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.
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:
How the Trump Admin’s ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System actually works: Kill or Handicap the H-1B Visa
Reuters has a great piece on how Trump’s infamous ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System actually works – issue a record # of queries, delays and denials on US companies’ petitions filed for their professional employees: Doctors, Engineers, IT and others. That these substantial changes impeding and eliminating aspects of the H-1B program have been undertaken without Congressional authorization is apparently of little concern to the Admin.
“Data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the agency issued 85,000 challenges, or “requests for evidence” (RFEs), to H-1B visa petitions – a 45 percent increase over the same period last year. The total number of H-1B petitions rose by less than 3 percent in the same period.”
In addition to querying applications more often, the Trump administration is targeting entry-level jobs offered to skilled foreigners. The lawyers say this violates the law governing H-1Bs, because it allows for visa holders to take entry-level jobs.
Several attorneys said they view the increase in challenges and focus on entry-level jobs as a stealth campaign by the administration against the H-1B program in the absence of public regulatory changes or changes passed by Congress, which could be debated and decided in the open.
As I’ve stated before: H-1B workers have filled our massive skills gap and created intellectual property, businesses and jobs for America. They are Makers, not Takers. It is therefore particularly disheartening to witness illogical attempts to reject these professionals, especially when other nations are outcompeting the U.S. in eagerly recruiting STEM workers.
As a Country, we need to shake off the illusion that we can “coast” through this increasingly competitive world on the basis of our previous generation’s achievements. The future of our Nation and our Industry lie in our leadership within the STEM sectors. Instead of rejecting or delaying tens of thousands of these high-skilled H-1B immigrants every year due to insufficient H-1B Cap numbers, newly created/surprise “Level 1” wage issues, or making these professionals wait up to 12 years for a green card, we should be bending over backwards to facilitate their immigration.
The American Immigration Council just released a fact sheet entitled “Foreign-born STEM Workers in the United States” and noted the importance of said workers to America,
“STEM workers are essential to the U.S. economy in terms of productivity and innovation. As of 2015, the foreign-born comprised one-fifth to one-quarter of the STEM workforce, depending on what occupations are included within the definition of STEM. Notably, the total number of foreign-born STEM workers in the U.S. workforce has increased dramatically since 1990, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total workforce. This is true at the national and state levels. Additionally, foreign-born workers make up an increasing share of STEM workers in all occupational categories.”
To view the fact sheet in its entirety, see:
- Foreign-born STEM Workers in the United States (Fact Sheet, June 2017)
USCIS announced that it has completed data entry of all FY2018 H-1B cap-subject petitions selected in the computer-generated random process. USCIS will now begin returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected.
Infosys Fined an Unprecedented $35,000,000.00 by the U.S. Government for Employing B-1 Visas in Lieu of H-1Bs
The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Government will fine Infosys, an Indian Technology/Consulting giant, almost $35,000,000.00 for employing B-1 visa workers in lieu of H-1B visa workers.
By way of background, last year, Judge Thompson of the Federal Court for the Middle District of Alabama rejected all claims brought by Jack Palmer against his employer, Infosys. Palmer claimed to have been harassed and retaliated against after making allegations that Infosys’ massive B-1 visa program was used fraudulently in place of more appropriate visas. Palmer’s rejected claims were subsequently resurrected by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, which continued its investigation into whether Infosys wrongly filed B-1 visas for workers performing work that actually required H-1B visas.
In a 2011 blog post I wrote about how Infosys may have been engaging in a perfectly legal action; per 9 FAM 41.31 N11, “ALIENS NORMALLY CLASSIFIABLE H-1 OR H-3″:
“There are cases in which aliens who qualify for H-1 or H-3 visas may more appropriately be classified as B-1 visa applicants in certain circumstances; e.g., a qualified H-1 or H-3 visa applicant coming to the United States to perform H-1 services or to participate in a training program. In such a case, the applicant must not receive any salary or other remuneration from a U.S. source other than an expense allowance or other reimbursement for expenses incidental to the alien’s temporary stay. For purposes of this Note, it is essential that the remuneration or source of income for services performed in the United States continue to be provided by the business entity located abroad, and that the alien meets the following criteria:
(1) With regard to foreign-sourced remuneration for services performed by aliens admitted under the provisions of INA 101(a)(15)(B), the Department has maintained that where a U.S. business enterprise or entity has a separate business enterprise abroad, the salary paid by such foreign entity shall not be considered as coming from a “U.S. source;”
(2) In order for an employer to be considered a “foreign firm” the entity must have an office abroad and its payroll must be disbursed abroad. To qualify for a B-1 visa, the employee must customarily be employed by the foreign firm, the employing entity must pay the employee’s salary, and the source of the employee’s salary must be
However, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), apparently motivated by Palmer’s Testimony, addressed a strongly worded but poorly researched memo to Secretary Hillary Clinton in which he demanded a complete review of the B-1 visa. His request was inexplicably granted, and the resultant changes substantially injured the economic interests of U.S. organizations engaged in international trade, countermanded congressional intent on the subject, and escalated denials for B-1 applicants at U.S. Consulates, especially those in the ‘B-1 in lieu of H-1B’ category.
