”  These new interpretations provide more flexibility for the State Department to move the filing date even further, and make it closer to current. While it is acknowledge that certain categories like the India EB-3 may have no visa availability whatsoever, DOS and DHS can reserve one visa in the India EB-3 like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than consumed by the alien beneficiary.   So long as there is one visa kept available, the proposal to allow for an I-485 filing through a provisional filing date would be consistent with INA §245(a)(3).

The author has proposed the following amendments to 8 C.F.R. § 245.1(g)(1) in the past with Gary Endelman (who has since become an Immigration Judge), shown here in bold, that would expand the definition of visa availability:

An alien is ineligible for the benefits of section 245 of the Act unless an immigrant visa is immediately available to him or her at the time the application is filed. If the applicant is a preference alien, the current Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Bulletin will be consulted to determine whether an immigrant visa is immediately available. An immigrant visa is considered available for accepting and processing the application Form I-485 [if] the preference category applicant has a priority date on the waiting list which is earlier than the date shown in the Bulletin (or the Bulletin shows that numbers for visa applicants in his or her category are current) (“final action date”). An immigrant visa is also considered available for submission of the I-485 application based on a provisional priority date (‘filing date”) without reference to the final action date. No provisional submission can be undertaken absent prior approval of the visa petition and only if all visas in the preference category have not been exhausted in the fiscal year. Final adjudication only occurs when there is a current final adjudication date.An immigrant visa is also considered immediately available if the applicant establishes eligibility for the benefits of Public Law 101-238. Information concerning the immediate availability of an immigrant visa may be obtained at any Service office.

If early adjustment filing consistent with INA 245(a)(3) is included in the final rule, imagine how many more workers will benefit from it. Having an actual rule in place, as proposed, will prevent the shenanigans that obstructionists in the USCIS have engaged in by arbitrarily holding back the filing date, and in recent months, not even recognizing it for purposes of filing I-485 applications.   While an EAD of an approved I-140 will also be beneficial, being able to port off a pending adjustment application under INA 204(j) would allow the retention of the earlier I-140 petition (and underlying labor certification), without the need for an employer to file a new labor certification and I-140 petition. The filing of the I-485 application would also be able to protect a child from aging out under the Child Status Protection Act, which an EAD off an approved I-140 would not be able to do. Folks whose filing date would not be current could still take advantage of the EAD based on an approved I-140, but for those who can file an early I-485, they would incur many more benefits, including the ability to exercise true portability and eventually adjust to permanent residence in the United States.

Winter Blues: Freezing the Age of a Child Under the December 2015 Visa Bulletin

Although the State Department Visa Bulletin announced dual dates on September 9, 2015 – a filing date and a final action date – effective October 1 2015, the government has yet to clarify how these dates protect a derivative child from aging out (turning 21) under the Child Status Protection Act. If a derivative child turns 21, the child cannot automatically obtain permanent residency status with the parent, and thus the CSPA freezes the age of a child below 21.

The new filing date in the Visa Bulletin allows for the early filing of I-485 adjustment of status applications if eligible applicants are in the United States and the filing of visa applications if they are outside the country. The final action date will be the date when green cards can actually be issued.  The filing date thus allows for the early submission of adjustment applications prior to the date when green cards actually become available. Similarly for those who are outside the United States and processing for an immigrant visa overseas, the filing date should allow applicants to submit the DS 260 immigrant visa application.

Prior to the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, the cut-off date was based on the government’s ability to issue a green card during that month.  While there has been no official guidance, and many of the practice advisories issued make scant reference, it is important that we advocate that the age of the child also be protected under the CSPA at the time that the filing date becomes current for the applicant. A child ceases to be considered a child upon turning 21, and can no longer immigrate as a derivative with the parent, especially when the parent is likely to be caught in the backlogs. It is thus important that the CSPA is made applicable to protect the child’s age at the time of the earlier filing date. This will also promote legal consistency and harmony with respect to the broader definition of visa availability in the new visa bulletin. [Readers are cautioned not to expect that this will happen, and the whole purpose of this blog is to advocate that children get CSPA protection under the new visa bulletin.]

Notwithstanding the abrupt retrogression of the filing dates on September 25, 2015 that were first announced on September 9, 2015, thus impeding the ability of thousands who were ready to file adjustment applications on October 1, 2015,  the dual date system still exists, albeit not as advantageously as before. The Visa Bulletin has been further undermined after the USCIS was given authority to determine filing dates for purposes of filing adjustment applications. One has to now also refer to http://www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo to determine whether adjustment applicants can use the filing dates each month established by the State Department in the Visa Bulletin. For the first two months in 2015, October and November,  the USCIS indicated that the filing dates could be used, but for December 2015, the USCIS abruptly announced without explanation that only the final action date could be used for filing I-485 applications. This has caused further confusion regarding the applicability of the CSPA.

As background, INA 245(a)(3) only allows for the filing of an I-485 adjustment of status application when “an immigrant visa is immediately available.” Visa availability will no longer be defined by when visas are actually available. The Visa Bulletin in its new reincarnation now views it more broadly as “dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process.” The USCIS similarly views visa availability opaquely as “eligible applicants” who “are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.”  These new interpretations provide more flexibility for the State Department to move the filing date even further, and make it closer to current. Thus, the government’s argument that it made a mistake when announcing the more advantageous filing dates on September 9, 2015 in the lawsuit, Mehta v. DOL, makes no sense.  Indeed, visa availability ought to be based on just one visa being saved in the backlogged preference category, such as the India EB-3, like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving day is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than consumed by the foreign national beneficiary.  The new way of interpreting visa availability makes it possible to file an adjustment of status application earlier than before, along with all the accompanying benefits that arise, such as job portability under INA 204(j), work authorization for the principal and derivative family members and travel permission. Similarly, CSPA protection should also be made available to children who may age out at the time of the earlier filing date so as to maximize the chance for children to obtain their green cards with the parent.

I strongly advocate that if there is now a broader interpretation of visa availability for purpose of filing an I-485 adjustment application at the filing date, this same filing date should lock in the CSPA age too. Otherwise the whole scheme collapses like a house of cards if there is no consistency. If there must be visa availability to file an I-485 under INA 245(a)(3) in order to enjoy 204(j) portability, it makes sense to use the same new interpretation of visa availability to lock in the child’s age at the filing date.  Imagine filing an I-485 for a minor at the time of the filing date who is not protected under the CSPA, and once s/he ages out, is no longer eligible to even be an adjustment applicant, and has to leave the US while the parents can continue as adjustment applicants.

There’s also no point in providing the earlier filing date in the new visa bulletin for immigrant visa applicants overseas, otherwise they get no tangible benefit, except to be able to lock in the child’s age earlier at the time of the filing date under the CSPA.

