Increased Time/Difficulty in Filing H-1B Petitions Likely Due to Burdensome New LCA/ETA Form 9035 Form Rolling Out on November 19, 2018

Via AILA

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that the new ETA Form 9035, Labor Condition Application (LCA) for Nonimmigrant Workers, will be fully implemented on November 19, 2018. The existing LCA remains valid and the public can continue to file it until November 19, 2018. Employers or their authorized representatives who are filing an LCA on or after November 19, 2018, must use the revised form. Certified LCAs filed prior to November 19, 2018 will also remain valid and can be used by petitioners to support H-1B filings.

AILA has already submitted comments on the proposed revised form during the Notice and Comment period in October 2017 and June 2018.  In the latter, AILA noted that the additional time required to complete the new ETA 9035 had been significantly underestimated by DOL and that, “[w]hile the proposed changes are largely helpful, there are nevertheless areas where the proposed changes may (1) violate regulatory requirements; (2) create unnecessary new burdens on employers; and (3) fail in practice to meet DOL’s stated purpose of providing clarification.”

Compete America Coalition Letter to DHS on H-1B Adjudications (With Commentary)

On 11/1/18, the Compete America coalition has issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services raising the issue that, “The agency’s current approach to H-1B adjudications cannot be anticipated by either the statutory or regulatory text, leaving employers with a disruptive lack of clarity….”

The letter reiterates the major concerns that my colleagues and I have (frequently) raised, beginning with legal concerns about current H-1B adjudications because USCIS appears to have taken leave of two principles underscoring eligible H-1B petitions, “First, the job offered must be in “…an occupation which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.” Second, a four-year university degree or graduate or professional degree must be the “usual, common, or typical” requirement for the job. Patterns in H-1B adjudications over the last 18 months suggest other standards are being applied.”

USCIS H-1B Argument: Most Computer Programmers doesn't mean All Computer programmers

Case in Point: “Most” versus the “Usual/Common/Typical” requirement, and “Most” versus the nonexistent “Always” requirement – a recent Computer Programmer H-1B Decision

The letter identified “patterns in H-1B adjudications that reflect new agency interpretations inserting salary requirements as an unstated prerequisite“, despite the fact that “nothing in the statute or regulations contemplates or suggests, that USCIS could ever take the position that it per se excludes or disfavors entry-level jobs in an occupation, or young professionals working in jobs in an occupation, as qualifying for H-1B specialty occupation approval.”

The origination of this particular pattern arose about 18 months ago, at the end of March 2017, when USCIS issued a surprise policy change effectively holding Level 1 Prevailing Wages to be insufficient in establishing eligibility for H-1B approval, particularly for IT workers.   As I’ve previously indicated on this point that the Dept of Labor sets prevailing wage levels for H-1B professions every year in July, in other words, the DOL can and generally does increase these wage levels every year: there was no legitimate statutory or regulatory basis or need for USCIS to have inserted itself in an established wage determination process, nor for it suddenly declare ineligible for H-1B status those jobs with wages otherwise compliant with DOL requirements.  This relatively new wage issue seems driven by motives that go beyond simple or logical explanations, especially when we note that the converse argument highlighting the fact that a Petitioner is paying a Level 3 or 4 (highest) wage as an element in establishing Specialty Occupation can be dismissed by USCIS as irrelevant:

H-1B Decision - Level 3 Wages - Fails to Establish Specialty Occupation

Case in Point: Level 3 Wages – Dismissed by USCIS as an element in Establishing “Specialty Occupation”

 

Among its other points, the coalition letter also expressed concern as to “Patterns in H-1B adjudications that reflect new agency interpretations beyond the statute’s prerequisites for a “Specific Specialty” of study”.  The letter highlights the fact that, “...[n]othing in the statute allows for administrative discretion to restrict a qualifying specialty occupation to only those occupations where “the specific specialty” necessary for the job is only obtainable through completion of a single, exclusive degree.”  Despite this, USCIS will normally presume that, “…alternative degree options as the minimum requirement for a job suggest, standing alone, that a specific body of knowledge is not required.

Link: Compete America Coalition Letter to DHS on H-1B Adjudications (PDF)

The U.S. Immigration Blog by Ashwin Sharma Has Been Nominated for The Expert Institute’s Best Legal Blog Contest

From a field of hundreds of potential nominees, The U.S. Immigration Blog by Ashwin Sharma (www.ashwinsharma.com) has received enough nominations to join the one of the largest competitions for legal blog writing online today.

