TN and L Visa Holders Enter at Select Ports of Entry to US from Canada

Beginning in mid-September, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is streamlining the entry process for first-time Canadian TN and L applicants seeking entry into the US under NAFTA. CBP has designated ports of entry that will ensure a more efficient approach to processing the high volume of TN and L applicants.

The TN nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary entry into the US to engage in business activities at a professional level. The L-1 nonimmigrant classification — Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager — enables a US employer to transfer an executive or manager from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the US. This classification also enables a foreign company that does not yet have an affiliated US office to send an executive or manager to the US with the purpose of establishing one.

While there is no requirement to go to these designated ports of entry, first-time applicants are encouraged to enter through these ports for ‘optimized processing’ at 14 ports, including 4 pre-clearance centers.

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.

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Using an L Visa to Open a New US Office

Opening a New Office in the US

I often get asked this question from callers anxious to start a new business in the US, “I have a thriving business in (fill in the name of the country) — a large part of my business is in the US. I want to start a new office there. How do I start a new office?”

Have a US Connection

The new US office must have a corporate relationship with your foreign entity abroad, where you have been employed as a manager, executive or worker with specialized knowledge. This means that the new US office must be a parent, affiliate, subsidiary or branch of the foreign entity, and that both the US office and the foreign entity must continue to share common ownership and control.

Demonstrating a Relationship Between the Foreign and US Offices

Here are some examples of how a relationship can be demonstrated between the US and foreign office:

  • Articles of incorporation showing common ownership of the US and foreign entities
  • Business licenses or other documents showing common ownership of the US entity
  • Annual reports describing the corporate structure
  • Contracts or other documents detailing the affiliate relationship
  • Corporate filings in the US or abroad, describing the corporate relationship
  • Any other evidence demonstrating ownership and control over the US and foreign entities (i.e., stock purchase agreements, voting rights agreements, capitalization table, term sheet) 

Demonstrate Foreign Employment as a Manager, Executive or Specialized Knowledge Worker

Examples of your foreign position:

  • Organization charts showing your position
  • Patents or other evidence of the company’s technology, products or services that are based on your work
  • Performance reviews
  • Loans/financing on behalf of the company
  • Organizational job descriptions for your position and those positions that reported above and/or below you, if applicable
  • Resume describing your job accomplishments
  • Pay stubs
  • Evidence of work product
  • Payroll records
  • Tax returns that show employment

The New Office Must be Operating Within One Year

The “new office” L-1 visa is meant to facilitate a “ramp up” period for a new US office of a foreign entity. This period is limited to one year. After that time, an extension of the L-1 visa is available if the new office meets this requirement. What makes an office active and operating will differ depending on the nature of the business. Typically it will involve factors, such as hiring additional employees, fulfillment of contract orders, having a revenue stream, or holding inventory, if applicable.

The New Office Must be Able to Support a Full Time Manager or Executive

While a new office may be opened on an L-1 visa by someone working within your organization in a managerial, executive or specialized-knowledge capacity, after one year the office must be sufficiently active to support a manager or executive. During the first year ramp up, a manager or executive may be required, as a practical matter, to engage in many “hands-on” tasks that go beyond inherently managerial or executive tasks. After the first year, however, the manager or executive will be required to focus primarily on managerial or executive tasks in order to obtain an extension of the L-1 visa.

Examples of Evidence of a New Office are:

  • Purchase orders, contracts or other evidence of commercial activity
  • Payroll records for employees hired
  • Bank statements
  • Financial reporting documents showing monthly income
  • Continued venture capital or other third party investment contribution based on achieved milestones
  • Media coverage of the business
  • Position descriptions providing the roles and responsibilities of all current employees, or other evidence which clearly demonstrates how the manager or executive is relieved of non-qualifying duties

The Takeaway

New office L-1 visas are usually granted for one year to qualified applicants. The denial rate in India is generally about 25%. There is a general belief in both the Department of State and USCIS that the incidence of fraud is very high in India, due to the falsification of evidence and supporting documents.

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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Facts About Immigrants in Missouri

In 1990, the percentage of foreign-born in Missouri was only 1.6%; since then, Missouri’s cultural makeup has changed drastically to include large amounts of Latinos, Asians and other immigrant populations. Missouri’s current foreign-born population is 4%; 41.6% of “New Americans” in Missouri have become naturalized citizens who can vote. About 5% of Missouri’s ‘New Americans’ are either Latino or Asian.

