USCIS wants to increase fees!

USCIS proposes increasing filing fees of a lot of commonly used applications.  Most of them are for business immigration filings and family based immigration applications.  See some of the proposed fee increases below.

You can make a comment on the fee increase until July 5, 2016. USCIS depends on the fees to pay for its services. So USCIS was one of the few agencies not affected by the government shut down last year.

Proposed fees

Form Purpose Current Fee Proposed Increase Change
I-129 For Worker $325 $460 +$135
I-130 For Family immigration $420 $535 +$115
I-140 For Work based immigration $580 $700 +$120
I-485 Work/Family GC* $1,070 $1,225 +$155
I-539 Change visas $290 $370 +$80
I-765 Work authorization $385 $410 +$30
I-90 Renew GC $365 $455 +$90
I-129F Fiancé Visa $340 $535 +$195
I-751 Get a 10 year GC* $505 $595 +$90
N-400 Naturalize $595 $640 +$45
N-600 Citizenship Certificate $600 $1170 +$570

*Green Card

Nalini S Mahadevan, Esq

P: 314.932.7111  nsm@mlolaw.us   www.mlolaw.us

Disclaimer: Please do not rely on this blog for legal advice.  Call me if you want to get advice and sign an engagement letter with my law firm.

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Was I chosen in the H1B lottery?

The only way to know for sure that the application was rejected is when the application is returned with the fee checks, or no receipt is received a week from May 2nd, 2016, when all the applications that were chosen were entered in the database.  Another indication of an application being chosen is of course the fees being debited from the attorney’s bank account.

There is no process for inquiring about rejected applications with USCIS.

So hang tight and wait for your receipt or returned application.

Nalini S Mahadevan, Esq. – nsm@mlolaw.us – 314.932.7111 – www.mlolaw.us

Of course you know this is not legal advice and you must consult your own attorney!

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The Elephant in the Room

Discrimination in Immigration!  You’re are kidding, right?

I have been reading about double digit denial rates for L1B visa applications from India.  The denial rate for L1B ‘specialized knowledge’ workers out of India is 56% while for Mexico and China it is 22% and 21%.  L1B visas are issued for intracompany transfers from an affiliate or branch to the US Company.  ‘Specialized Knowledge’ requires a worker to have specialized skills about his company’s product. For an Indian applicant who is usually a software engineer that seems to be an insurmountable hurdle for more than half the applicants!   The current standard of adjudication has been drifting upwards.  Now a company needs a ‘star’ employee with astronomical specialized knowledge to be approved.

Many top Fortune 500 companies outsource their technology needs to other companies.  These other companies have operations which run in a 24 hour cycle.  While the US sleeps the work is carried on in China and India.  Now the company wants to bring some of its overseas employees from China and India for some face to face time to promote synergy between the overseas team and the US team, run a ‘SCRUM’ operation, and improve US business profits.  These workers have specialized knowledge of the company customized software built on a platform that is universally available in the US, but these employees are not ‘stars’. The same application has a 50% chance of denial by either USCIS or the US consulate in India and a 21% chance of denial for China.  The only losers are US businesses!

What can we do?

  • File applications for employees who are more senior in the company and have more specialized knowledge about the company’s process, technology or other matter.
  • Document, document, document! the application with every training at every international branch, leadership position in the company, and knowledge based expertize.
  • Then Pray!

Nalini S Mahadevan Esq

nsm@mlolaw.us

314 374 8784

Not meant as legal advice!

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Will You Get Your Green Card Soon?

Obama issues executive orders for Entrepreneurs H1Bs, H-4s, L1Bs, and O-1 visa holders. Read the memo issued by USCIS on Obamas initiatives on visa-based employees below.

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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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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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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E-Verify returns!

E-Verify has resumed operations following the federal government shutdown. All E-Verify features and services are now available.

Information for Employers

Form I-9
The Form I-9 requirements were not affected during the federal government shutdown. All employers were required to complete and retain a Form I-9 for every person hired to work for pay in the US during the shutdown.

E-Verify
Employees who received a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC):
If an employee had a TNC referred between September 17, 2013 and September 30, 2013, and was not able to resolve the TNC due to the federal government shutdown, employers must add 12 federal business days to the date printed on the ‘Referral Letter’ or ‘Referral Date Confirmation’. Employees have until this new date to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resolve their cases. If employers have an employee who decided to contest his or her TNC while E-Verify was unavailable, an employer should now initiate the referral process in E-Verify. Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of a TNC.

Steps to take if an employee has received a SSA Final Nonconfirmation (FNC) or DHS No Show result:
If an employee received a Final Nonconfirmation (FNC) or No Show because of the federal government shutdown, please close the case and select “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a Final Nonconfirmation result,” or “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a No Show result.” The employer must then enter a new case in E-Verify for that employee. These steps are necessary to ensure the employee is afforded the opportunity to timely contest and resolve the Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC) that led to the FNC result.

