Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

Archive for February, 2010

USCIS Expedite Criteria and Procedures

Our office has handled many cases where a specific USCIS benefit or application must be approved on an expedited basis.  Also, we have received numerous inquiries from applicants who seek to expedite the processing of a pending application due to long processing times.

It is helpful to describe the criteria which USCIS (and our office, in preparing such requests) uses in establishing whether a particular case warrants expedited processing:

  • Severe financial loss to company or individual;
  • Extreme emergent situation;
  • Humanitarian situation;
  • Nonprofit status of requesting organization in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States
  • Department of Defense or National Interest Situation (Note: Request must come from official United States Government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to our Government);
  • USCIS error; and
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.

Expedited processing can be requested for both an application which is about to be filed (by indicating clearly EXPEDITED PROCESSING on the cover) or for a pending application (by contacting the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or by sending a fax to the applicable Service Center).

Additionally, our office routinely handles expedited processing requests and we are happy to discuss your case and whether it can be expedited and, if so, whether we can help you.  Please contact us for more information.

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Startup Visa Act of 2010 Introduced

Among our clients and readers, we  have many entrepreneurs and start-up companies which may be interested in a recent development in Congress.

Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN) have introduced a new bill in Congress seeking to drive job creation and increasing America’s global competitiveness by helping immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the United States.  The bill’s title is the “StartUp Visa Act of 2010″ and will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if they can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to dedicate a significant sum – a minimum of $250,000 – to the immigrant’s startup venture.   Please see full text of the draft bill and Senator Lugar’s press release.

The Act would amend immigration law to create a new EB-6 category for immigrant entrepreneurs, drawing from existing visas under the EB-5 category, which permits foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million into the U.S., and thereby create ten jobs, to obtain a green card.  After proving that he or she has secured initial investment capital and if, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that he or she has generated at least five full-time jobs in the United States, attracted $1 million in additional investment capital or achieved $1 million in revenue, then he or she would receive permanent legal resident status.

We will monitor the path of this bill through Congress and provide updates as we have them.

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Report Highlights E-Verify Accuracy Problems

USCIS released, on January 28, 2010, a recent report conducted by an outside research firm, Westat, on the accuracy of E-Verify with respect to identifying illegal workers, among other classes of workers run through the   E-Verify system.  The E-Verify evaluation is part of an ongoing effort to evaluate E-Verify’s accuracy.

The Report’s Findings

The report focused on many aspects of E-Verify, but the main number which has drawn attention recently is the fact that according to the Westat report, 54% of the unauthorized workers run through E-Verify result in an authorization to work.  Westat and USCIS attribute this high number to identify fraud – unauthorized workers who use and submit documents of a person who is authorized to work.  However, this high percentage of inaccurate E-Verify authorization has stirred some political and emotional responses.  See Wall Street Journal and Forbes articles.

Overall, Westat found that an estimated 96 percent of all E-Verify initial responses were consistent with the person’s work authorization status:  93.1 percent of all E-Verify cases involved authorized workers who were initially found to be authorized; 2.9 percent of all E-Verify cases involved unauthorized workers who received final non-confirmations.

4.1 percent of the initial responses were inconsistent with employment eligibility status: 0.7 percent of all E-Verify cases involved authorized workers who were not initially found to be authorized to work; 3.3 percent of all E-Verify cases involved unauthorized workers who were found to be employment authorized.

Although the numbers, overall, are positive, the main concern and recent political storm came after breaking down this number relating to the 3.3 percent of all E-Verify cases involving unauthorized workers who were found to be eligible to work.  Put in another way, out of the 6.2 percent of all E-Verify cases in which the workers were not authorized to work, the system failed to discover the unauthorized worker and permitted work 54 percent of the time.

USCIS’ Response

In the summary of the report, USCIS tries to defend this alarming number of inaccurate work authorizations by putting the numbers in context and by showing the high success rate across other categories.  While this is true, one of E-Verify’s main goals was to eliminate unauthorized work.  The Westat report casts shadow on this.   USCIS has taken steps to eliminate or decrease this rate of inaccurate authorizations.  It is USCIS’ claim that most of these false authorizations are due to identity theft – as a result, USCIS is implementing a photo tool as part of E-Verify so that employers can match the photo of the documents submitted, with one in government records, and with the actual employee.  Additionally, USCIS is attempting to integrate additional government databases to be able to provide more accurate and reliable information into E-Verify and increase its accuracy rate.

