The USCIS reversal is in line with what many businesses are seeing when they take the agency to court over visa decisions, particularly under the H-1B program. Court rulings so far have been rare, but the USCIS in most cases has avoided litigation by sending an approval after a lawsuit is filed.
That also means that courts aren’t getting the opportunity to weigh in on whether the rationale behind the visa decisions is in line with the Immigration and Nationality Act and USCIS regulations.
The complaint in Kuchikulla’s case argued that a policy requiring extra evidence from information technology consulting companies—which was used to justify his H-1B denial—illegally puts added burdens on those companies that isn’t justified by the law.
Two other lawsuits directly challenging the policy, also filed by Wasden, are pending in federal district court.
The case is ERP Analysts Inc. v. Cissna, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-00193, visa approved 2/4/19.
Quoted by the Times of India on DC District Court’s Decision to overturn USCIS’s H-1B Specialty Occupation denial in RELX, Inc. v. Baran
I was quoted in a Times of India article on U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision to overturn USCIS’s denial (on Specialty Occupation grounds) in RELX, Inc. d/b/a/ LexisNexis USA, and Subhasree Chatterjee v. Baran et al. A recent blog entry I wrote on about case may be found here.
Relx, Inc. and Chatterjee v. Baran, 8/5/19 – DC District Court Judge Granted Summary Judgment to the Plaintiffs and Denied Government’s Motion to Dismiss in H-1B Denial
Recently, Judges at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued starkly contrasting decisions in two separate H-1B lawsuits. Both Sagarwala v. Cissna and RELX, Inc. d/b/a/ LexisNexis USA, and Subhasree Chatterjee v. Baran et al and arose from H-1B petitions that had been denied by the USCIS on “Specialty Occupation” grounds. Both also appear to have also been filed using the subcategories within the miscellaneous SOC Occupational Classification of 15-1199.00 – Computer Occupations, All Other — a somewhat troublesome classification to establish as a Specialty Occupation, primarily because the USCIS’s Undisputed Holy Book of Professional Occupations, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (“OOH”), does not maintain a detailed description of this classification’s educational requirements.
Ashwin Sharma quoted in the Times of India’s Article on S.386 & the New Grassley Amendment, Implications on the Fairness For High Skilled Immigrants Act
“Over the last decade, various bills to remove this per country cap, have failed to become law. S. 386 has been rescued from the fate of its predecessors through appeasement, specifically, by agreeing to amendments that would allow further restrictions on merit-based non-immigrant visas, particularly with regards to the H-1B programme. However, it is interesting to note that many of these so-called ‘new’ restrictions already exist in one form or another,” Florida based immigration attorney, Ashwin Sharma, told TOI.
For instance, even currently, H-1B sponsoring employers have to certify + that they are not favouring immigrant workers over American workers. They have to indicate how they calculated the prevailing wages they are offering to H-1B workers (but these records are to be made available only on specific request of the concerned authorities), explained Sharma.”
Breaking News: Bloomberg’s Laura Francis Confirms Significant Increase in H-1B Denial Rates for IT Professionals
I was interviewed by Ms. Francis for this story re: the implications of the latest data from USCIS demonstrating a significant increase in H-1B denials for the IT Consulting Industry. It is hoped that public scrutiny will bring a quick halt to the illegal denials of otherwise eligible H-1Bs petitions, which disproportionately target and affect Indian Nationals.
Though USCIS has been improperly targeting and denying H-1Bs over the last two years, most particularly those filed for Indian professionals, I predict that the last quarter of 2018 will constitute the highest denial rate in the history of the H-1B program. Even clearly approvable H-1B cases are queried and often improperly or even unlawfully denied; not difficult for USCIS to do when it ignores or mischaracterises the law.
An illustrative example of USCIS’ illogical activities and their dire consequences is highlighted in a Bloomberg article regarding a lawsuit filed after USCIS illegally denied an H-1B filed for Ajay Kuchikulla, an Oracle database administrator. Mr. Kuchikulla now faces the prospect of being forced to leave the U.S., along with his family.
Ajay Kuchikulla, an Oracle database administrator for Dublin, Ohio-based ERP Analysts Inc., was denied what likely would have been the last extension of his H-1B skilled guestworker visa prior to becoming a permanent resident, according to the complaint filed Jan. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The denial came despite several prior approvals of H-1B extensions for Kuchikulla, whose job essentially has remained the same since he got his first H-1B visa in 2005, it said.
Kuchikulla was approved for his green card in 2012 but has had to wait for one to become available. Based on current projections of green card availability, he will be eligible to become a permanent resident around April 2020.
The complaint, filed by Virginia-based immigration attorney Jonathan Wasden, blames U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ implementation of a February 2018 policy requiring additional evidence from information technology consulting companies seeking H-1B visas.
The policy is part of a coordinated Trump administration effort to ban IT consulting companies from the H-1B program, the complaint said. The USCIS relied on ERP Analysts’ inability to meet additional evidentiary demands placed on such companies to deny Kuchikulla’s visa, even though he works directly for the company and not at a third-party site, it said.
A representative for the USCIS wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The complaint filed on behalf of Mr. Kuchikulla on January 28, 2019 is ERP Analysts Inc. v. Cissna, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-00193: it makes for a great read. An excerpt that says it all:
“Without relying on statutory authority or promulgated regulations, Defendant [USCIS] has determined that there are two tiers of employers in the H-1B program: consulting companies and all other petitioning companies. It also has created a dizzyingly complex list of evidentiary requirements that only apply to consulting companies. Defendant explicitly conditions approval of an H-1B on compliance with these evidentiary requirements.
At present, it is impossible for a member of industry or even attorneys to read the statute, regulations, forms, and instructions to the forms, and understand what Defendant actually requires for approval of an H-1B petition. Moreover, Defendant’s written decisions provide neither law, nor an explanation of the basis of denial that provides clarity for how future petitions could comply with these unwritten rules. Defendant’s adjudications are wildly inconsistent, rendering disparate decisions on identical petitions filed by the same employer.”
Ultimately, when the dust settles and the H-1B denial numbers for Q4 2018 are revealed, one hopes that they are followed by a public outcry, adverse publicity, and a general accounting of such unlawful policies and their makers.
UPDATE ON 02/05/2019: Bloomberg’s Laura D. Francis reports that USCIS admitted its mistake and approved Mr. Kuchikulla’s H-1B petition. As Ms. Francis notes, USCIS can and does retreat in cases that threaten a review of its improper denials (by an actual Judge) because it fears the creation of any case law that would imperil its ability to continue to improperly deny other cases:
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.”
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:
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.”
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 (http://www.ashwinsharma.com) has received enough nominations to join the one of the largest competitions for legal blog writing online today.
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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/
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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.
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.
Quartz India and Harvard Professor’s Insufficiently Researched Proposal on “Fixing the H-1B program”
Quartz India recently published an insufficiently researched proposal by Harvard Professor on “Fixing the H-1B program” in which the Professor erroneously relies on last year’s debunked fake news story claiming the “H-1B minimum wage” is “$60,000“.
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:
- the Dept of Labor sets prevailing wage levels for H-1B professions EVERY YEAR IN JULY. The DOL can and generally does increase these wage levels every year.
- at the end of March 2017, the 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.
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.
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.
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) Â§ 101(a)(15)(L), 8 U.S.C. Â§ 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. Â§ 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 theÂ 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: