Medical Exams for Immigration Applicants Are Valid for 1 Year

USCIS recently announced new policy changes regarding Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. Starting June 1, 2014, USCIS has limited the validity period for all Forms I-693 to one year from the date that USCIS receives the form. This updated policy applies to any Form I-693 supporting a benefit application that USCIS adjudicates on or after June 1, 2014.

USCIS states that if you are applying for adjustment of status, you may submit Form I-693 in one of the following ways:

To ensure that your medical examination is still valid at the time that USCIS adjudicates your application, you should schedule the medical examination as close as possible to the time you file for adjustment of status, respond to a RFE, or attend an interview (if applicable).

The Takeaway

Clients may have their applications for adjustment of status pending for many years. During this time, it may be necessary to obtain a renewed medical exam when more than one year has passed. We are now seeing an uptick in RFEs for adjustment applications, especially for employment-based applications that have been pending for more than one year.

At a liaison meeting with USCIS in St. Louis, we were assured that USCIS requires a new I-693 to be submitted only when there is movement in the case and the case is close to being adjudicated. If you have additional questions on how to submit Form I-693, or on how to ensure that your application is valid, please contact Mahadevan Law Office, LLC for a consultation.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Massachusetts’ Immigrant Program for Students

Massachusetts has created a loophole program, called Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GER), to permit foreign students to stay legally in the US.

Foreign students who attended college in Massachusetts and who want to pursue entrepreneurial activities in the state can apply to the GER Program, which is being run by the Massachusetts Tech Collaborative, an independent state agency designed to promote the advancement of technology in the state. Chosen individuals will be given a job at a participating universities in Massachusetts—the students will work part-time and will submit visa applications sponsored by the university. The program is expected to grow 46,000 jobs for students.

US immigration law dictates that foreign students can study at US colleges and universities under a student visa—after they graduate, their visas expire and they have to find a US employer to sponsor them for an H-1B visa. The H-1B visa system inherently poses a disadvantage for entrepreneurs, the system only allows for a once-per-year application process—in the form of a lottery—and the slots fill up quickly. On April 7, 2014, USCIS reported that it had secured its quota of 85,000 H-1B visa petitions only five days after it began receiving applications.

This is why the GER Program’s loophole is important: colleges and universities are immune to the cap and can submit applications for employers at any time. This means foreign graduates have a higher chance of obtaining a visa through the GER Program, and through employment with higher-education institutions, because these institutions are exempt from the cap.

The House bill proposed to devise a new category of startup visas for foreign entrepreneurs, while also raising the amount of H-1B visas accessible to immigrants with advanced degrees. While the Massachusetts program is yet to be funded, this is a great start for foreign graduates whom the US needs to retain!

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Good Faith Criterion: Lessons Learned From US vs. M&D Masonry and Form I-9

In 2010, ICE alleged in two counts that M&D Masonry committed 364 violations against the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The first count charged that 277 of M&D’s employees didn’t correctly complete section 1 and 2 of Form I-9; the second count charged that M&D didn’t have proper paperwork for 87 additional employees. The company refuted ICE’s allegations, and protested to 40 of the 277 violations named in Count I, and six of the 87 violations named in Count II.

For Count I, the government contests that M&D failed to ensure that:

  • 34 employees signed the attestation in section 1 of Form I-9;
  • 60 employees checked a box in section 1;
  • three employees attested to only one status in section 1; and
  • 10 employees who attested to status as lawful permanent residents entered their respected alien numbers on the adjacent line.

For Count II, M&D failed to:

  • complete section 2 of Form I-9 properly;
  • sign section 2;
  • record the issuing authority for a List B document;
  • provide the document number for List A, List B, and List C documents; and
  • review both List B and C documents.

Additionally, M&D instead accepted unacceptable documents, and didn’t examine or authenticate many I-9 forms within three business days of the individual’s hire date.

Among the defenses, the company alleges that the proposed monetary fines are exorbitant and do not consider the M&D’s financial abilities; and that ICE’s enforcement practices are unreasonable and impulsive. On January 6, 2014, ICE revised its complaint and retracted 25 of the named persons in Count I. According to the US government, M&D supplied satisfactory evidence that demonstrated that those employees had been dismissed before ICE’s inquiry, and wasn’t within the purview of the audit.

Lesson 1

A newspaper article is actually what led ICE to inspect and fine M&D Masonry. On April 30, 2010 an article titled “Illegal hiring for airport construction?” was printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The article cited a hiring foreman for M&D who said that the company was hiring people without sufficient work authorization. ICE conducted a worksite enforcement inquiry on May 7, 2010; subsequently, ICE served M&D with a Notice of Inspection (NOI) for current and past employee I-9 forms from May 7, 2007 to May 7, 2010, and for employment records, payroll data, and wage and hour reports. ICE then issued M&D with slew of other notices throughout 2010 and 2012, including a Notice of Technical and Procedural Failures (NTPF), a Notice of Suspect Documents (NSD), and a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF).

Lesson 2 & 3

M&D was timely in their response to ICE, and filed a Request for Hearing a month after ICE issued the NIF.

After acquiring and studying M&D’s Wage Inquiry by Employer Number records—obtained from the Georgia Department of Labor—Count II of ICE’s allegations concluded that M&D failed to prepare I-9 forms for 87 employees. M&D’s violations in Count II are far more egregious than Count I because failure to properly prepare and/or present I-9 forms destroys the purpose of the INA.

Penalties

M&D believed that ICE should fine the company based on its financial means; however, the governing statute asserts that such consideration is only applicable in five certain circumstances; M&D did not fall within the scope of those circumstances. While some OCAHO cases have previously taken financial means into consideration when determining penalties in a case, such leeway is not required of the government.

ICE fined M&D $332,813.25 for 339 violations, where each violation cost $981.75. Each violation incurred a baseline penalty of $935, also taking into account the employer’s 84% error rate. ICE heightened the penalties by 5 percent for the significance of the violations—over 100 I-9 forms were purportedly verified by signature stamp, although section I of the forms reflected various dates—and 5 percent for the size of the company: M&D had been in business for over 20 years, employed over 400 workers in a three year period, had a payroll of $4.3 million, and a large amount of contracted work. ICE handled the inclusion of unauthorized workers and absence of previous violations as neutral; ICE also lessened the penalties by 5 percent due to the good faith criterion.

ICE was charitable by applying the good faith criterion in M&D’s case. The good faith criterion is gauged by a study of whether the employer tried to comply with the INA obligations before the delivery of the NOI. Since M&D’s case isn’t the most extreme example of the INA violations, the penalties were lessened to a grand total of $228,300.

Takeaway

Incorrectly preparing and/or presenting a Form I-9 is one of the grievous paperwork violations an employer can make. Good faith is only taken into account when an employer actually attempts to determine its legal duties and yield to them. When judging suitable violations of the INA, the following must be favored:

  1. size of the employer;
  2. employer’s good faith;
  3. gravity of violations;
  4. whether an individual is an unauthorized alien; and
  5. employer’s history of previous violations.
See you in my next blog.
Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Employer Defense In a Complaint of Documentary Abuse

The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) has direct purview over three types of cases stemming from the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In this case—Salim Hajiani vs. ESHA USA, Inc. and Sameer Ramjee—Hajiani, the complainant, alleged that the respondent engaged in two of the three areas of jurisdiction over which OCAHO resides: immigration-related unfair employment practices and immigration-related fraud, which are both in violation of the INA.

Hajiani registered a complaint against ESHA USA and Ramjee, accusing the respondents of document abuse, firing Hajiani due to his citizenship status, and taking revenge on him because of a religious discrimination complaint he filed against a former employer. Salim Hajiani is a lawful permanent resident of the US.

Hajiani was hired on October 10, 2011 at Sameer Ramjee’s gas station and convenience store, ESHA, which is in Philadelphia, Tennessee. Hajiani worked at the store until January 10, 2012, when he was fired. On June 26, 2012, he filed a complaint with OSC, to which OSC responded that the complaint didn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Hajiani then filed a charge with OCAHO in February 8, 2013.

Hajiani’s complaint against his employer was a detailed litany of purported incidents of document abuse and job complaints, such as long hours, no overtime pay, and double shifts. He also specified that one of the reasons he was fired was because Ramjee preferred to employ undocumented workers so that he wouldn’t have to pay them overtime or give them benefits.

Hajiani made various allegations against other employees that were not under the scope of OCAHO’s jurisdiction—complaints of undocumented workers also do not fall under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Such instances include cash register shortages, sexual harassment, allegations of tax fraud, selling tobacco to minors, and that he wasn’t hired for store’s first shift because only US citizens were allowed to work that shift. Hajiani also noted in his complaint that his claim was filed timely.

However, his claim of document abuse was not filed in a timely manner. Hajiani alleged that the document abuse occurred in October 2011, but didn’t file the charge with OSC until June 26, 2012. The IRCA strictly says, “no complaint may be filed respecting any unfair immigration-related practice occurring more than 180 days prior ot the filing of a charge with OSC.” Hajiani’s complaint would only have been valid for events after December 29, 2011.

None of Hajiani’s claims—his filed complaint of religious discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC), nor his complaints about the terms and conditions of his job—come under the purview of OCAHO, or are protected by IRCA. OCAHO only covers hiring, recruitment, and discharge.

Moreover, Hajiani never submitted evidence that any discrimination occurred. If Sameer Ramjee had been prejudiced against Hajiani, then Ramjee would never have employed Hajiani. Hajiani provided too many explanations of why he was fired, allowing OCAHO to conclude that Hajiani did not divulge his own behaviors that caused Ramjee to fire him.

OCAHO dismissed Hajiani’s complaint against his employer.

See you in my next blog.
Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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H1B Spouses May Be Allowed to Work in the US

DHS has proposed allowing spouses of H1B visa holders in H4 status to work while waiting for their legal permanent residence to be approved.

The idea is to enhance opportunities for certain groups of highly-skilled workers by removing obstacles to their remaining time in the US, strengthen entrepreneurship and innovation, and to help the US attract and retain highly-skilled immigrants.

The H1B visa holder must have an approved I-140 form and should have an extension of their H1B status beyond 6 years.

Specifically, the change to the regulation would:

  • Update the regulations to include non-immigrant highly-skilled specialty occupation professionals from Chile and Singapore (H-1B1), and from Australia (E-3), in the list of classes of aliens authorized for employment incident to status with a specific employer;
  • Clarify that H-1B1 and principal E-3 non-immigrants are allowed to work without having to separately apply to DHS for employment authorization; and
  • Allow E-3, H-1B1, and CW-1 non-immigrant workers up to 240 days of continued work authorization beyond the expiration date noted on their Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, while the extension request is pending.

It would affect workers in specialty occupation nonimmigrant classifications for professionals from Chile and Singapore (H-1B1) and Australia (E-3), as well as Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI)-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1).

Finally, this proposal would also expand the current list of evidentiary criteria for employment-based first preference (EB-1) outstanding professors and researchers to allow the submission of evidence comparable to the other forms of evidence already listed in the regulations. This proposal would harmonize the regulations for EB-1 outstanding professors and researchers with other employment-based immigrant categories that already allow for submission of comparable evidence.
The proposed rules will be published shortly and will invite comments for a 60 day period.
See you in my next blog.
Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us
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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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The US needs more H1B visas

The Visa Lottery

On April 7, USCIS announced that it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2015. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS received about 172,500 H-1B petitions during the filing period which began April 1, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 10, 2014, USCIS completed a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless it is found to be a duplicate filing.

Advanced Degrees Get Two Bites of the Apple

The agency conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemption first. All advanced degree petitions not selected then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit.

On March 25, USCIS announced that they would begin premium processing for H-1B cap cases no later than April 28.

Non-Cap-Based H1B Visa Applications

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap will not be counted towards the Congressionally mandated FY 2015 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:

  •  Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

Premium Processing H-1B Visas

USCIS provides premium processing service for certain employment-based petitions and guarantees a 15-calendar-day processing time.

USCIS will continue to accept Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, with fee, concurrently with the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, during the time period that premium processing is unavailable. Petitioners may also upgrade a pending H-1B cap petition to premium processing once USCIS issues a receipt notice.

While the Form I-797 receipt notice indicates the date USCIS received the premium processing fee, the 15-day processing period set by 8 CFR 103.7(e)(2) will begin no  later than April 28, 2014. This allows for USCIS to take-in the anticipated high number of filings, conduct the lottery to determine which cases meet the cap, and prepare the volume of cases for premium and regular processing.