These New Americans also contribute economically to Missouri as business owners, workers, professionals, tax-payers and consumers. Together, Latinos and Asians possess $9.8 billion in consumer purchasing power — their businesses make $5.1 billion and employ 34,000 people. Foreign students also enrich the community: Missouri’s total of 16,061 foreign students contribute $417.9 million to the state’s economy.

A little bit of food for thought: if Missouri’s unauthorized immigrants — which total 1.3% of our workforce — were deported from the state, we would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity and roughly 13,859 jobs.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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A Second Look at Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In February, I wrote about why comprehensive immigration reform has a chance to pass this year; now, it’s time to discuss how immigration reform can strengthen the US as a whole.

Immigration reform has heavy bipartisan support, spearheaded by President Obama and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (FL). Sen. Rubio is a member of the “Gang of Eight”, the four Democrat and four Republican Senators who have introduced new immigration legislation to Congress — Rubio has also assumed the role of spokesperson for the pending bill in the Senate. The House is also sponsoring several other bills on immigration.

There are security and economic reasons for the US to reform its immigration policy, both of which will have a major impact on the US economy.

The Security Side and the Impact on Employers

Immigration reform is not going to happen without enhanced border security and metrics to measure the levels of security reached. Another measure of security to guarantee a legal workforce is to make both E-verify and Form I-9 compliance mandatory for all employers.  Senate has already earmarked $110 million dollars to these programs — employers should see new compliance regulations soon after a new immigration bill has passed.

In addition, electronic checking of departures by CBP will ensure that non-immigrants depart on the date their authorized stay expires, according to their Form I-94 record. Departures are currently recorded with a paper I-94, which is surrendered upon exiting the US. The new electronic I-94 will record departures from passenger manifests issued by airlines. Entries are currently recorded, but exits from the US are not recorded uniformly at all ports. In addition, the new bill will mandate that all passports be electronically read, which would reduce human error.

It is a misconception that highly skilled visa holders somehow depress US wages. On the contrary, where certain technical skills are in short supply, employers pay top dollar wages for visa holders and high fees to the federal government, as well as jump through legal hurdles to employ these workers. The cost of employing a foreign worker is more expensive than a domestic worker.

The Economic Side

Granting legal status to more immigrants will relieve our labor shortages in both high-skill and low-skill arenas. The educational background of native-born Americans typically includes high school and college education — few are without high school diplomas, and hardly any have Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The educational background of immigrants, on the other hand, is quite different: while many lack high school education, others hold Ph.D.s in STEM fields.

Most of the debate on immigration reform has focused on giving legal status to undocumented immigrants, upon the condition that they pay fees and back taxes. This will certainly have positive effects on our economy; however, we have more to gain from immigrants, both young and old, who, after gaining legal status, decide to further their careers in the US. Once these immigrants feel reassured about their future in the US, they will be more willing to invest in their careers.

One of our current problems is that many skill workers have trouble gaining a foothold onto the path to citizenship. Foreign entrepreneurs and technologists who study in the US are often denied works visas and return to their home country to find success. This issue is both stunting economic growth and causing a brain drain in America.

The number of available temporary visas is rarely revised and is still dependent upon caps and quotas. Our economic conditions have not been taken into consideration. Increasing visas both for high skilled workers, and lower skilled entrants in agriculture and forestry, could have a positive effect on wages and reduce the number of illegal entrants and overstays.

Immigrants also bolster our productivity growth. According to the Wall Street Journal, foreign scientists and engineers, who came to the US with an H1B visa, contributed 10-20% of the yearly productivity growth in the US from 1990-2010. Attracting innovators to our country will undoubtedly create more jobs, as more innovation means more labs, universities and companies doing research. Yet, the US’s H1B visa program only creates 65,000 visas per year for highly skilled workers. That amount has proved to be insufficient, as H1B visas quotas fill very quickly as in the last cap.

There are clear economic and security needs for streamlined and comprehensive immigration reform, and lawmakers and politicians must take action. Congress is set to vote on immigration reform before the July 4 congressional recess.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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H1B cap has reached!

USCIS received 124,000 H1B visa applications from Monday April 1, 2013 to Friday April 5, 2013 — the cap has not been filled this fast for about 4 years. The number of applications received includes both cap subject bachelor degree holders and US Master Degree holders for whom a special 20,000 visas are allotted.

