National Visa Center Does Not Want Your Originals!

It has been a big pain to ask clients to send their original documents via mail from overseas for submission to the National Visa Center (NVC). It’s painful because clients are afraid that their documents can be lost in the mail, in their own country, or in the US Attorney’s office, which has to exercise care so that original documents are not lost. Finally, sometimes originals are not returned to clients after the interview by the consular officer interviewing them in the foreign country. For elderly clients who have submitted original documents from countries where they no longer reside, and these documents are over 50 years old, submitting originals to NVC poses a real issue.

Finally, NVC has woken up to the reality of paper, original document preservation and handling, and the burden that it imposes on all concerned. Since the consular officer can examine the originals brought in by the applicant, there seems no reason for original documents to be sent to NVC in the US, only to have them turned around and sent back to where they came from!

Thank you Department of State for finally waking up to reality!

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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Startups File H1B Visas

1. Introduction
Filing H-1b applications for a startup company can be challenging, but it is also a very creative exercise. I have found filing defensively reduces the chances of an RFE (request for evidence) from USCIS, which sometimes can take as long as an original filing to complete and mail.

2. Difficulties Start-Up Face When Filing H-1Bs
New companies have a hard time proving their existence as an organization. Very often, when you start filing for a new company, they have never dealt with immigration issues in the past; there is a steep learning curve caused by a delayed awareness for the need for technical support workers. New companies have no idea of the complexity and time delays experienced at Department of Labor (DOL) and USCIS, so the first task of the attorney is to educate the company hierarchy. The company needs to appoint one person to disseminate information; that person should also be privy to sensitive investor and financial, as well as technical information, about the company. New companies often do not have hierarchy or an organization chart. These need to be created. Websites describing the company’s process, as well as demonstrating the requirements of the jobs that the company wants to fill, are also useful. If the company advertises on online job search engines detailing job requirements, training and experience are a definite plus.

3. Documentation and Evidentiary Support
Apart from the usual DOL documentation, the new start up has to demonstrate that they are an entity registered with the State and Federal government. As far as filing taxes, quarterly returns and employee annual and quarterly returns are also needed. While it is not necessary to disclose the names and social security numbers of employees, it adds to the case if at least initials of names and last 4 digits are disclosed, along with salary and title of position in a payroll summary. Documentary evidence to demonstrate complexity of the job to be filled can be established by advertisements on online job search engines, press releases, technical screens for potential candidates, as well as detailed job requirements with specific tasks. An organizational chart specifying the supervisor’s ability to hire and fire, which means a description of the supervisor’s job description is very key. Of the usual documentation of educational, experience and other visa related questions need to be answered.

4. Answering the Request for Evidence
My brief remains that properly documented, which means defensively, an initial application should not trigger an RFE. Our task remains to represent the employer petitioner, while making it easier for the adjudicating officer to make a decision to approve our application.

5. Whether or Not to Do Premium Processing
I have often heard that premium processing triggers an RFE. What I have also learnt is that if there is a document list that demonstrates ample, targeted evidence qualifying the employer, the beneficiary and that the job requirements adequately meet statutory needs, we are out of RFE territory. Then the only RFE would be a one liner, which can be quickly answered by sending a fax and shortening the wait time for the approval.

6. Conclusion
Defensively document your client’s application to prevent the issue of an RFE and obtain an approval in record time.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA

Attorney at Law

www.lawyersyoucantalkto.com

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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