Basis for the Report

The report was based on several sources of data covering September 2007 to June 2008: USCIS staff and contractor interviews, focus groups, web survey of 2,320 E-Verify employers, in-person interview with 109 E-Verify employers and 424 workers who have received tentative non-confirmations (TNC), review of 1,246 records of workers who received TNCs and review of E-Verify program data.  Additionally, Westat developed models to develop estimates of the numbers of true employment authorizations; models were necessary because the true data is unavailable.

Conclusion

The Westat report is very useful in evaluating the E-Verify program’s current state.  Obviously, the 54 percent inaccuracy rate discussed above is going to be the focal point of discussions related to E-Verify over the near term.  It is worth noting, however, that the Westat report used data which is not at least 18 months old and E-Verify has steadily been improving the accuracy of its data and models.  Additional tools, such as the photo tool, are also helpful in eliminating certain types of work authorization and identify fraud.

We applaud USCIS efforts to improve E-Verify and to engage independent third parties to conduct research and test the accuracy of the system.  As an E-Verify Designated Agent, we have helped many of our clients handle with a number of E-Verify issues and have been happy with the willingness of USCIS to improve the system.

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USCIS Meeting on H-1B Employer-Employee Relationship Memo

Earlier today USCIS held a collaboration session on “Determining Employer-Employee Relationships for Adjudication of H-1B Petitions.“  We had the opportunity to attend the session, to listen and to engage in a discussion regarding the January 8, 2010, USCIS Memorandum by Donald Neufeld on the Employer-Employee Relationship.

The Session Generated Great Interest

The session proved to be very popular.  There were about 50 in-person attendees and over 600 phone conference dial-ins.   Obviously, this Memorandum has stirred many interests and has caused a tremendous amount of emotions, both negative and positive.

Although the session was expected to be a question-and-answer format, it turned out that both the questions were posed mainly as comments and reactions to the Memo.  In addition, when questions were posed, USCIS representatives, which included Donald Neufeld, did not provide much information or guidance.  As a result, we can report on what we heard and felt are concerns associated with the January 8, 2010 Memo.  Hopefully, USCIS will provide some sort of a response to the multitude of comments and reactions.

There were comments from immigration attorneys and practitioners, business owners, employees, representatives of trade organizations, and former congressmen, among others.  USCIS started first, by setting out their goals in drafting the Memorandum – to provide clearer standards for adjudication and to provide more clarify and transparency in the H-1B adjudication process for all parties involved.

Comments Were Mostly Critical

Then, the floor was open for questions and comments.  Overall, the comments were critical of the Neufeld Memorandum.   Many comments confirmed what we have realized from recent conversations with some of our consulting or staffing company clients – that the new Memorandum is likely to hurt their business due to the unpredictability of the current adjudication standards.  Several owners of IT consulting companies cited downsizing (and potentially closing) their companies due to the new standards and having to cut not only H-1B employees but also U.S. workers who work at the company.  A number of comments referred to the unintended (negative) consequences of the Neufeld Memorandum – for example, some physicians work at hospitals, but hospitals are prohibited by state law to employ them directly, thereby resulting in a situation where H-1B for a physician employed at a hospital is not possible under the Memorandum.

A caller expressed a concern that the Memorandum creates even more ambiguity in cases where an employer has in-house and client-placements of H-1Bs and with respect to a real situation where USCIS rejected H-1Bs for both in-house and client-placed employees due to the fact that USCIS could not have guarantee that in-house employees would not be placed at a client site at a later time.

We have seen RFEs which are drafted as a result of the January 8, 2010 Memorandum and a caller expressed dissatisfaction with (1) the length of the standard RFE seeking explanation of the employer-employee relationship but also with (2) the legally incorrect requirements for establishing such employer-employee relationship.

Some Callers Praised the Memorandum

There were also comments which praised the Memorandum.  A caller from a professional association was outraged that in this economic climate the H-1B program exists at all; citing high unemployment, the caller seemed to call for abandonment of the H-1B program altogether.   The Memorandum was similarly praised from callers representing organizations calling for limited number of work visas and also calling for a more restrictive set of rules on current staffing companies.