Our readers can vote by navigating to our blog’s voting page at https://www.theexpertinstitute.com/legal-blog/the-u-s-immigration-law-blog-by-ashwin-sharma

Note that each person will only be able to vote once, and The Expert Institute indicates that it will not share any information from voters who register with third parties.

You can find more information about the contest, as well as the complete contest rules, on the blog contest home page.

The competition will run from November 5th until the close of voting at 12:00 AM on December 17th, at which point the votes will be tallied and the winners announced.

The competition can be found at https://www.theexpertinstitute.com/blog-contest/

About The Expert Institute:

Founded in 2011, The Expert Institute is a technology-driven platform for connecting qualified experts in every field with lawyers, investment firms, and journalists looking for technical expertise and guidance. The Expert Institute combines a vast database of pre-screened experts with a talented case management team capable of custom recruiting experts to fit the specific needs of our clients. The Expert Institute also maintains one of the internet’s most visited blogs on expert witnesses, in addition to an extensive case study archive and expert witness resource center.

Attorney Ashwin Sharma Interviewed by BBC Radio (Hindi) on President Trump’s Proposed Plans to End Birthright Citizenship in the U.S.

Ashwin Sharma was interviewed by BBC Radio (Hindi) on President Trump’s recent announcement that he intends to end birthright citizenship in the USA through an Executive Order.

Link to BBC News Site – Full Story

Link to Interview Excerpt on on Birthright Citizenship

By way of background, President Trump had stated earlier this week that, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States.” However this is incorrect, as at least three dozen other countries, including Canada and Mexico, follow the principles of “Jus Soli”, Latin for “right of the soil”, as a near unconditional basis for citizenship.

Birthright Citizenship in the United States is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Thus, an Executive Order alone, even one with a magical signature, cannot effect the changes to Birthright Citizenship as proposed by the President.

 

President Trump Plans to End Unrestricted Birthright Citizenship (“Jus Soli”) for Certain Children Born in the USA

The Associated Press reported this morning that President Trump plans to end birthright citizenship in the USA, and that he believes that this action can be implemented through a simple Executive Order.  By way of background, Birthright Citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

President Trump is reported to have stated that, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States.”

However such a statement would not be correct, as at least three dozen other countries, including Canada and Mexico, follow the principles of “Jus Soli”, Latin for “right of the soil”, as a near unconditional basis for citizenship.

If the President is somehow able to end unrestricted “Jus Soli” birthright citizenship, I presume it will be replaced by a more restrictive “Lex Soli” variant (which requires that at least one of the child’s parents be a citizen, national or legal permanent resident of the state in question at time of the child’s birth), as is the case in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain Germany, Hong Kong, Greece, Portugal, and others.

Quartz India and Harvard Professor’s Insufficiently Researched Proposal on “Fixing the H-1B program”

To complement wage ranking and to preserve scarce visas for the best uses, America should also raise the H-1B minimum wage from $60,000 to a higher figure like $100,000, perhaps with a few lower thresholds for occupations like social work or entrepreneurship. This minimum level can be designed with automatic adjustments for future years that are based on inflation or changes in average US wages. If a higher minimum wage causes demand to fall short of supply at times, unused visas can be saved and reintroduced when supply becomes again constrained, with visas that sit too long simply expiring. There are downsides to wage floors, such as their mismatch to innovative jobs that may be better served with heavy equity incentives, but minimum wages can provide strong assurances to the public that visas are being put toward best uses.

The Professor appears to have based his magical $60,000 figure on incorrect news articles reporting on U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s (D-Calif.) proposed legislation last year entitled, the “High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017”.  As I had noted on January 31, 2017, there is no $60,000 minimum H-1B wage, and that Lofgren’s legislation was only attempting to increase the level at which an H-1B petitioner could avoid H-1B Dependent status.

And in any case, even if you hypothetically assume that $60,000 was a true figure, there are already simple mechanisms in place increase this level at any time, which in fact have already largely been implemented:

On the topic of wages, I wish to note that this Administration seems intent on reducing H-1B approvals, especially to Indian IT workers and their Petitioners, and the wage issue is, in my opinion, already addressed and now just an excuse.  Otherwise qualified Level 4 (top) wage earning IT H-1B workers are not automatically spared a denial.  The H-1B program, as set out by Congress, has been modified repeatedly by several “pop goes the weasel” style policy changes and multiple “reinterpretations” of existing H-1B laws and guidance at the behest of of this Administration, the latter driven by motives that obviously go beyond simple or logical issues like DOL issued wage rates.