US Master degree holders get two bites of the apple, when it comes to ‘cap’ time. All US Master degree applications not counted towards the 20,000 cap will be considered again in the regular cap of 65,000 visas. Master degree applications are subject to the lottery first, before the bachelor degree holders. Please keep in mind also that this 65,000 number is reduced by 5,800 visas set aside for Chile and Singapore, under Free Trade Treaties that the US has signed with these countries. The unused visas from this ‘carve out’ is added back to the general pool of available cap subject visas.

USCIS announced that it conducted a lottery to allot visas using a computer generated selection process on Sunday, April 7, 2013. All those applications not selected will be returned to the employers or attorneys. Of course, the return process may not occur for a while, as applications are vetted for accuracy and correct application fees. Application fees will be returned with the applications if the package is not selected in the lottery.

H1B applications filed with premium processing will be processed in 15 days, if they are selected in the lottery.

No more applications will be accepted by USCIS, but H1B applications to change employers, or extension of visa applications filed by non-profit employers and concurrent H1B employment, can still be filed with USCIS.

The Takeaway

Contact your Senator and Congressional representative to encourage an increase in the number of visas available for H1B visas. H1B visas filed by entrepreneurs are also subject to the cap. Entrepreneurs are employment multipliers for the U.S. economy.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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2014 H1B Cap Might Hit in the First Week

Speculation about the H1B visa cap has been all-consuming in the business community. For 2014, USCIS has stated that all 65,000 H1B visas, and 20,000 H1B visas reserved for US Masters degree holders, would be finished in the first 5 days of filing from April 1 (Monday) to April 5 (Friday).

USCIS also stated that it would monitor the number of petitions received and notify the public of the date on which the numerical limit of the H-1B cap had been met, which is called the final receipt date. If USCIS receives more than 85,000 visa application petitions (regular and cap visas, disregarding the carve-outs for Singapore and Chile under Free Trade Agreements signed by the US with those countries), USCIS will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the limit of 85,000 visas.

USCIS will reject petitions that are subject to the cap and are not selected. USCIS will also reject any petitions that are received after the necessary number of petitions needed to meet the cap are filled. The last time USCIS conducted a lottery for the H-1B cap was in April of 2008.

The Consequences

Pronouncements like this have led to a frantic need to file on the first day, so that the cap is not missed. The problem is that this artificial season does not necessarily meet the hiring cycles for US business and employers. In other words, US business employment practices are artificially constrained by the necessity to tailor employment hiring practices to coincide with a start on April 1. Depending on the industry, employers hire throughout the year, varying with the ebbs and flow of business.

The Takeaway

Immigration reform proposed by the 8 Senators has a more realistic view of the business world — i.e. releasing visas as the demand grows, in a stepped up basis. Now that we are talking about the ‘reality’ on the ground for employers and business, could we have a more realistic PERM labor system? I know, if wishes were horses…. But I can dream the immigration dream, can’t I?

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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Why Comprehensive Immigration Reform Has a Chance to Pass This Year

Since President Obama was inaugurated for his second term, he has made Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) a key policy initiative for his administration. Interest groups from the left and right, and even some Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are also in support of a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws.

Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Henry Cisneros (former Housing and Urban Development Secretary) and Haley Barbour (former Mississippi Governor) are three of 4 leaders spearheading a high profile group by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. The group’s aim is to act as a sounding board, and to assist and shepherd the initiative into law by the summer of 2013.

Bipartisan support continues, as Senators from both parties have also offered Obama a framework of principles that they hope will be included in CIR. This bipartisan group consists of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

A Round Up of Ideas Offered by Proponents

The draft of the Senators’ proposed bill, entitled the “Immigration Innovation Act”, increases available H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 visas every year. It will create a market-based H1B escalator, which will allow for additional visas if the cap is hit early during the filing season, with a ceiling of 300,000 visas. The visas will be adjusted based on market demands.

The 20,000 H1B visa cap for US Masters and PhD students will also be abolished, allowing the US employer to employ foreign students of US universities with advanced degrees without limit.

This bill will provide the ‘plug and play’ workers needed by all sectors of industry, whether it be healthcare or hospitality; workers who are ready to hit the ground running, and keep services for the American consumer consistently available.

In addition, there is a proposal to allow dependents of H1B visas to work on their H4 visas.  Of course, there will be an increase in the filing fee, dedicated to worker re-training at the state level in technical fields.

The senators’ framework stipulates that, before illegal US immigrants can attain “probationary legal status”, they must pass a background check, as well as pay fines and back taxes. Illegal immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds will not be eligible for legal status. Additionally, the framework states that illegal immigrants will not be granted work authorization until the government increases enforcement, such as expanded border surveillance, to protect and secure the nation’s borders.