USCIS Listened, Mostly

USCIS representatives mostly listened.  What USCIS could acknowledge was that the January 8, 2010 Memorandum is not related to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issues some H-1B holders faced since the holidays at Newark, New Jersey, airport.   However, it was noted that CBP has coordinated its Newark actions with the FDNS investigations on employers who potentially have violated the H-1B program rules.

Conclusion

While we applaud USCIS’ desire to open a dialogue with its stakeholders regarding the implementation and the impact of the Memorandum, given the number of negative comments and the unintended consequences of the Memorandum, it may seem that such dialogue should have been done before the publication of the Memorandum.  USCIS stated as one of its goals a transparent process; yet, it appears that the Memorandum was drafted in the shadows.

We are hoping that, in response to this meeting, USCIS will engage in a more robust review process and will provide some amendments to the Memorandum or, at the very least, some clarifications and explanations.

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AAO Processing Times Report (February 1, 2010)

Our office handles a fair amount of appeals with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) and we often receive inquiries not only about about the procedural aspects of an AAO appeal but also about the current processing times for AAO cases.

About the AAO

The AAO is an appeals office which handles appeals of certain decisions made by USCIS field offices and regional procssing centers.  The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires that all AAO decisions be made available to the public.  As a result, AAO decisions are accessible in reading rooms at USCIS headquarters here in Washington, DC and at field offices.  Also, some (but not all) AAO decisions are available online.

Current AAO Processing Times

USCIS has released the average processing times for cases pending at the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) as of February 1, 2010.  Overall, there is not much change in comparison to the January 4, 2010 report.

Among the most notable AAO processing times:

  • H-1B appeal takes 14 months (increase by one month compared to January 4, 2010);
  • I-140 EB1 Extraordinary Ability takes less than 6 months (no change), Multinational Manager or Executive takes 12 months (increase by one month) while EB1 Outstanding Professor or Researcher category takes 7 months (increase by one month);
  • I-140 EB2 (Advanced Degree) takes 25 months (increase by one month) while EB2 (NIW) takes 7 months (increase by one month); and
  • I-140 EB3 Skilled Worker takes 23 months (no change) while EB3 Other Worker takes 21 months on appeal (increase by two months).

Read the full AAO Processing Times report.

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DHS Reports on Employer Enforcement and Compliance

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in a recent symposium, has provides some useful insight into its operations and policies.  We are happy to share some of DHS’s disclosures.

DHS Investigations on Employers to Continue and Increase

Janet Napolitano, the DHS Secretary, has indicated that employer investigations will continue and, possibly, intensify.  In 2009 there were $24 million in employer fines (compared to zero in 2006).  In 2009, 45 businesses and 47 individuals have been debarred while in 2008 only one was debarred.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued  over 1,000 I-9 Notice of Inspection (NOI) in 2009 to random employers with another 1,000 announced at the symposium.   I-9 audits, many of which are conducted randomly, may result in civil penalties, and where bad faith is found, lead to criminal prosecution.

DHS has clarified that it would continue under a two-prong approach:  (1) prosecute employers acting in bad faith and (2) work with employers to achieve compliance.

E-Verify Updates

DHS announced that there are more than 170,000 employers in the E-Verify system.  In 2008, there were 8.5 million queries run on new hires.  96.9% of those new hires were authorized by E-Verify within 24 hours; 2.8% are found to be ineligible to work; and 0.3% received tentative non-confirmation but were later confirmed as authorized to work.

DHS announced that the photo tool will be soon made available to designated agents, as well as to employers. The photo tool should also be expanded to include passport photos of U.S. citizens.

E-Verify Usage Issues.  DHS noted several E-Verify usage issues, as reported by a third party engaged to analyze E-Verify usage.

  • It was reported that 16% of the E-Verify employers did not complete the tutorial – which can indicate, according to DHS, sharing of passwords by employers or insufficient training;
  • 16% of the E-Verify employers use the system as a pre-screen, which is a violation of the E-Verify and can be prosecuted;
  • 20% of employers took adverse action against prospective employees who received a tentative non-confirmation, again, in violation of E-Verify rules;
  • 9% of employers received a tentative non-confirmation but failed to give notice to the employee of the election to contest.

