Midterm Elections Issue: Immigration

Midterm elections are next week; the hot-ticket issue this time around is immigration reform, which has proved to be a very explosive issue for both political parties. President Obama has decided that he will take immigration reform head-on only after midterm elections are over.

The political pundits say the Republicans are slated to win both House and Senate.  Either way, immigration reform will happen whether Republicans or Democrats retain the Senate or House.

If the Republicans win the Senate, then they have to do something to woo the immigrant vote, which is 10% Latino. South Asians and Southeast Asians have also increased their voting numbers. Both these populations want immigration reform to happen because they all have family or friends who may benefit. American business needs tech workers in both healthcare and business. If the Democrats win, Obama will preserve the immigrant vote by executing immigration reform by Executive Order, increasing the number of H1B visas and giving H4 visa holders employment authorization like he did for ‘dreamers.’

Under Republican leadership, the US could increase border security with a virtual wall, and create more visas for H2B and H1B because of the demand and because it is cheaper to monitor the visa issue rather than spend billions on border security, which is found to be full of holes (pun unintended!).

Immigration reform is on its way!

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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E-Verify & Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Another new component to immigration reform Senate Bill 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”, is coming out of the woodwork. The new legislation calls for an extended, nationwide computer network of driver’s license photographs and biographic information of US citizens, run by DHS’s USCIS.

Seven percent of US employers use a similar network, the DHS-run system E-Verify, which helps USCIS to validate identity and legal status of new hires. The broadened network comes from the need to further prevent fraud during the hiring process, by allowing employers to re-verify any photographic or biographic identification presented by new workers. The system would ultimately make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to secure jobs in the US.

E-Verify isn’t mandatory in all states: those US employers who utilize the system, do so voluntarily. If the new immigration bill passes, then E-Verify will have to undergo significant expansions, obligating all employers to send new employee — both foreigners and citizens — information to the system, in order to prove work eligibility.

Many fear that a nationwide computer network will be akin to a national ID system, allowing the government to keep tabs on its citizens. Another fear is that an expanded system would be available to other federal agencies, such as TSA or FBI, which would mainly use it to find suspects.

The federal government assures us that E-Verify doesn’t maintain its own information — it instead taps into other systems to establish information; the information vanishes once the task is accomplished. However, privacy guidelines released by DHS affirm that E-Verify can, depending on the situation, “give law enforcement agencies extracts of information on potential fraud, discrimination or other illegal activities, which points to information gathering at some level and analysis of identity data.”

If passed, the Senate bill will present grants to the states that give DHS access to their driver’s license photo records, clarifying that such access wouldn’t breach federal privacy law. Mississippi is the only state that has given DHS admission to its motor vehicle database, but only for biographic information and not photographs.

The Senate bill does not directly forbid DHS, or any other government agency, from using the information for anything other than work authorization, unlike the law that administers the census.

The Takeaway

E-verify is very likely to become mandatory for all employers, as it is supported by The Chamber of Commerce and employers. The issue of misuse of sensitive and private  information has been enhanced by the leaks of NSA surveillance methods; clearly these dangers need to be balanced with the needs for a workplace security.

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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Comprehensive Immigration Reform’s Proposed Points System

A new element of the immigration reform Senate Bill 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” is coming into play, namely a proposed merit-based points system, similar to ones found in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The points system — an immigration-management tool that will be used to decide who is suitable to enter the US — would allocate new immigrant visas to foreign-born people who meet certain criteria. Each year, the new system would allow between 120,000-250,000 immigrants to obtain immigrant visas through an accumulation of points based on skill, employment history and education. This points-based system is intended to replace the current Diversity Visa Lottery.

The “Desired Immigrant”

This points system shows that the US government does indeed favor a particular type of immigrant, a “desired immigrant”. The system would be more beneficial to certain immigrants over others, like those seeking employment-based immigration. Many immigrants would be at a disadvantage, including women, middle aged and older adults, and those from developing nations. The points system would be divided into characteristics that the US considers beneficial in a visa candidate, such as education, occupation, work experience, English language proficiency and age.

The Two Tiers

PointsFig1PointsFig2

During the fifth fiscal year after the immigration reform bill is passed and the points system is introduced, DHS would assign merit-based visas in two “tiers”, and would give 50% of the visas to applicants with the highest number of points in tier 1, and the other 50% to applicants with the highest number of points in tier 2. Tier 1 is for high-skilled workers and tier 2 is for lower-skilled workers.

The points system favors employment and educational categories over the others; and desires immigrants who are educated, experienced, fluent in English, and young. The system seems to be heavily influenced by economics, placing large value in immigrants’ ability to generate economic worth.

Disadvantaged Immigrants

Moreover, the system is biased against women. Women in other countries frequently have less education and work experience opportunities, allowing the points system to naturally favor men. Though Tier 2 acknowledges women by creating a separate caregiver characteristic, it only grants 10 points, which doesn’t count for much when compared to the employment background characteristic, which totals 40 points.

Family-based immigration is also minimized in the system. Similar to the caregiver characteristic, the siblings or adult sons/daughters of US citizens characteristic only receives 10 points, which, again, doesn’t account for a lot. The system also emphasizes age discrimination and nationality bias, by preferring young immigrants who come from countries with low US migration.

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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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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