Moving back to present: Infosys’ fine is unprecedented in the history of Immigration law. It will have a major impact on both our nation’s technology/consulting sector and on our Immigration policy. In light of the fact that other nations are eagerly recruiting the world’s best and brightest (sometimes from within our borders), it can only be hoped that the Infosys fine will reinvigorate the push for the creation of a new U.S. visa category specifically designed for short term consulting projects, and/or to increase the U.S.’s yearly quota for H-1B professional workers to a level that isn’t exhausted in one week.
AILA’s recommendations on filing H-1B, PERM and other applications while DOL’s iCERT and PERM Websites are Shutdown
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has indicated that they are trying to obtain guidance from USCIS and US Department of Labor (DOL) about how attorneys should move forward in filing applications like the H-1B and PERM/Labor Certifications which have been affected by the DOL’s shutdown (resulting from the Federal Government’s Shutdown).
AILA does not have official guidance from the USCIS and DOL yet and indicates that there are “conflicting reports” regarding DOL’s ability to even accept mail. For now, however, AILA recommends the following:
USCIS will remain operational during the Federal Government Shutdown thanks to the healthy funding it derives from USCIS filing fees
- Good news: USCIS’ operations though the Federal Government Shutdown are expected to continue because it is funded by sources other than appropriated funds (read: H-1B and other USCIS filing fees). In fact, this funding is so substantial that USCIS expects to send home only 353 of 12,558 employees during the temporary shutdown.
- Consulates remain operational at this point.
- Unfortunately, the DOL ETA will not process any employment based labor certifications during the shut down. The PERM PLC website is also down, as is iCert.
TITLE IV OF THE SENATE’S S.744 IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL – RELATING TO CHANGES IN H-1B, L-1, E-2 NONIMMIGRANT VISAS
TITLE IV–REFORMS TO NONIMMIGRANT VISA PROGRAMS
Subtitle A–Employment-based Nonimmigrant Visas
SEC. 4101. MARKET-BASED H-1B VISA LIMITS.
(a) In General- Section 214(g) (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)) is amended–
(1) in paragraph (1)–
(A) in the matter preceding subparagraph (A), by striking `(beginning with fiscal year 1992)’; and
(B) by amending subparagraph (A) to read as follows:
`(A) under section 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) may not exceed the sum of–
`(i) the base allocation calculated under paragraph (9)(A); and
`(ii) the allocation adjustment calculated under paragraph (9)(B); and’;
(2) by redesignating paragraph (10) as subparagraph (D) of paragraph (9);
(3) by redesignating paragraph (9) as paragraph (10); and
(4) by inserting after paragraph (8) the following:
`(9)(A) Except as provided in subparagraph (C), the base allocation of nonimmigrant visas under section 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) for each fiscal year shall be equal to–
`(i) the sum of–
`(I) the base allocation for the most recently completed fiscal year; and
`(II) the allocation adjustment under subparagraph (B) for the most recently completed fiscal year;
`(ii) if the number calculated under clause (i) is less than 115,000, 115,000; or
`(iii) if the number calculated under clause (i) is more than 180,000, 180,000.
Canada exploits U.S. neglect of its Foreign Professional (H-1B) workers by offering Special Visa option
In recent years, U.S. immigration policy has repeatedly ignored the needs of its skilled and professional non-immigrant workforce and has instead burdened them with long waits for a green card, absurdly high query rates and illogical consular delays. Nowhere is more apparent than in the case of H-1B Professional workers. An Indian born Software Engineer currently faces a wait time of eleven (11) years to obtain an employment based third preference (EB-3) green card. In comparison, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill currently under negotiation in DC would provide millions of undocumented workers green cards in ten (10) years.
Just a month and a half after the U.S. turned away tens of thousands of specialized professionals (holding U.S. job offers) by refusing to increase its yearly H-1B quota levels, another nation has moved to reap the benefits of U.S. missteps.
Canada is aggressively appealing to these H-1B professional workers, even going to the extent of securing a billboard just outside Silicon Valley which reads:
“H-1B problems? Pivot to Canada. New Start-Up Visa, Low Taxes”
NBC Newswire and The Associated Press joins Reuters in reporting on possibility that the entire year’s H-1B Work Visa Quota could be exhausted in a week
NBC Newswire and The Associated Press have added to yesterday’s Reuter’s article, for which I was interviewed, reporting on the possibility that the entire year’s national quota of H-1B Professional Work Visas could be used up in as little as a week’s time. The article discusses the recent Republican led attempt to reform immigration for highly skilled workers through the failed STEM Jobs Act, and makes the point that such an obvious demand for skilled workers sends a clear signal that the U.S. economic collapse is over and that Congressional overhaul of the H-1B should be part of any Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation. Congress would do wise to listen to the likes of more than 100 top tech leaders including Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and even the late Steve Jobs, all of whom were proponents of increasing limits on Professional Work visas.
- Ashwin Sharma interviewed by Reuters on U.S. demand for skilled worker visas topping quota (ashwinsharma.com)
- US H-1B visas may be decided through lottery this year (news.in.msn.com)
- US demand for skilled worker visas seen topping quota soon (rediff.com)