TRAC Report on the Profiles of ICE Detainees – Few Committed Any Crime

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) , a government watchdog organization based at Syracuse University, reports that as of 06/30/2018, ICE held 44,435 individuals in custody. Of this number, 58% had no criminal record, and 79% either had no record, or had only committed a minor offense such as a traffic violation.

Link to TRAC Report

Recent ICE Memo Details the Differences Between Trump and Obama on Immigration Enforcement

Hamed Aleaziz reports on a recent ICE Memo obtained via FOIA by BuzzFeed, ICE issued guidance on 8/15/17 from ICE Principal Legal Advisor Tracy Short to all OPLA attorneys. This memo implements President Trump’s 1/25/17 Executive Order 13768 and Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly’s 2/20/17 memo on interior enforcement.  The memo also details the significant differences between the Trump and Obama Administrations with respect to Immigration Enforcement.

Read BuzzFeed News Article

Trump Admin’s Proposed Policy Entitled “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program” Set to Target the H-1B Program

Bloomberg recently reported that the Administration plans to remodel the H-1B program eligibility criteria from a baccalaureate degree to a discretionary “Best and Brightest” requirement, perhaps more in line with the O-1 Extraordinary Ability program.  This would impose substantial and new burdens on H-1B seekers, particularly on IT professionals, and effectively change the H-1B program as we know it.

“The Trump administration plans to narrow the definition of specialty occupation to limit the use of H-1B visas, but it may be limited in how far it can go.

A proposal expected in January from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would refine the meaning of specialty occupation “to focus on obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program.”

The proposed regulation “would be the biggest changes to the H-1B program since 1990,” when the visa was overhauled by Congress, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told Bloomberg Law.

The agency could block entry-level jobs from the program while redefining “employer-employee relationship” to severely curtail staffing companies’ access to the visas.”

Inserting the otherwise innocuous phrase “Best and the Brightest” (“B&B”) within this proposed rule does nothing to alleviate the suspicion with which it is met.  This is understandable, considering that for the last 1.5 years this Administration has tasked USCIS with issuing “pop goes the weasel” style policy changes and multiple “reinterpretations” of existing laws and guidance.  The ultimate result has been a targeted effort to reduce the use of H-1Bs visas by Indian IT professionals and their employers.  IT jobs paying Level 1 prevailing wages and common occupational classifications such as Computer Programmers and Computer Systems Analysts now face an almost automatic presumption of ineligibility.  Third-party job site consulting assignments are scrutinized more heavily and are more likely to be denied.  Deference is no longer given to extensions of previously approved H-1B cases, even if there have been no changes in employment.  The standard of evidence in filing H-1Bs seems to have risen overnight from the “Preponderance of the Evidence” to “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt”.

As a result of USCIS’s recent changes to the H-1B program, Requests for Evidence and denial rates for IT workers have increased nationwide.  But this new proposed policy promises to make matters even worse, if that’s possible.

View Rule: Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program

 

October 2018 Visa Bulletin Updates – Employment-Based Preference Categories

VIA AILA.org

EB-1. For October, EB-1 Worldwide along with all other countries except China and India, advances ten months to April 1, 2017.

EB-2 Worldwide and EB-3 Worldwide will return to current in October and will remain current for the foreseeable future and well into the next calendar year.

EB-2 China and EB-3 China. While EB-2 China recovers to April 1, 2015 in October, it will not surpass the EB-3 China final action date, which advances to June 1, 2015. It is unclear whether EB-3 China’s two-month lead will be significant enough to spur downgrade demand. If there are not as many downgrades, EB-3 China could advance more rapidly than expected.

EB-2 India and EB-3 India. EB-2 India advances to March 26, 2009 in October, with EB-3 India trailing behind by less than three months at January 1, 2009. Based on the dates for filing and depending on the level of demand in each of these categories, it is possible that EB-3 India may surpass EB-2 India at some point this fiscal year.

EB-3 Philippines and Other Workers Philippines will recover to June 1, 2017 in October. Only minimal movements expected during the first quarter of the fiscal year.

EB-4. EB-4 Mexico will fully recover in October to its June Visa Bulletin date of October 22, 2016, EB-4 India will return to current, and EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras remain at February 15, 2016 in October. There will be forward movement in EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras this fiscal year, but anything more than minimal movement is unlikely in Q1.

EB-4 India. It is expected that this category will be subject to a final action date again, but that will not likely happen until late in the fiscal year.

EB-5 Non-Regional Center for China and Vietnam will advance to August 15, 2014 and January 1, 2016 respectively in October.

EB-5 China. Demand remains high, not much movement in this category throughout the fiscal year. EB-5 Vietnam, in contrast, is likely to advance modestly early in the fiscal year until it reaches its per country limit, at which time, its final action date will track EB-5 China.

 

Two of our Appeals of L-1B Specialized Knowledge Worker Denials Were Sustained by the AAO

Three months ago, two L-1B Specialized Knowledge Worker petitions I filed for a client in the manufacturing sector were erroneously denied by USCIS’s California Service Center.  However, both of my appeals of these denials were expeditiously sustained/approved by the AAO, which validated our belief that USCIS’s CSC had improperly denied these cases.

Unfortunately, victories as in this case are quite rare: only six other L-1B appeals have been sustained by the AAO thus far in 2018.

In this particular case, my client’s failure to secure the temporary transfer of two of its L-1B Specialized Knowledge Engineers would have had a catastrophic impact on its US manufacturing operations, in which it has already invested tens of millions of dollars.  Dozens of its well-paid American employees would have likely seen their jobs transferred to China instead.  Though this possibility was thankfully averted by the AAO on an expedited basis a few days ago, USCIS’s error required the Petitioner to waste its time and money while undermining its confidence in our immigration system.

The AAO decisions summary:

The Petitioner, a manufacturer and wholesaler of industrial power generators, seeks to temporarily employ the Beneficiary as a “Senior Product Development Engineer – R&D” under the L-1B nonimmigrant classification for intracompany transferees. Immigration and Nationality Act (the Act) § 101(a)(15)(L), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(L). The L-1B classification allows a corporation or other legal entity (including its affiliate or subsidiary) to transfer a qualifying foreign employee with “specialized knowledge” to work temporarily in the United States.

The Director of the California Service Center denied the petition, concluding that the Petitioner did not establish, as required, that the Beneficiary possesses specialized knowledge, that he was employed abroad in a capacity that was managerial, executive, or involved specialized knowledge, or that he would be employed in a specialized knowledge capacity in the United States.

On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the Director overlooked key evidence and that the denial decision was factually flawed, improperly reasoned, and did not apply the preponderance of the evidence standard to the case.

Upon de nova review, we will sustain the appeal.

A beneficiary is considered to be serving in a capacity involving specialized knowledge with respect to a company if the beneficiary has special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or has an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company. Section 214(c)(2)(B) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1184(c)(2)(B).

The Beneficiary has been employed by the Petitioner’s parent company as a product development engineer for more than one year and the record establishes that he was required to complete at least 750 hours of internal training followed by months of supervised on-the-job experience in the company’s products, manufacturing processes, research and development and prototyping techniques, and proprietary digital control technologies prior to receiving a promotion to this position. The Petitioner has submitted detailed, consistent, and credible descriptions of his training and experience which show how he gained specialized knowledge in these areas which could not be readily transferred to another employee in the Petitioner’s industry, is distinct in comparison to that possessed by other product development engineers within the foreign company, and is advanced compared to that possessed by the Petitioner’s current U.S.-based engineers. The Petitioner has also explained and documented the Beneficiary’s special assignments, which included developing a method to streamline the design and prototyping process for new products, and performing ongoing research and development of the company’s products to meet increasingly stringent environmental emissions standards. The Petitioner described in detail why the Beneficiary’s prior assignments make him uniquely qualified to undertake the offered position in the United States.

Further, the record sufficiently demonstrates that the proposed position in the United States requires an employee who possesses the Beneficiary’s specialized knowledge of the company’s products, research and development processes, and manufacturing techniques. The Petitioner has explained and documented the imminent expansion of its U.S. manufacturing capabilities, which will require the deployment of new equipment and machinery currently used by its foreign parent company, extensive research and development work associated with the introduction of a new product line, redesign of existing products to comply with new U.S. emissions standards, and the training of new U.S. staff who will be hired to support these increased manufacturing and product development activities. It has shown that the Beneficiary’s specialized knowledge, gained within the foreign parent’s headquarters, will be instrumental to the U.S. company’s expansion efforts.

The Petitioner has established that the Beneficiary possesses specialized knowledge, and that he has been and will be employed in positions requiring specialized knowledge.

ORDER: The appeal is sustained.