FAR

Over 18,000 federal contractors are now enrolled in E-Verify following rules requiring such participation.  9,000 federal contractors have the FAR clause inserted in the federal contracts.

Conclusion

In light of these updates on DHS policies, it is clear that DHS will sharpen its focus on employers and require proper E-Verify participation (for E-Verify employers) and good Form I-9 compliance practices.  The increasing audits, fines and, in some cases, debarments, should serve as a notice to employers to create and follow proper employment authorization and immigration compliance programs.    Please contact us if we can help you evaluate and modify your programs.

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March 2010 Visa Bulletin – Slow Forward Movement

The March 2010 Visa Bulletin was just released by the State Department.  The sixth visa bulletin for the fiscal year 2010 and the third for the calendar 2010 does not bring much movement.  There is some slow forward movement across most employment-based categories.   The most significant movement noted this month is in EB-3 ROW and EB-3 China (both move forward by 3 months).  EB-2 India and EB-3 India dates move forward only slightly.

Here is a summary of the March 2010 Visa Bulletin:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 ROW remains current, EB-2 China moves forward by six (6) weeks to July 8, 2005, and EB-2 India, moves forward by only one (1) week to February 1, 2005.
  • EB-3 ROW moves forward by almost three (3) months to December 15, 2002, EB-3 China moves forward by almost three (3) months also to December 15, 2002, while EB-3 India moves forward by only one (1) week to July 1, 2001.
  • Other worker visa numbers remains unchanged at June 1, 2001.
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NVC Releases Immigrant Visa Queue Numbers

The National Visa Center (NVC) has released numbers and statistics on the immigrant visa numbers pending at NVC.   The information is as of November 1, 2009.  It is important to note that these numbers reflect immigrant visas which have chosen “consular processing” and not adjustment of status (I-485) applications filed from within the U.S.  Also, the numbers reflect all applicants, including derivative beneficiaries such as spouses and children.

Overall Pending Immigrant Visa

Family-based.  As of November 1, 2009, there are 245,516 family-based first preference category applications pending; 842,762 second category (324,864 in 2A and 517,898 in 2B sub-category); 553,280 in third category; and 1,727,897 in fourth category.  The total family-based NVC pending cases are 3,369,455.

Employment-based.   As of November 1, 2009, there are 3,601 employment-based first preference category applications pending; 6,295 second category; 119,759 in third category (103,448 in skilled workers and 16,311 in other workers sub-category); 529 in fourth category; and 325 in fifth category.  The total employment-based NVC pending cases are 130,509.

Distribution by Country

Thirteen countries represent 79% of the total NVC pending immigrant petitions.  Mexico is number one with 1,178,761 cases (most of which are family-based);  Philippines is second with 482,694, China-mainland is third with 197,559, while India is fourth with 194,954.

Please see the full report for more detailed statistics.  It is important to note that the annual FY-2010 maximum of family-based immigrant visas issued for any one country is 15,820.  The maximum employment-based immigrant visas issued for any country is 10,440.

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Prevailing Wage Request Delays Under iCert Form 9141 System

Effective January 1, 2010, the Department of Labor (DOL) centralized all prevailing wage determinations needed in connection with certain programs – PERM, H-1B, H-2B and E-3.   All prevailing wage requests now must be submitted to DOL for processing and not to the state workforce agencies, as it was done before.

Because DOL was not ready to accept electronic submissions on January 1, it announced that it would accept paper prevailing wage submissions until the iCert system is modified to accept prevailing wage requests on Form 9141.   As a result, many prevailing wage requests from early this year were submitted via mail.  On or about January 15, 2010, DOL launched the online prevailing wage request form and is now accepting online submissions.

Prevailing Wage Determinations Currently Take Three to Four Weeks

Unfortunately, delays in the processing of the prevailing wage requests are widely reported.  In many instances, paper request forms submitted before January 15th took one or two weeks to be entered into the system and confirmed as submitted.  We are seeing that it currently takes between three and four weeks for DOL to provide prevailing wage determinations.

In communications related to the new system, DOL has indicated that prevailing wage determinations may take up to 60 days.  This is in a sharp contrast to the pre-January 1, 2010 system where state workforce agencies were often able to provide prevailing wage determinations within 1-2 days.