Under INA 203(h)(1)(A), which codified Section 3 of the CSPA,  the age of the child under 21 is locked on the “date on which an immigrant visa number becomes available…but only if the [child] has sought to acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residency within one year of such availability.” If the child’s age is over 21 years, it can be subtracted by the amount of time the applicable petition was pending. See INA 203(h)(1)(B).

Under INA 245(a)(3), an I-485 application can only be filed when an  “immigrant visa is immediately available.”

Therefore, there is no meaningful difference in the verbiage relating to visas availability – “immigrant visa becomes available” and “immigrant visa is immediately available” under INA 203(h)(1)(A) and INA 245(a)(3) respectively. If an adjustment application can be filed under the new interpretation of visa availability pursuant to 245(a)(3), then the interpretation regarding visa availability under 203(h)(1)(A) should be consistent.

Even though the filing date may not be available for submitting an adjustment application under December 1, 2015, according to the USCIS, this should not preclude an applicant from claiming the earlier filing date for purposes of freezing the age of the child below 21 years. In order to meet all the conditions of freezing the age under the CSPA, the child should have also sought to acquire lawful permanent residency within one year of visa availability, which is arguably the filing date. However, what if the USCIS does not allow usage of the filing date for I-485 applications for more than a year? Does this mean that the child’s age cannot be protected under the CSPA? One possibility is to seek permanent residency through consular processing, and file Form I-824, which enables consular processing of an approved I-130 or I-140 petition. The filing of Form I-824 would constitute evidence of seeking to acquire permanent residency within one year of visa availability, which is when the filing date became current. Even if the parent and child are unable to file an adjustment application, or even be able to obtain a green card imminently, filing the I-824 at least clearly fulfills the condition of seeking to acquire permanent residency within one year of visa availability.  Once the USCIS allows usage of the filing date, an adjustment application can subsequently be filed, and the filing of the I-824 application to initiate consular processing would constitute solid evidence of the applicant seeking permanent residency within one year of visa availability.

Until there is more clarity, it makes sense to take advantage of the earlier filing date to protect the age of the child, and then seek to acquire permanent residency within one year of the filing date becoming current. Of course, given that there is no harmony between the DOS and the USCIS with respect to availability of filing dates, it may be possible to also claim the final action date for purposes of protecting the age of the child, and then seeking to acquire permanent residency within one year of the final action date becoming current. I had suggested in my earlier blog that permanent residency should only be sought within one year of the filing date becoming current so that the concept of visa availability be applied consistently. However, given that the USCIS has not permitted the filing of I-485 applications in the month of December 2015, although the State Department has released a filing date, a child applicant should take advantage of either the filing date or the final action date for purposes of CSPA protection.

There has undoubtedly been much confusion caused by the new Visa Bulletin that took effect on October 1, 2015. While there is an ongoing legal fight to challenge the government’s abrupt reversal of the filing dates on September 25, 2015, we must also force the government to agree with the interpretation that the CSPA should lock in a child’s age based on the new filing date. In the months when the USCIS does not permit adjustment submissions based on the filing date, applicants should still be able to lock in the CSPA age based on the filing date in the Visa Bulletin, as well as based on the final action date, whichever is more advantageous. It is really surprising that the government has said nothing thus far, and hopefully, this blog should prompt a discussion.

Non-Retroactivity of BIA Precedent Decisions: De Niz Robles v. Lynch and other Recent Court of Appeals Rulings

Earlier this year, in Zombie Precedents, the Sequel, I discussed how the Second Circuit’s April 2015 decision in Lugo v. Holder exemplified a better way of dealing with precedent decisions that had been overturned by a court.  As I noted in that blog post, the Second Circuit remanded Lugoto the BIA not only to deal with the issue raised by the overturned precedent, but also to deal with a related question regarding the retroactivity of the BIA’s decision in Matter of Robles-Urrea.  In that regard, the Second Circuit’s decision in Lugoforms part of an interesting trend regarding limits on the retroactivity of BIA decisions, most recently exemplified by the Tenth Circuit’s decision last week in De Niz Robles v. Lynch.

The issue in De Niz Robles concerned the interaction of INA §245(i), 8 U.S.C. §1255(i), with INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(9)(C)(i)(I).  The former provision, as has been discussed previously on this blog in a September 2010 post by Cyrus D. Mehta, allows adjustment of status by certain applicants who have entered without inspection, or are otherwise disqualified from adjustment under INA §245(a) and (c), if they are “grandfathered” as the principal or derivative beneficiaries of appropriate visa petitions or labor certification applications filed prior to April 30, 2001.  The latter provision declares inadmissible those who have been unlawfully present in the United States for a year or more and have subsequently re-entered without inspection, subject to a potential waiver which must be sought 10 years after one’s last departure from the United States.  These provisions, as the 10th Circuit noted in De Niz Robles, are in some tension with one another.

Approximately ten years ago, the Tenth Circuit held in Padilla-Caldera v. Gonzales (Padilla-Caldera I), 426 F.3d 1294 (10th Cir. 2005), amended and superseded on reh’g, 453 F.3d 1237 (10th Cir. 2006), that §245(i) prevailed over §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I), such that Mr. Padilla-Caldera could adjust status under §245(i) despite having been unlawfully present for over a year, left the United States in order to seek an immigrant visa, and ultimately re-entered without inspection.  The BIA then held differently in Matter of Briones, 24 I&N Dec. 355 (BIA 2007), finding that inadmissibility under §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) prevented §245(i) adjustment.  The Tenth Circuit, in Padilla-Caldera v. Holder (Padilla-Caldera II), 637 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2011), deferred to this BIA decision pursuant to Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services (“Brand X”), 545 U.S. 967 (2005), finding it to be a reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutory language.

In the meantime, however, between the time of Padilla-Caldera I and Matter of Briones, Mr. De Niz Robles had applied for adjustment of status under §245(i) based on Padilla-Caldera I.  His application took so long to process that it was adjudicated after Padilla-Caldera II, and the BIA, applying that decision and Matter of Briones, denied Mr. De Niz Robles’s application.  He argued that this was an inappropriately retroactive application of Matter of Briones to an application filed before that decision was issued.  The Tenth Circuit agreed.

As the Tenth Circuit pointed out, when Mr. De Niz Robles filed his application in 2007, he had the option of instead leaving the United States, and serving out the ten-year period before he could apply for a waiver of his inadmissibility under INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I).  In reliance on the case law as it existed at that time, specifically Padilla-Caldera I, he chose to apply for adjustment of status instead.  The BIA, by applying Matter of Briones to Mr. De Niz Robles six years later in 2013, and defending that position on appeal in 2015, had put Mr. De Niz Robles in the position of having lost years of time that he could have spent towards the ten-year waiver qualification period—by now, he would have served out eight of the required ten years and been only two years away from being able to apply for a waiver, had he left.  This, the Tenth Circuit said, was retroactive application of the Briones decision, and was not permissible.