I anticipate that USCIS’s efforts to halt or only grudgingly approve legitimate merit-based immigration will continue to discourage outside investment and immigration into our manufacturing sector. Such short-sighted policies are at odds with our history, as immigrants have been key contributors in this field.  It was Danish-born Bill Knudsen who architected America’s manufacturing transformation at the outset of World War 2 into the famed “Arsenal of Democracy”.  But even Knudsen had available a significant retail manufacturing sector to transform: many of our factories have since packed up and left for Asia because we are no longer only game in town.  Therefore, we can now ill-afford to set red-tape or brick walls in the face of companies, like my client, who want to invest in not only “Buying American” and “Hiring American”, but also “Making American”.

Both decisions were published on USCIS’s website:

https://www.uscis.gov/…/Decisions_Iss…/SEP112018_02D7101.pdf

https://www.uscis.gov/…/Decisions_Iss…/SEP112018_03D7101.pdf

USCIS Can Now Deny Work Visa and Green Card Applications Without Providing an Opportunity to Correct

VIA AILA.org

What Is It?

  • On July 13, 2018, USCIS issued new guidance regarding adjudicator discretion to deny a request for an immigration benefit without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID).
  • The new policy makes it easier for USCIS to deny an application or petition without first issuing an RFE or NOID, by restoring “full discretion” to do so. For example, rather than giving the person the opportunity to fix what might be a simple filing error, adjudicators can deny a benefit if any of the required initial evidence is missing from the filing.
  • Prior USCIS policy limited adjudicators’ ability to deny a case without first giving the applicant or petitioner an opportunity to respond. A June 3, 2013 memo instructed adjudicators to issue an RFE if initial evidence was missing or if the evidence submitted fell short of the applicable standard of proof, unless the adjudicator determines there is “no possibility” that additional evidence might cure the deficiency.
  • The July 13, 2018, policy supersedes the 2013 guidance and takes effect on September 11, 2018.

Who Is Impacted?

  • All applicants and petitioners who file immigration benefit applications with USCIS, including applications for naturalization, family-based immigrant petitions, temporary work visa petitions, immigrant petitions filed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and permanent residency (“green card”) applications, on or after September 11, 2018, will be impacted by this new policy.
  • Immigration law is already unforgiving but this will take it to a new level. Applicants and petitioners who do not have a lawyer to advise them will feel this most heavily. They could now face harsh consequences in the form of a denial of their immigration benefit application if they inadvertently make an innocent mistake on the application or misunderstand an evidentiary requirement.

Why Is This Bad Policy?

  • The new policy imposes harsh consequences on individuals by making it easier for USCIS to deny an application without first providing an opportunity to correct an innocent mistake, submit a missing piece of evidence, or provide an explanation that would substantiate eligibility for the immigration benefit.
  • Petitioners and applicants will be forced to re-submit their benefits requests, which for all means having to repay steep immigration fees and for some means losing employment, travel opportunities, and/or their place in the heavily backlogged visa queue.
  • When you couple this new policy with a June 28, 2018 memo mandating USCIS to issue Notices to Appear (NTA) in far more immigration cases than ever before, even more individuals could be shuttled into immigration court removal proceedings.
  • Read together, USCIS could deny an immigration benefit application without first issuing an RFE or NOID, and if the individual is no longer maintaining status at the time of denial, USCIS may issue an NTA to place the individual in removal proceedings.
  • These policies will have devastating effects on all types of immigration benefits applicants, including high-skilled workers, families, students, and survivors of domestic violence and other crimes.
  • This is the latest effort to shift USCIS away from its service-oriented mission and turn it into another enforcement component of DHS, contrary to the will of Congress, and to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which mandated USCIS focus on benefits adjudications and leave immigration enforcement to CBP and ICE.

Chilling Effect

  • This new policy memorandum is another brick in the administration’s invisible wall that is slowing and restricting legal immigration to the United States by making it harder for immigrants to apply legally for immigration benefits.
  • By making the legal immigration process more burdensome and uncertain, the new policy will harm U.S. citizens seeking to sponsor their relatives through the family-based system, individuals seeking asylum and humanitarian protection in the United States, permanent residents applying for naturalization, and U.S. companies seeking to hire and retain top talent from across the globe.

More Background:

  • An RFE is a written notice issued by USCIS to request missing initial or additional evidence from applicants or petitioners who have filed for an immigrant benefit.
  • A NOID is a written notice issued by USCIS notifying the applicant or petitioner of the agency’s intent to deny the immigrant benefit requested and providing the applicant or petitioner the opportunity to explain why a denial is not merited.