Creating Cases: Three-Day Rule
You must create an E-Verify case for each employee hired during or otherwise affected by the shutdown by November 5, 2013. If you are prompted to provide a reason why the case is late (i.e., does not conform to the three-day rule), select ‘Other’ from the drop-down list of reasons and enter ‘federal government shutdown’ in the field.

Federal Contractor Deadlines
During the federal government shutdown, federal contractors could not enroll or use E-Verify as required by the federal contractor rule. If your organization missed a deadline because E-Verify was unavailable, or if it has an upcoming deadline for complying with the federal contractor rule, please follow the instructions above and notify your contracting officer of these instructions.

Information For Employees

If the federal government shutdown prevented you from contesting a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC), you will be allowed additional time to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If your TNC was referred between September 17, 2013 and September 30, 2013, and you were not able to resolve the mismatch due to the federal government shutdown, you should:

  • Add 12 federal business days to the date printed on the ‘Referral Letter’ or ‘Referral Date Confirmation’ that your employer gave you after you contested the TNC. Federal business days are Monday through Friday, and do not include federal holidays.
  • Contact SSA or DHS by the new date to resolve your TNC.
  • If you received a Final Non-Confirmation (FNC) because you could not contact DHS or SSA during the federal government shutdown, or because you could not contact DHS or SSA in the first ten days after the government reopened, please contact your employer and request that the employer re-enter your query. For more information about contesting your TNC or FNC, please refer to Employee section of the E-Verify website.

Customer Support

E-Verify Customer Support expects an increase in requests for assistance. Due to this increase, customers may experience longer than normal delays and response times. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your patience.

For any questions or additional information about how the federal shutdown affects E-Verify, please email E-Verify@dhs.gov. For questions about Form I-9, please visit I-9 Central or email I-9Central@dhs.gov. Employers and employees may also contact E-Verify at 888-464-4218. Customer Support representatives are available Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm local 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 2013. All rights reserved.

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Government Shutdown Affects Employers with Foreign Workers

We sent an alert to our clients a couple of days ago when we felt that the Federal Government shutdown was imminent. We didn’t really expect it to happen but it did! The shutdown is unfortunately affecting US immigration services, so writing about action to be taken or postponed for pending immigration applications became imperative.

The websites of the US Department of Labor (US DOL) are no longer functional because it is considered a non-essential service. For employers, this means that if there is a current or potential employee who has to start, extend or transfer to a new employer, the employer will not be able to file a labor condition application for an H1B visa. The implication is that no application for the H1B visa can be filed with USCIS because that application has to be supported by a certified labor condition application (LCA). In the past, when there was a prolonged outage of the US DOL website, USCIS allowed employers to file with uncertified LCAs. We hope this happens with this shutdown, if it is prolonged.

For employees whose cases are pending audit on a PERM case; or if a prevailing wage determination or Form 9089 (PERM application) is either to be filed, or has been filed or is pending with the US DOL, no action will be issued by the agency until the shutdown has been terminated.

USCIS is functional because it is a fee-for-service agency. Biometrics collection is used for many immigrant applications, as well as for re-entry permits required for multinational employees who have a green card through employment but are currently stationed overseas. Biometric services for employees are also still being collected.

US Department of State consulates are currently functional, processing visa stamps and interviews. These services are supported by a mix of fees and federal budget allocation: if the shutdown is prolonged, or if there is a budgetary crisis, then there may be a suspension of services at the consulates for both US citizens and non-citizen consular services. The budgetary crisis could impact both employment-based and other categories of visa issuance, including visitor and business visas. If business travelers want to attend or plan to attend meetings and conferences in the US, please plan to obtain a visa while consular services are still available.

The Social Security Administration is open with limited service; issue of Social Security cards has been suspended. Hence, new visa-based employees will be unable to obtain new social security numbers, which could impact I-9 forms. Although collection of social security numbers is optional, if the employer is an E-verify employer, the employer is required to collect a social security number for work authorization verification. Certain federal and state contractors are also mandated to collect this information. To alleviate this problem, the 3-day rule for E-verify is suspended for those cases affected by the shutdown. Employers may not take adverse action against employees because of the employee’s E-verify interim status.

Wage payments to some new non-immigrants may be a problem because of the non-availability of the social security number. New J non-immigrant visa holders who cannot obtain social security numbers should approach their sponsoring agency for direction.

E-verify is unavailable during the shutdown. Consequently, USCIS, which administers the program, will not be issuing non-confirmation letters (TNC), and employers will be unable to verify work authorization of new employees. Current time to process TNCs has been extended; but the obligation to collect, maintain and process Form I-9 continues as an employer mandate.

Border security is an essential service – there will be no shutdown of services at the border, but travelers are expected to face slowdowns in screening and higher security.

US Passport services, which are a fee-for-service program, are not affected by the slowdown. Of course the severity of the impact will depend on the length of the shutdown. We will post updates as they become available.

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 2013. All rights reserved.

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