When the BIA or a similar agency tribunal acts to overturn an existing decision via Brand X, the Tenth Circuit decided, it should be treated for retroactivity purposes similarly to an agency that declares its new policy through rulemaking.  Although retroactive rulemaking is sometimes permitted, it is disfavored.  Applying the factors that govern such a retroactive agency rulemaking, the Tenth Circuit determined that the reasonableness of Mr. De Niz Robles’s reliance on Padilla-Caldera I, and the dire consequences to him if the BIA’s ruling was allowed to stand, weighed particularly strongly in favor of finding that Briones should not be applied to him.

In this way, De Niz Robleswent beyond what Lugohad done, flatly finding that it would be inappropriate to give retroactive effect to the BIA’s ruling rather than merely remanding for further explanation of the point.  This is partly because the context made clearer in De Niz Roblesthat there had in fact been a retroactive ruling.  The Second Circuit in Lugo had asked the BIA to address, among other factors, “whether its holding in Matter of Robles-Urreawas a departure from prior law.”  Lugo, slip op. at 5.  In De Niz Robles, the Tenth Circuit did not need to defer to the BIA on the analogous question, but was able to resolve it on its own: it was quite clear that Briones was a departure from prior law, at least within the jurisdiction of the Tenth Circuit, where it was contrary to Padilla-Caldera I.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit followed a similar path to the Tenth in Acosta-Olivarria v. Lynch, decided less than two months before De Niz Robles, on August 26, 2015.  Like the Tenth Circuit, the Ninth had, prior to Matter of Briones, issued a decision allowing §245(i) adjustment despite inadmissibility under INA §212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I): Acosta v. Gonzales, 439 F.3d 550 (9th Cir. 2006).  Like the Tenth Circuit, after Briones, the Ninth Circuit had overruled its decision, in Garfias-Rodriguez v. Holder, 702 F.3d 504 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc), deferring to the BIA under Brand X.  And like Mr. De Niz Robles, Mr. Acosta-Olivarria had applied for adjustment of status after his Circuit case law indicated he could do so, and before the BIA and Circuit told him he could not.  The bottom line was the same in Acosta-Olivarria as in De Niz Robles: the Ninth Circuit held, over one judge’s dissent, that the BIA’s ruling in Briones could not be applied retroactively to Mr. Acosta-Olivarria, and so an immigration judge’s order granting him adjustment of status, which had been set aside by the BIA, was reinstated.

De Niz Robles, Acosta-Olivarriaand Lugoare not the only relatively recent decisions to reject or cast doubt on retroactive application of a BIA ruling.  The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also did this in its July 2014 decision in Velasquez-Garcia v. Holder, 760 F.3d 571 (7th Cir. 2014).  There, the Seventh Circuit rejected retroactive application of the BIA’s decision in Matter of O. Vasquez, 25 I&N Dec. 817 (BIA 2012), interpreting the “sought to acquire” language of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA).
As discussed in more detail by a numberof postson this blogand articleson our firm’s website, INA §203(h)(1)(A), added by section 3 of the CSPA, requires that a child have “sought to acquire” lawful permanent residence within one year of visa availability in order to take advantage of protections under the CSPA that fix the child’s age for purposes of derivative visa eligibility  at a point younger than that child’s actual biological age.  The BIA held in Matter of O. Vasquez that absent “extraordinary circumstances”, this provision could only be satisfied by the actual filing of an application for adjustment of status or of analogous forms and fees used to apply for an immigrant visa from the Department of State.  (USCIS subsequently issued an interim Policy Memorandum elaborating on what it would consider to be extraordinary circumstances.)  Prior to O. Vasquez, however, the BIA had in several non-precedential decisions been more lenient, allowing a broader set of “substantial steps” towards the obtainment of permanent residence to qualify as seeking to acquire for CSPA purposes.  As discussed in a previous post on this blog, for example, the BIA’s October 2010 unpublished decision in Matter of Murillo and other pre-2010 cases allowed such steps as hiring an attorney to meet the seeking-to-acquire requirement.

The Seventh Circuit in Velasquez-Garciaheld that it would not be appropriate to apply the stricter O. Vasquez standard to those who may have complied with the prior, laxer standard of seeking to acquire before O. Vasquez was issued.  As the Court of Appeals explained: “In light of the state of the law at the critical time, a reasonable person reasonably could have assumed that the [CSPA] did not require him to file an application within one year.”  Given the immense burden that applying the new rule retroactively would have imposed on Velasquez, and the tension between the effect of retroactive application and the remedial purpose of the CSPA to ameliorate the effect of administrative delays – among which the Seventh Circuit included the eight-year delay by the BIA before promulgating precedential guidance regarding “sought to acquire” in O. Vasquez – the Seventh Circuit held that Mr. Velasquez-Garcia should be permitted to proceed under the standard in effect prior to O. Vasquez.

These sorts of retroactivity issues can be expected to continue to arise in the future as the BIA aggressively uses its policymaking interpretative authority under Chevron and Brand X, at least when that authority is used to reinterpret a standard unfavorably to immigrants.  (Changes in a rule which are more favorable to those affected by that rule are not the sort which raise retroactivity concerns under the case law, since allowing someone to apply for a benefit from which he or she previously was precluded does not raise the same unfairness concerns as a change in the other direction.)  Under such circumstances, attorneys and clients should be alert for the possibility that the less-favorable BIA precedent may not apply retroactively, particularly to those who could potentially have relied on the prior state of the law.  The issue of retroactivity is often a complicated one, but it is worth exploring in appropriate cases.

Save the Children Under the New Visa Bulletin

The changes  made to the priority date system in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin have been positive and will provide much relief to beneficiaries of visas petitions caught in the employment and family-based backlogs. There will be two dates for the very first time: a filing date and a final action date. The filing date will allow the filing of adjustment of status applications if eligible foreign nationals are in the United States and the filing of visa applications if they are outside the country. The final action date will be the date when green cards can actually be issued.

The October 2015 Visa Bulletin will thus allow the filing of applications prior to the date when green cards actually become available. Until now, the cut-off date was based on when visas were actually available.  While there has been no official guidance, and many of the practice advisories issued make scant reference, it is important that we advocate that the age of the child also be protected under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) at the time that the filing date becomes current for the applicant. A child ceases to be considered a child upon turning 21, and can no longer immigrate as a derivative with the parent, especially when the parent is likely to be caught in the backlogs. It is thus important that the CSPA is made applicable to protect the child’s age at the time of the earlier filing date. This will also promote legal consistency and harmony with respect to the broader definition of visa availability in the new visa bulletin. Readers are cautioned not to expect that this will happen, and the whole purpose of this blog is to advocate that children get CSPA protection under the new visa bulletin.