The 15-day processing period for premium processing service for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap, or for any other eligible classification, continues to begin on the date that the request is received.

Clearly, since there are so many applications, more visas should be issued. The cost of non-availability of specialized knowledge workers for the US economy is enormous!

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Alternatives to H1B visas

The H1B visa season is upon us, the filing date was on April 1, 2014, and like last year is expected to be oversubscribed. What visas can a company consider once the H1B visas are exhausted for the season?

This year, let us consider non-H1B countries, where alternative visas are available for skilled workers.

For Mexicans and Canadians

The TN visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Until this time, only Canadians could apply directly to the consulate or embassy or enter through the Canadian/US border with the proper credentials.

On February 10th, 2014, the US Department of State published a final rule that Mexicans applying for a TN visa could apply at the consulate or embassy in the US without first seeking approval from USCIS, or before applying for a TN visa at the US embassy or consulate in Mexico.

This is a giant leap forward for immigration, according similar trusted status for citizens south of the border.

Of course, applicants must be sponsored by an employer with a genuine job offer, and job duties must conform to the NAFTA guidelines.

While TN visas require non-immigrant intent—which means the applicant cannot apply for a green card from a TN visa status—the visa allows renewal in the US, and under tax treaties, allows the worker to accumulate the equivalent of Social Security in their country of origin.

There used to be a ceiling on admissions of TN, but that is not the case anymore.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Pre-Adoption Visitation Requirement Changed to One Parent from Two

Only One Parent Required to Travel to Adopt

This past January, President Obama authorized the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which redefines the term “orphan” to fall under the definition of “child” found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Moreover—since signing the new act into law—for adoptions that don’t fall under the purview of the Hague Adoption Convention, it isn’t necessary for both parents to travel before or during the adoption if an adopted child is going to enter the US on an IR-3 visa, which according to INA, allows for automatic US citizenship upon entrance.

Before the new legislation, in order for an adopted child to receive an IR-3 visa, both parents would have to travel to meet the child during the adoption. If only one parent travelled, then the child would enter on an IR-4 visa, and the other parent would need to re-adopt the child in the US for him/her to gain US citizenship. This process became costly and caused delays in the child securing all the benefits of US citizenship.

Revised Forms

USCIS is currently revising the orphan adoption forms, Forms I-600A and I-600. The new versions will likely include the new definition of “orphan”.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Can OPT lead to H1B?

As we get into the H1B filing season for 2015 (H1Bs are filed in 2014 for the following year), students on F1 visas and their employers are anxious about being selected in the H1B lottery.

This year like last, I suspect the demand will overwhelm availability of H1B visas for student and other applicants. Last year, USCIS received 124,000 applications for 65,000 H1B visas, including 20,000 H1B visas set aside for US Master degree holders.

STEM Students

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students are at an advantage. They are able to avail of OPT (optional practical training) for 29 months, and hence get two bites of the H1B apple. They can apply this year and the next while maintaining status in F visa and being lawfully present in the US.

The advantage is that the student:

  • Can work full time.
  • Would qualify for the cap gap extension.
  • Can apply for the 17-month extension

The Takeaway

In essence, a STEM student on 29 month OPT gets 2 bites of the H1B apple, because the sponsoring employer is able to apply again the following year if the student is not selected in the H1B lottery the first time.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Same Sex Couples Filing Jointly in 2014

For the first time in US history, same-sex couples can file federal taxes jointly just like heterosexual married couples in the US. This is the outcome of a ruling by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, where a same-sex marriage was recognized by the US federal government for the first time as a basis for a same-sex spouse being eligible for recognition under federal law.

Filing in 2014

This year, same-sex spouses can apply to file federal taxes just like a married couple filing jointly. In order to be eligible for this status, there are a few prerequisites:

  1. The marriage must have occurred either in 2013 or in a prior year;
  2. The marriage must have occurred in a jurisdiction either in the US or abroad;
  3. The jurisdiction of marriage must recognize same-sex marriage;
  4. However, same sex couples in a civil union or domestic partnerships, are not eligible to file taxes jointly as a married couple. They are still unmarried individuals for federal tax purposes.

Takeaway

Filing jointly could be a smart choice because of lower tax implications of joint filing.

See also:

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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