The President’s Plan Is Not So Differrent

Obama’s proposal for immigration reform comes in four parts:

  1. Strengthen our borders;
  2. crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers;
  3. hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; and
  4. streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.

Earned Citizenship

Almost 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the US. Obama proposes to give undocumented immigrants the legal means necessary to earn citizenship, which will also persuade them to come out from hiding and pay their taxes and adhere to the rules. Illegal immigrants will be held accountable: before they can obtain citizenship, they must pass national security and criminal background checks, pay back taxes and penalties, learn English, and go to the back of the line. Young people will also have the chance to gain citizenship faster if they seek higher education or serve in the military.

Mandatory E-verify

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced a mandatory E-Verify bill, which will require all employers to verify the authorized work status of their US workers. Today, the E-Verify system is voluntary; however, Sen. Grassley’s bill requires all employers to comply within 1 year of enactment. The bill will reduce employer’s liability for wrongful termination, and use E-verify to screen an applicant with his/her consent. The bill also imposes a mandate on the Social Security Administration to develop algorithms to detect multiple users of single Social Security numbers.

How will CIR help our economy?

Our economy demands legal immigration that is simple and adept, so that it encourages the best and the brightest to remain in the USA. A shorter wait for permanent resident status for the highly educated immigrants will boost the economy — if it is easier for STEM graduates to stay in the US, they will bolster and create industries, therefore creating jobs.

University education in the US will get a boost from the revenues generated by foreign students and their families; estimates put the revenue generated by foreign students at about $20 to $40 billion dollars every year. Often, American universities spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars educating these students, only to lose them to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe, or the students’ home countries. A chance for these students to remain in the US and pursue their academic and entrepreneurial dreams will add to the economy.

The taxes collected from the highly educated will help ensure that our Social Security and Medicare budgets are met. This revenue stream will be enhanced by offering a chance for a legalized workforce to pay employment-based taxes. These taxes will reduce the strain on American social systems, such as hospitals and schools. A legal workforce will be paid the mandated prevailing wage. Without a Social Security Number, a worker cannot open a bank account, buy car insurance, obtain a driver’s license, or attend school or college. Hence, a legalized workforce will provide a boost to the insurance, banking and finance industries, and increase wages for all, as employers will now pay the legal minimum wage.

The proposals all call for supplemental visas so that foreign entrepreneurs wanting to begin startups, and foreign graduate students with STEM degrees, will either come to the US to work or remain in the US post-graduation. We want, and need, the best and brightest minds for the US to flourish.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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USCIS Develops Tools to Help Foreign Entrepreneurs in the US

In late November, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas revealed a new addition to the Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiative, an online resource center called Entrepreneur Pathways. The digital resource center will aid entrepreneurs, who are looking to start a business in the US, in maneuvering through the immigration process.

The EIR initiative

The USCIS EIR initiative was instituted in early 2012, and works to bolster USCIS policies and economic growth using industry expertise. The EIR Team is comprised of USCIS immigration and business experts who work together to standardize the process for obtaining various nonimmigrant visa categories that are often utilized by entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the EIR team has also:

  • Developed and deployed a training workshop for USCIS employment-based immigration officers that focuses on startup businesses and the environment for early-stage innovations;
  • Trained a team of specialized immigration officers to handle entrepreneur and startup cases;
  • Modified Request for Evidence templates for certain nonimmigrant visa categories to incorporate new types of relevant evidence into the adjudicative process; and
  • Developed a plan for quarterly engagements with the entrepreneurial community to ensure that USCIS stays current with industry practices.

One of the team’s main goals is to find a way for foreign entrepreneurs to establish a business in the US within the scope of immigration law. In order to continue to build momentum, the EIR team will remain in effect until April 2013.

What We Need Now

A great first step has been taken by USCIS using the present framework to answer a need for self-sponsorship by entrepreneurs; but the same processing-bottlenecks remain in place, such as long waits for filing adjustment of status to complete the ‘green card’ process due to backlogged priority dates. We may be better served instead if there were more treaty countries added to the E-Treaty Trader and Treaty Investor Visas, or if there was a separate category of E-Investor Visa at the $250,000 investment level with a requirement for four full-time jobs created.

Subscribe to read my blog regularly. Your comments are welcomed.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
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 2013. All rights reserved.

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