I celebrated the broadening of the interpretation of visa availability in my last blog,  Godot Has Arrived: Early Adjustment Of Status Applications Possible Under The October 15, 2015 Visa Bulletin,  and was also happy to note that these changes were consistent with what Gary Endelman (who is now an Immigration Judge) and I have propounded since 2010 in The Tyranny of Priority Dates. As a background, INA 245(a)(3) only allows for the filing of an I-485 adjustment of status application when “an immigrant visa is immediately available.” Visa availability will no longer be defined by when visas are actually available. The October Visa Bulletin now views it more broadly as “dates for filing visa applications within a time frame justifying immediate action in the application process.” The USCIS similarly views visa availability opaquely as “eligible applicants” who “are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.”  These new interpretations provide more flexibility for the State Department to move the filing date even further, and make it closer to current. The new way of interpreting visa availability makes it possible to file an adjustment of status application earlier than before, along with all the accompanying benefits that arise, such as job portability under INA 204(j), work authorization for the principal and derivative family members and travel permission. Similarly, CSPA protection should also be made available to children who may age out at the time of the earlier filing date so as to maximize the chance for children to obtain their green cards with the parent.

Before the government finalizes all the details, I strongly advocate that if there is now a broader interpretation of visa availability for purpose of filing an I-485 adjustment application at the filing date, this same filing date should lock in the CSPA age too. Otherwise the whole scheme collapses like a house of cards if there is no consistency. If there must be visa availability to file an I-485 under INA 245(a)(3) in order to enjoy 204(j) portability, it makes sense to use the same new interpretation of visa availability to lock in the child’s age at the filing date.  Imagine filing an I-485 for a minor at the time of the filing date who is not protected under the CSPA, and once s/he ages out, is no longer eligible to even be an adjustment applicant, and has to leave the US while the parents can continue as adjustment applicants.

There’s also no point in providing the earlier filing date in the new visa bulletin for immigrant visa applicants overseas, otherwise they get no tangible benefit, except to be able to lock in the child’s age earlier at the time of the filing date under the CSPA. (There is potential for advocating that beneficiaries who have filed visa applications overseas under the earlier filing date be paroled into the US under INA 212(d)(5) while they wait for the final acceptance date to materialize, but I will reserve this for a future blog).

Under INA 203(h)(1)(A), which codified Section 3 of the CSPA,  the age of the child under 21 is locked on the “date on which an immigrant visa number becomes available…but only if the [child] has sought to acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residency within one year of such availability.” If the child’s age is over 21 years, it can be subtracted by the amount of time the applicable petition was pending. See INA 203(h)(1)(B).

Under INA 245(a)(3), an I-485 application can only be filed when an  “immigrant visa is immediately available.”

Therefore, there is no meaningful difference in the verbiage relating to visas availability – “immigrant visa becomes available” and “immigrant visa is immediately available” under INA 203(h)(1)(A) and INA 245(a)(3) respectively. If an adjustment application can be filed under the new interpretation of visa availability pursuant to 245(a)(3), then the interpretation regarding visa availability under 203(h)(1)(A) should be consistent.

Some of my esteemed colleagues have pointed out that one who does not seek to acquire permanent residency within the time of the filing date, but rather, seeks to acquire permanent residence within one year of the final action date may lose out under the CSPA. This may well be the case. However, it is far more advantageous for a child’s age to be locked in at the earlier filing date than the final action date. In order to be consistent and for this scheme to withstand potential legal challenges,  under the broader definition of visa availability which must be applied consistently, permanent residency should be sought within one year of the filing date rather than the final acceptance date.

Gary Endelman and I fine tuned our proposal in 2014 by advocating  that visa availability ought to be based on the just one visa being saved in the backlogged preference category, such as the India EB-3,  like the proverbial Thanksgiving turkey. Just like one turkey every Thanksgiving day is pardoned by the President and not consumed, similarly one visa can also be left intact rather than consumed by the foreign national beneficiary.   So long as there is one visa kept available, it would provide the legal basis for an I-485 filing through the earlier filing date, and this  would be consistent with INA §245(a)(3). Similarly, this new visa availability ought to also protect the child from aging out under INA 203(h)(1)(A). Filing dates could potentially advance and become current.  Admittedly, it is not expected that the government will follow our “Thanksgiving turkey” proposal to the hilt, at least not yet, and it has been suggested by Greg Siskind on his Twitter feed that the filing dates will not move much in the first few months. The filing of early I-485 applications will give Charlie Oppenheim at DOS a better sense of how visa numbers will actually be utilized for the rest of the year.  “The goal of the changes is not to so much to allow people to file early as to have more accurate final action dates,” according to Siskind.

Regardless of whether the DOS and USCIS wish to advance the filing dates rapidly or not, it is important to protect a child from aging out at the time of the earlier filing date. Apart from ensuring that the parent and child immigrate together, this consistency will also make the new visa bulletin legally sound.  

Matter Of O. Vazquez: BIA Issues Precedential Decision on “Sought to Acquire” Under the Child Status Protection Act

In Matter of O. Vasquez, 25 I&N Dec. 817 (BIA 2012), the first precedential decision on this issue, the Board of Immigration Appeals has clarified the “sought to acquire” provision under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA).  The CSPA artificially freezes the age of a child below 21 years of age so that he or she is not deprived of permanent residency when the parent is granted the same status. One of the requirements is for the child to seek permanent residency within one year of visa availability. Often times, a CSPA protected child falls through the cracks by failing to meet the prevailing rigid filing requirements within the one-year deadline. Thus, the meaning of the term “sought to acquire” permanent residency has been hotly litigated in recent times. Does it encompass only a filing of an application or can it encompass something less than a filing of an application for immigration status?

 According to the BIA in Matter of O. Vazquez, an alien may satisfy the “sought to acquire” provision of section 203(h)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Act”) by filing an application for adjustment of status or by showing that there are other extraordinary circumstances in the case, particularly those where the failure to timely file was due to circumstances beyond the alien’s control. The BIA further elaborated that the “sought to acquire” requirement could still be met if the applicant filed an adjustment application, but was rejected for technical reasons, such as the absence of a signature. With respect to a showing of extraordinary circumstances, the BIA indicated that an applicant could show that he or she paid an attorney to prepare an application prior to the one year deadline, but the attorney then failed to take the ministerial step of actually filing the application, thus effectively depriving the aged out child from the protection of the CSPA for no fault of its own.

While the BIA did provide examples of “sought to acquire” just short of a filing; unfortunately, the BIA’s interpretation in Matter of O. Vazquez is more restrictive than its earlier interpretations in unpublished decisions discussed in a prior blog, BIA Continues To Reaffirm Broad “Sought To Acquire” Standard Under CSPA.  The BIA stopped short of holding that the term can encompass other actions not associated with the filing of an adjustment application, such as seeking the advice of an attorney or other similar sorts of efforts. In Matter of O. Vazquez, the “aged out” child argued that he sought to acquire permanent residency by consulting a notario organization within one year of the visa availability. The BIA held that such an action did not fall under the “sought to acquire” definition. Given that the CSPA is a remedial statute to ameliorate the hardships caused to children who age out, the facts in this case were also sympathetic as the alien was wrongly advised by an organization not authorized to practice law in the first place, and thus deprived of the chance to be protected under the CSPA.