We hope that DOL is experiencing adjustment issues to the new system and once system glitches are ironed out, DOL will staff the prevailing wage determination bureau properly so that determinations can be issued promptly.   To avoid delays in H-1B petitions associated with prevailing wage determinations, our office uses alternative prevailing wage surveys.  However, for PERM labor certification applications, the new prevailing wage determination system adds one to two months of additional PERM preparation time.

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Alert on H-1B Admissions at the Newark, NJ Airport

The American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) has provided some guidance and information from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Newark, New Jersey airport.

Background

Starting in December of 2009, our office has been receiving alerts from current and prospective clients about a number of incidents where holders of valid H-1B stamps were questioned and, in some cases, offered the opportunity to withdraw their request for admission into the U.S. or be subject to expedited removal proceedings;  in many cases, such H-1B holders were not admitted into the U.S. and sent back to their home country and have had their H-1B visas cancelled.

Due to the lack of information from CBP and the seriousness of the situation, a number of misleading and sometimes false rumors have began circulating among communities of H-1B holders on the Internet.    We hope that this alert will provide helpful information and understanding of what happens at Newarj, NJ airport and what can be done about it.

USCIS/ICE Employer Fraud Investigations Cause Scrutiny of H-1B Employees

CBP has confirmed that at least several of these cases involved companies which were under investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and/or USCIS for ongoing H-1B program fraud.  CBP noted that they use as much advance information as possible to target specific individuals who warrant additional inspection.  CBP also noted that recent enforcement cases reviewed ranged from simple documentary deficiency to visa/petition fraud. Upon an inadmissibility finding, the determination to either allow the applicant to withdraw his or her application for admission or to subject the applicant to expedited removal is based on “the totality of the circumstances and reviewed on a case by case basis.”

In the Newark enforcement actions, CBP Newark worked closely with USCIS – Fraud Detection and National Security (“FDNS”) and the Department of Labor – Office of Investigations.  CBP stated that those questioned were offered the opportunity to contact their consulate and that CBP officers contacted the petitioner and/or current employer when clarification was needed.  CBP confirmed that they screen ALL employment-based visa holders to determine admissibility and ensure compliance with entry requirements.

Newark, NJ Airport New Policy to Verify L-1 and H-1B Employees

CBP has also announced that the Newark, New Jersey airport has instituted a new policy which involves conducting random checks for returning H-1B, L-1, and other employment-based visa holders.  Based upon the initial check, if the person’s admissibility is questionable, then he or she will be sent to secondary inspection for further interview. In some cases, if CBP discovers discrepancies in previously filed petitions, then the applicant may be asked to withdraw his/her application for admission into the United States or be subject to expedited removal.

Public Information May be Consulted During or After Inspection

Employers should be advised that the government may review information in any public venues such as websites and other media for consistency with petition content. Thus, keeping such public information accurate and current is essential.

Note the new fraud related language added to I-797 approval notices –

NOTICE: Although this application/petition has been approved, DHS reserves the right to verify the information submitted in this application, petition, and/or supporting documentation to ensure conformity with applicable laws, rules, regulations, and other authorities. Methods used for verifying information may include, but are not limited to, the review of public information and records, contact by correspondence, the Internet, or telephone, and site inspections of businesses and residences. Information obtained during the course of verification will be used to determine whether revocation, rescission, and/or removal proceedings are appropriate. Applicants, petitioners, and representatives of record will be provided an opportunity to address derogatory information before any formal proceeding is initiated.

Conclusion: Proper Pre-Travel Preparation is Essential

It should be noted that although the recent news were linked with Newark, New Jersey airport, CBP may expand its policy and enforcement to other airports at any time.  In light of these developments, it becomes increasingly important for holders of H-1B and L-1 visas to prepare well for their return trip into the U.S., regardless of the port of entry they use to enter the U.S.

We advise all of our clients to thoroughly prepare for their trip to the U.S. and their inspection upon application for admission.  H-1B and L-1 visa holders should review all pertinent documents to their petition and to consider carrying evidence to support the assertions made in the petition filed on their behalf by their employer.  In addition, the H-1B or L-1 employers must be prepared for telephone inquiries from CBP officers at ports of entry to confirm the assertions made in any nonimmigrant petition and supporting documentation.  Finally, employers should ensure that public information, such as websites and/or other materials, may be consulted by CBP agents to determine whether a particular H-1B or L-1 petition is valid.

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