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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Obamacare Works for Green Card Holder

A client for whom we applied and received US legal permanent residency, just received health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare.

Client was found by the federal and state government to be ineligible to receive health insurance benefits. This prerequisite made the client eligible for health insurance.

Make an appointment at www.mlolaw.us

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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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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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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USCIS releases FAQ on Immigration Benefits for Same Sex Marriages

USCIS Makes Good on its Promise

After the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down as unconstitutional, USCIS issued a two-point FAQ today on filing for same-sex spouses. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued the following statement:

“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. To that end, effective immediately, I have directed USCIS to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”

Now Same-Sex Partners can be Sponsored for Immigration Benefits

US citizens married to a same-sex spouse can now sponsor them for a family-based immigrant visa, both overseas and in the US. They can file the petition for a green card and any accompanying application. Eligibility will be determined according to applicable immigration law, and will not be automatically denied as a result of the same-sex nature of the marriage.

Jurisdictional Issues

If the marriage was celebrated in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, but domicile in a state where recognition is not legal, some deference will be given to the ‘Full Faith & Credit Clause’ of the US Constitution. This allows the couple to file the petition. In evaluating the petition, as a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the state where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. That general rule is subject to some limited exceptions under which federal immigration agencies historically have considered the law of the state of residence in addition to the law of the state of celebration of the marriage. Whether those exceptions apply may depend on individual, fact-specific circumstances. If necessary, USCIS may provide further guidance on this question in the future.

Questions Remaining

Can fiance petitions be filed for same-sex couples? Will a couples’ consular processing for these benefits be accorded the same deference by the Department of State? I suspect that issues of marriage fraud will be applied with equal vigor to these cases as well.

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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Do you have to pay Estate Tax in 2010?

Since 2000 I have heard the mantra over and over again, ‘if you die in 2010 you don’t have to pay estate tax. Even Bill Gates does not have to!’ Well, the truth of the matter is that even if he, or for that matter ‘you’, died in 2010, your heirs may not pay estate tax, but they may be liable to pay a tax on the difference between what you paid for the asset and the sale price of the asset. In layman’s terms, if grandma bought a house for $40,000, died in 2010, and you inherited the house and sold it for $100,000, then you owed the government taxes on the difference of $60,000. So in lieu of an estate tax, there is a ‘carryover basis’ of valuing the asset at date of death. The reality is that there is a ‘step up in basis’ of $3.5 million that a surviving spouse can claim. So maybe there is no tax; but the problem is that the IRS has not set out any rules, issued any federal regulations or forms to cover the eventuality of dying in 2010. No one expected the inaction of Congress on the matter. So CPAs, estate planning lawyers and the IRS are left wringing their hands over the inaction. And more complications for residents of states that levy a state estate tax, that may have not been repealed along with the repeal of the federal tax. In Missouri, there is no estate tax. If you have property in Illinois, there is an estate tax on estate valuations over $2.0 million. So farmland may be affected or even real estate developers dying in 2010 who may owe no federal estate tax, but may owe Illinois estate tax. The irony of the matter is that a taxable estate of over $5 million would pay federal estate tax of $675,000 in 2009 and $1,653,400 in 2011, if Congress does not change the law. This affects farmers and other growers, small business persons; people who do not fit the ‘rich’ mold. But the larger the estate, the lower tax the estate would be liable to … estates of $50 million would pay $20.9 million in 2009 and less than $20 million in 2011, if the law is not changed! I don’t think that that is what was intended. So in 2011, the federal government will collect more federal revenue on inheritance money than it did in 2009. In 2011, the largest estates would pay less as a percentage of value. Warren Buffet must be smiling.

See you in my next post.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA

Attorney at Law

www.lawyersyoucantalkto.com

Copyright 2010.  All rights reserved.

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