As a background, INA §203(h), introduced by Section 3 of the CSPA, provides the formula for determining the age of a derivative child in a preference petition even if the child is older than 21 years. To qualify as a child under INA §101(b)(1), one must be below the age of 21 and unmarried. The age is determined by taking the age of the alien on the date that a visa first became available (i.e. the date on which the priority date became current and the petition was approved, whichever came later) and subtracting the time it took to adjudicate the petition (time from petition filing to petition approval). Based on this formula, if the child’s age falls below 21, the child is protected under the CSPA. Specifically, §203(h)(1)(A) also requires the alien to have “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa availability. It is the interpretation of the term “sought to acquire” that was the subject of the Board’s holding in Matter of O. Vazquez.

The BIA unfortunately arrived at this more restrictive interpretation by agreeing with DHS’s position that the reason for Congress not including the term “filed” is because § 203(h) applies to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS), both of which adjudicate requests for immigration status. The DHS adjudicates applications for adjustment of status from within the US while the DOS adjudicates applications for immigrant visas from outside the US. Under DOS immigrant visa processes, one generally does not “file” an immigrant visa application, DS-230, but rather, the DOS regulations use the word “submit” or “submission” rather than “file” when referring to a DS-230 visa application. See 22 C.F.R. § 42.63 and 22 C.F.R. § 42.63(c). The “filing” of an application in DOS occurs after it is submitted and much later in the process, the BIA noted. See 22 CFR § 42.67(b). According to the BIA, it was due to the difference in the usage of terms in the DOS and DHS regulations that Congress compelled Congress to use the term “sought to acquire” permanent residency rather than to allow for broader actions such as consulting with a notario organization, as was done in Matter of O. Vasquez, to satisfy the “sought to acquire” definition.

Still, it can be argued that the discussion in Matter of O. Vazquez of the use of the word “filing” in DOS regulations, and the multi-step DOS process more generally, does seem to leave room for the possibility that something other than submission of a DS-230 can qualify as seeking to acquire permanent residence for CSPA purposes.  Matter of O. Vazquez holds that “it is reasonable to expect the proper filing of an application, when it comes to DHS cases, as a way to unquestionably satisfy the ‘sought to acquire’ element of the Act.”  25 I&N Dec. at 820.  This holding is limited by its terms to “DHS cases”, in which the formal application process is in the ordinary case more unified into a single step of filing an application form (or that single filing step plus an interview).  The taking of any substantial step in the multistage DOS immigrant-visa process, such as the payment of the immigrant visa fee, as we pointed out in State Department Takes Broader View Of “Sought To Acquire” Provision Under CSPA, or the making of a written request that a particular derivative child be added to a consular case, should arguably still be sufficient to meet the “sought to acquire” requirement even under Matter of O. Vasquez.

Another aspect worth exploring further may be footnote 3 of the decision, on page 821.  The BIA analogizes its “extraordinary circumstances” standard to that applicable to termination-of-registration cases under INA 203(g).  In practice,  DOS has not applied the 203(g) standard as strictly as, say, some IJs apply the asylum one-year “extraordinary circumstances” standard.  If that is so, the linkage of the new Matter of O. Vazquez CSPA sought-to-acquire standard to the 203(g) standard may be significant: the Matter of O. Vazquez standard for extraordinary circumstances is apparently supposed to be interpreted no more strictly than 203(g).

In the view of this author, Congress probably intended the “sought to acquire” requirement to apply more broadly than interpreted in Matter of O. Vazquez. In a prior unpublished decision In re Jose Jesus Murillo, A099 252 007 (October 6, 2010), the BIA interpreted the legislative history behind the CSPA as being expansive, which is worth reproducing here:

The congressional. intent in enacting the CSPA was to “bring families together” (Rep. Sensenbrenner, 148 Congo Rec. H4989-01, H49991, July 22, 2002) and to “provide relief to children who lose out when INS takes too long to process their adjustment of status applications”(Rep. Gekas, id. at R4992); see also, Rep. Jackson-Lee, “where we can correct situations to bring families together, this is extremely important.’.’ ld. atH4991. In enacting the CSPA, Congress expressed its concern that alien children “through no fault of their own, lose the opportunity to obtain immediate relative status.” H.R. Rep. 107-45, H.R. Rep. No.4 5, I 07th Cong., 1st Sess. 2001, reprinted in 2002 U.S.C.C.A.N. 640, 641 (Apr. 20, 2001). Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held that the CSPA should “be construed so as to provide expansive relief to children of United State citizens and permanent residents.” Padash v. INS,358 F.3d 1161, 1172 (9th Cir. 2004).

However, since Matter of O. Vazquez is a precedential decision, we will need to now live and work with it when dealing with instances under which our clients have “sought to acquire” permanent residency in order to protect their age under the CSPA.

(The author thanks David A. Isaacson for his thoughtful input)

 

STATE DEPARTMENT’S VISA OFFICE TAKES BROADER VIEW OF “SOUGHT TO ACQUIRE” PROVISION UNDER THE CHILD STATUS PROTECTION ACT

Many cases involving complex interpretations of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) occur while the applicant is applying for an immigrant visa at an overseas consular post. The CSPA protects a child who may turn 21 or more from “aging out,” and thus being eligible for permanent residence as a derivative, when his or her parent is issued permanent residence.  Often times, while there is room for interpretations under the CSPA, the consular officer may take a restrictive view of a CSPA provision and refuse the visa. There is no appeal process to review a consular officer’s decision at an overseas post, and the refusal may seem to be the end of the road and separation from the “aged out” child from the parent. Fortunately, despite the absence of an appeal process, one can seek an advisory opinion on a purely legal issue with the State Department’s Visa Office in Washington DC via legalnet@state.gov, and a denial under the CSPA mostly involves a legal issue rather than a factual issue. By contrast, the denial of a tourist visa application is almost always fact based, and under such circumstances, it may not be possible to seek an advisory opinion from the Visa Office.

This author has had success in overturning a consular official’s denial on at least two occasions in the past. On both these occasions, the State Department’s Visa Office agreed that the 45 days provided in section 421(2) of the USA Patriot Act can be subtracted from the age of a child if the age subtraction formula under the CSPA did not bring down the age of the child under 21 years. In other words, the child can use the benefit of both the Patriot Act and the CSPA to lower the age of a child below 21 years. Although this author had previously advocated that there was nothing in the CSPA preventing the use of the 45 days from the Patriot Act in addition to the age subtraction formula provided in  the CSPA, this is now no longer an issue as it has been clearly acknowledged in 9 FAM 42.42 N12.4(e.) and 9 FAM 42.42 N12.8(b.).

Our recent success, which we report here for the benefit of others, was regarding the interpretation of “sought to acquire the status of permanent residency” within one year of visa availability. At issue is whether the payment of the visa processing fees with the National Visa Center within the one year period constituted “sought to acquire” permanent residency within the one year period. The actual application for the immigrant visa, DS 230 Part I or II, had not been filed within one year. The applicant was unrepresented at that time and was not aware of the precise requirement to apply for permanent residence within one year of visa availability.

As a background,  INA §203(h), introduced by Section 3 of the CSPA, provides the formula for determining the age of a derivative child in a preference petition even if the child is older than 21 years. To qualify as a child under INA §101(b)(1), one must be below the age of 21 and unmarried. The age is determined by taking the age of the alien on the date that a visa first became available (i.e. the date on which the priority date became current and the petition was approved, whichever came later) and subtracting the time it took to adjudicate the petition (time from petition filing to petition approval). Based on this formula, if the child’s age falls below 21, the child is protected under the CSPA. Specifically, §203(h)(1)(A) also requires the alien to have “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa availability.

The CSPA thus artificially freezes the age of a child below 21 years of age so that he or she is not deprived of permanent residency when the parent is granted the same status. One of the requirements, however, is for the child to seek permanent residency within one year of visa availability. Often times, a CSPA protected child falls through the cracks by failing to meet the prevailing rigid filing requirements within the one-year deadline.

Both the Department of Home Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) have interpreted the phrase “sought to acquire” narrowly, although unpublished decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals have taken a broader view. DHS limits this phrase to filing an I-485 application for adjustment of status. See “Revised Guidance for CSPA” (April 30, 2008).  The DOS too has interpreted “sought to acquire” narrowly and indicated that in consular processing cases, the date that a child seeks to acquire LPR status is the date Form DS 230, Part I, is submitted by the child, or by the child’s parent on the child’s behalf to the National Visa Center (NVC). See “Child Status Protection Act: ALDAC 2” (January 17, 2003), See “Child Status Protection Act: ALDAC 2” (January 17, 2003). If the principal beneficiary parent adjusts status in the US, and the child will be applying for the visa overseas, the DOS requires the principal to file Form I-824 to initiate the child’s follow-to-join application. The DOS has also indicated that since Form I-824 is not the only way to initiate the process, posts may seek advisory opinions in cases in which some other “concrete” step has been taken.

The US consular post we were dealing with insisted that the applicant did not seek to acquire permanent residence within one year because the applicant only paid the visa processing fees with the National Visa Center, but did not file the DS 230, Part 1, within one year of visa availability. The payment of the visa processing fee was not sufficient to constitute “sought to acquire” permanent residence within the one year time frame.

Upon receiving official confirmation of the refusal at the US consular post, we sought an advisory opinion from the Visa Office through legalnet@state.gov. Although we acknowledge that they are not binding on the State Department, we pointed to recent unpublished decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which have interpreted the “sought to acquire” term more broadly, that should still be persuasive. For example, In In re Murillo, 2010 WL 5888675 (BIA Oct. 6, 2010) the BIA reaffirmed its broadened “sought to acquire” to include substantial steps towards the filing of the relevant application, although these steps may fall short of an actual filing of an application. In this case, the applicant claiming protection under the CSPA hired an attorney to prepare an I-485 adjustment application within the one year time frame, but filed it within a reasonable time thereafter. This decision follows closely on the heels of other unpublished Board decisions that have applied the same “sought to acquire” standard. See In re Kim, 2004 WL 3187209 (BIA Dec. 20, 2004), (the child beneficiary “sought to acquire” LPR status within one year of visa approval because her parents hired an attorney to start preparing the adjustment application within the one-year period); In re Castillo-Bonilla, 2008 WL 4146759 (BIA Aug 20, 2008) (the respondent “sought to acquire” LPR within the one-year period when, during this time, he informed both the Immigration Judge and the Board that he wished to file an adjustment application, even though the application was not actually filed within one year).

It is in the same spirit as the unpublished BIA decisions, and consistent with INA §203(h)(1)(A),   we requested that the Visa Office advise the Consul to consider the fact that the filing fee paid within the one year time frame constituted a very concrete step towards seeking permanent residency. Indeed, payment of the fees constituted a much more credible step  towards seeking permanent residency than making an informal request to the NVC or contacting an attorney, which are the facts supporting the aforementioned BIA decisions.  We also pointed out to Visa Office, as we did with the consulate unsuccessfully, that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) at 9 FAM 42.42 N12.9 recognizes the complexity of the CSPA, and advises that a Consul may seek an advisory opinion in the following instance:

If the officer encounters a case involving a derivative following to join a legally admitted immigrant, or adjusted principal, who has not filed Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application of Petition, on the derivative’s behalf within the required time frame, but the consular officer determined that the derivative has taken some other concrete step to obtain LPR status within the required one year time frame.

We therefore asked that the Visa Office provide such an advisory opinion under the authority laid out in the FAM, and advise the consular officer that other concrete steps taken to obtain LPR status, such as the payment of immigrant visa fees that occurred here, may be considered.

In less than two weeks from seeking the advisory opinion just prior to the New Year (2012), we received the following communication from the Visa Office:

Thank you for your inquiry to LegalNet.  Since the derivative applicants submitted their IV fee within one year of visa availability, the Consular office will consider CSPA’s sought to acquire requirement satisfied.  The visa unit in [redacted] will contact the applicants to resume processing.

EB-3 to EB-2 BOOST MAY NOT PROTECT YOUR CHILD UNDER THE CHILD STATUS PROTECTION ACT

By Cyrus D. Mehta

If you were born in India and are being sponsored for a green card through your employer under the employment-based third preference (EB-3), the wait is likely to be 70 years. If your employer filed the first step towards the green card, the labor certification, sometime in 2006, and you managed to file an adjustment of status application (Form I-485) when the EB-3 miraculously opened up for one month under the July 2007 Visa Bulletin and closed after that, the wait may be shaved off by a few decades, but it will still be very long. The only saving grace, besides being able to derive the benefits as a pending adjustment applicant, is that the filing of the I-485 application in July 2007 may have frozen the age of your child under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) even if your child is substantially over 21 today. If the green card comes through for you finally after 40 years, your child will still be protected under the CSPA, even if he or she is middle aged by then, and be able to derivatively obtain the green card with you as a child.

Many who are in the never ending pipeline for the green card under the EB-3, especially those born in India, may have upgraded their qualifications and obtained an advanced degree, or if they already possess an advanced degree or the equivalent, they may today qualify for a position that requires an advanced degree. Their employers could file new labor certifications with a view to obtaining classification under the employment-based second preference (EB-2), which applies to job positions requiring advanced degrees or their equivalent while the EB-3 is applicable to positions requiring bachelor’s degrees or 2 or more years of training or experience. The EB-2, while still backlogged for India, is moving substantially faster than the EB-3.

Take the example of a foreign national born in India whose employer originally filed a labor certification on November 1, 2006 for a position requiring only a bachelor’s degree and some experience. The next step in the process upon the approval of the labor certification, the I-140 immigrant visa petition, was filed on March 1, 2007 under the EB-3 and was subsequently approved. At the time of filing the I-140 petition, his daughter, who was born on March 1, 1988, had just turned 19. When the State Department opened up the EB-3 during July 2007, our foreign national from India rushed to file the I-485 applications for himself, his spouse and his daughter who was still 19. The filing of the I-485 application for his daughter, on say July 15, 2007, permanently froze her age under INA section 203(h)(1). Under Section 3 of the CSPA, which has been codified in INA section 203(h)(3), if the child’s age is below 21 when the visa petition is approved and the priority date becomes current, whichever happens later, the child’s age remains permanently frozen under 21 provided she also sought to apply for permanent residence within one year of visa availability. In our example, the daughter’s priority date became current on July 1, 2007, when the State Department announced that the EB-3 was current. Eligible people could file adjustment applications until August 17, 2007 as a result of a threatened law suit, which compelled the State Department to extend the filing period beyond July 30, 2007. After the July 2007 Visa Bulletin, the EB-3 severely retrogressed several years and has moved forward again at a snail’s pace, especially for India, since then. As of the time of writing, the cut-off date for India under the EB-3 is July 22, 2002. However, since the daughter filed her I-485 when the EB-3 date became current in July 2007, her age at that time, which was 19, permanently froze under the CSPA.

Today in 2011, even though the daughter is over 23, her CSPA age is technically still 19 and she can some day in the distant future, when the priority date of November 1, 2006 becomes current under the India EB-3, adjust with her father as a derivative (as if she’s still under 21) however old she may be.

While our Indian foreign national, his wife and his daughter can remain legally in the US as pending adjustment of status applicants, this is not of much solace for her father who is yearning to break free with a green card. He has been stuck with his job for many years, and even if he is provided some job mobility under INA section 204(j), he must work in a similar occupation under which he was sponsored through the labor certification. Thus, if he was sponsored as a Computer Programmer, and can now qualify for a position as a Controller of his new IT company after obtaining an MBA in Finance through an evening executive MBA program at an Ivy League business school, his adjustment application will get denied when ultimately adjudicated if he is unable to show that he has “ported” to a same or similar occupation. One way to resolve this is if his present employer can file a new labor certification presently under the EB-2 as a Controller requiring an MBA and experience in the peculiar financial aspects of an IT company. Once the labor certification is approved, the employer files a new I-140 petition but can magically capture the priority date of the old I-140 under EB-3, which is November 1, 2006. A USCIS rule, 8 CFR 204.5(e), allows you to do this provided that petition is not subsequently denied or revoked. Once the I-140 petition under the EB-2 is approved, it can be inter-filed with the pending I-485 application that was initially filed with the original I-140, and since the EB-2 cut-off date is well beyond November 1, 2006, he will suddenly get the green card.

While this may be manna from heaven for him and his spouse, the filing of the new I-140 will most likely not be able to protect the daughter under the CSPA at this point as it was filed much after her 21st birthday, even though the new I-140 petition will recapture the priority date of the old I-140 petition filed under EB-3. While this can be open to interpretation, the CSPA applies to the “applicable” petition only, and it will be difficult to bootstrap the new I-140 onto the “applicable” EB-3 I-140 petition, which is no longer being utilized but was filed before her 21st birthday. While there may be some room to interpret the term “applicable” petition to include the new I-140 petition under EB-2, especially since the new I-140 petition recaptured the priority date of the prior I-140 petition especially if it was filed by the same petitioning employer (See Li v. Renaud), it will be extremely risky to go ahead with this knowing that there is an aged out child who is otherwise protected under the CSPA. Thus, while dad and mom get the green card, their daughter may get left behind. Parents who thus wish to upgrade from EB-3 to EB-2 should beware about doing so if they have a child who is over 21 but who has been protected under the CSPA through the filing of an adjustment application under a prior I-140 petition.

We have already written extensively about the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Khalid v. Holder, which correctly interpreted INA section 203(h)(3) providing for the automatic conversion of the priority date of the earlier petition to the appropriate category. If the daughter is unable to seek the protection of the CSPA, after her parents got their LPR status under EB-2, she can use the November 1, 2006 priority date, if she resides in a jurisdiction where Khalid v. Holder is binding, to a family-based second preference petition for an adult child (F2B) that her father can potentially file on her behalf as a green card holder. But even Khalid v. Holder may not throw her an immediate life line since the current cut-off date under the F2B is much earlier than November 1, 2006 at this time.

The CSPA is an extremely complex statute subject to varying interpretations, which even Circuit courts cannot agree upon, and the thin protective cover that it provides can quickly unravel based upon even an inadvertent misstep. Of course, this blog assumes that the child of an EB-3 beneficiary has already been covered under the CSPA through an earlier adjustment application. If the EB-3 for India is truly expected to take 70 years before a green card materializes, a foreign national being sponsored today with a 1 year old child will have absolutely no hope of protecting the age of this child under the CSPA!


LEAVING TOO MUCH FOR ANOTHER DAY: WHAT THE SECOND CIRCUIT’S RECENT CSPA DECISION MISSED IN AGREEING WITH THE RESULT OF MATTER OF WANG

By David A. Isaacson

In its recent decision in Li v. Renaud, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that a derivative beneficiary of a family-based petition, whose adjusted age even under the Child Status Protection Act (“CSPA”) is above 21, cannot use section 203(h)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to retain the priority date originally given to the principal beneficiary with respect to a petition in the 2B preference category by that principal beneficiary. That is, if your grandfather filed a petition for your father when you were 14 years old, and the petition took one year to process, but a visa number was not available for another 10 years, you cannot retain the family’s place in the priority-date waiting line now that you count as over 21 after subtracting the year that the petition was pending; instead, you will have to go to the back of the years-long waiting line for an immigrant visa number.

In so holding, the Second Circuit essentially approved the result reached by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) in its Matter of Wang decision in 2009, although for somewhat different reasons. In the process, however, the Second Circuit appears to have overlooked the significance of its reasoning as applied to employment-based petitions, a subject which was deliberately left for another day but which I would argue sheds substantial light on why the Second Circuit’s decision in Li was incorrect.Additional background regarding the CSPA in general and Matter of Wang in particular can be found in an earlier article written by this author for our firm’s website. The section construed by Matter of Wang and Li v. Renaud, INA § 203(h), reads as follows:

(h) RULES FOR DETERMINING WHETHER CERTAIN ALIENS ARE CHILDREN-

(1) IN GENERAL.– For purposes of subsections (a)(2)(A) and (d), a determination of whether an alien satisfies the age requirement in the matter preceding subparagraph (A) of section 101(b)(1) shall be made using–

(A) the age of the alien on the date on which an immigrant visa number becomes available for such alien (or, in the case of subsection (d), the date on which an immigrant visa number became available for the alien’s parent), but only if the alien has sought to acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence within one year of such availability; reduced by

(B) the number of days in the period during which the applicable petition described in paragraph (2) was pending.

(2) PETITIONS DESCRIBED- The petition described in this paragraph is—

(A) with respect to a relationship described in subsection (a)(2)(A), a petition filed under section 204 for classification of an alien child under subsection (a)(2)(A); or

(B) with respect to an alien child who is a derivative beneficiary under subsection (d), a petition filed under section 204 for classification of the alien’s parent under subsection (a), (b), or (c).

(3) RETENTION OF PRIORITY DATE- If the age of an alien is determined under paragraph (1) to be 21 years of age or older for the purposes of subsections (a)(2)(A) and (d), the alien’s petition shall automatically be converted to the appropriate category and the alien shall retain the original priority date issued upon receipt of the original petition.

(4) APPLICATION TO SELF-PETITIONS- Paragraphs (1) through (3) shall apply to self-petitioners and derivatives of self-petitioners.

Enacted into the U.S. Code at 8 U.S.C. § 1153(h)(3), this section can be found online within 8 U.S.C. § 1153 .

In Matter of Wang, the BIA had overturned a previous unpublished decision called Matter of Maria T. Garcia, which did allow the aged-out child of a family preference petition beneficiary to retain the priority date that she previously had shared with her parent. The BIA found that the language of § 203(h)(3) was ambiguous, but that legislative intent showed § 203(h)(3) to codify an existing regulatory practice in which priority dates could be retained when the same petitioner filed a second petition for the same beneficiary. As the BIA explained, this practice was “limited to a lawful permanent resident’s son or daughter who was previously eligible as a derivative beneficiary under a second-preference spousal petition filed by that same lawful permanent resident.” Outside that context, the BIA found § 203(h)(3) inapplicable to derivative beneficiaries.
The Second Circuit in Li went a step further, holding that the statutory language was not even ambiguous, and that one need not resort to legislative intent to find that a priority date could not be retained “to use for a different family petition filed by a different petitioner.” Under circumstances such as the grandfather/child/grandchild fact pattern noted earlier (modeled on the facts of Li), the Second Circuit said, there is no “appropriate category” to convert to, because there is, for example, “no family preference category for grandchildren of LPRs”.
In footnote 1 of the Li opinion, at the urging of amicus curiae Mohammed Golam Azam, the Second Circuit made clear that they were leaving the issue of employment-based petitions for another day, and not determining how § 203(h)(3) applies to such petitions. The problem with this well-intentioned effort not to decide an issue unnecessarily is that it allowed the court to avert its eyes from the implications of the Liholding in the employment-based context, implications which I would argue suggest a problem with the entire holding.

As the reader will note from the quoted text of INA § 203(h) above, § 203(h)(2) specifically applies § 203(h) to derivative beneficiaries under § 203(d) not just of family-based petitions covered by § 203(a), but also of petitions in employment-based cases covered by § 203(b) and in diversity cases covered by § 203(c). Moreover, § 203(h)(3) specifically mentions subsection (d), pertaining to derivative beneficiaries, so we know that § 203(h)(2) doesn’t just apply to principal beneficiaries under § 203(a)(2)(A), children of Lawful Permanent Residents (“LPRs”) petitioned-for under the “2A” preference, who age out and must use the 2B preference for adult sons and daughters. Rather, the structure of § 203(h) read as a whole clearly indicates that the CSPA mechanisms apply to employment-based cases just as well as to family-based cases, and that priority-date retention applies to derivative beneficiaries just as much as to principal beneficiaries.

In the employment-based context, however, the reasoning of Li, if taken to its logical conclusion, suggests that § 203(h)(3) has no role to play at all. Being the child of the beneficiary of an employment-based petition will never qualify as a preference category in its own right, any more than being the grandson of a family petitioner is its own category does, and the derivative beneficiary will never (or almost never) be the direct beneficiary of a second petition by the same employer. Perhaps the Second Circuit in a later case will choose to shy away from this implication and prevent its precedent from going further down the wrong path, but that does appear to be the direction in which Li points it.
On the other hand, § 203(h)(3) does have work to do in the context of § 203(b) petitions if we adopt the interpretation that Li and Matter of Wang rejected, the one previously offered by the BIA in Matter of Maria T. Garcia: that the appropriate category for an aged-out derivative under § 203(d) is the 2B category, under INA § 203(a)(2)(B), with respect to the original beneficiary. This interpretation allows the derivative beneficiary to continue in essentially the same relation to the principal beneficiary that has existed all along, modified for the aging-out. It should not come as a surprise that the process allowed by this interpretation requires awaiting the LPR status of the principal beneficiary, because the defining characteristic of derivative beneficiaries under § 203(d) is always their entitlement to “the same order of consideration . . . if accompanying or following to join[] the spouse or parent”—to quote directly from the text of § 203(d) as enacted at 8 U.S.C. § 1153. By definition, one cannot accompany or follow to join a parent who has not yet become an LPR, whether or not the CSPA is involved.
The irrelevance of § 203(h)(3) with regard to § 203(b) derivatives caused by the interpretation in Li is a contextual clue in the statute that this interpretation is incorrect. Interpretations which render part of a statute superfluous are, and should be, disfavored. According to the logic of Li, it appears that even though § 203(h)(2)(B) mentions family-based petitions under § 203(a) and employment-based petitions under § 203(b) in precise parallel as contexts in which the entirety of § 203(h) should apply to derivative beneficiaries under § 203(d), and even though § 203(d) is specifically cited in § 203(h)(3) as a context in which that particular subsection applies, § 203(h)(3) may not apply at all to § 203(d) derivative beneficiaries of § 203(b) employment-based petitions. Whether or not one agrees with the BIA’s policy decision in Matter of Wang (which this author finds overly harsh) as applied to a statute thought by the BIA to be ambiguous, it certainly seems excessive given this clue to read the statute as unambiguously mandating such a result. And yet that is what the Second Circuit did in Li.
There is a famous saying, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, that you should never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Courts are often properly reluctant to follow this maxim, because it is a principal of judicial decision-making in our system of law that a court should not reach out to decide questions unnecessarily. But when a court too cavalierly puts off until tomorrow a question which is actually important to the resolution of the issue it is deciding, it may come to an incorrect result. It appears that this may be what occurred in Li.