Alternatives to H1B visas

The H1B visa season is upon us, the filing date was on April 1, 2014, and like last year is expected to be oversubscribed. What visas can a company consider once the H1B visas are exhausted for the season?

This year, let us consider non-H1B countries, where alternative visas are available for skilled workers.

For Mexicans and Canadians

The TN visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Until this time, only Canadians could apply directly to the consulate or embassy or enter through the Canadian/US border with the proper credentials.

On February 10th, 2014, the US Department of State published a final rule that Mexicans applying for a TN visa could apply at the consulate or embassy in the US without first seeking approval from USCIS, or before applying for a TN visa at the US embassy or consulate in Mexico.

This is a giant leap forward for immigration, according similar trusted status for citizens south of the border.

Of course, applicants must be sponsored by an employer with a genuine job offer, and job duties must conform to the NAFTA guidelines.

While TN visas require non-immigrant intent—which means the applicant cannot apply for a green card from a TN visa status—the visa allows renewal in the US, and under tax treaties, allows the worker to accumulate the equivalent of Social Security in their country of origin.

There used to be a ceiling on admissions of TN, but that is not the case anymore.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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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.

Tara Mahadevan
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Pre-Adoption Visitation Requirement Changed to One Parent from Two

Only One Parent Required to Travel to Adopt

This past January, President Obama authorized the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which redefines the term “orphan” to fall under the definition of “child” found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Moreover—since signing the new act into law—for adoptions that don’t fall under the purview of the Hague Adoption Convention, it isn’t necessary for both parents to travel before or during the adoption if an adopted child is going to enter the US on an IR-3 visa, which according to INA, allows for automatic US citizenship upon entrance.

Before the new legislation, in order for an adopted child to receive an IR-3 visa, both parents would have to travel to meet the child during the adoption. If only one parent travelled, then the child would enter on an IR-4 visa, and the other parent would need to re-adopt the child in the US for him/her to gain US citizenship. This process became costly and caused delays in the child securing all the benefits of US citizenship.

Revised Forms

USCIS is currently revising the orphan adoption forms, Forms I-600A and I-600. The new versions will likely include the new definition of “orphan”.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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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.

Tara Mahadevan
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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New Efforts to Combat Identity Theft on E-Verify

USCIS has announced that the E-Verify program will help combat identity fraud by identifying and deterring fraudulent use of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for employment eligibility verification.

New Algorithm to Identify Identity Fraud

The new algorithm detects and prevents potential fraudulent use of SSNs to gain work authorization. An employer, for example, may enter information into E-Verify that appears valid – such as a matching name, date of birth, and SSN – but was in fact stolen, borrowed or purchased from another individual. With this new programming, USCIS can now lock a SSN that appears to have been misused, so that it cannot be used by another individual other than the owner of the social security number.

When a social security number is identified as ‘stolen’ by the E-verify system, USCIS may now lock SSNs in E-Verify that appear to have been used fraudulently. To accomplish this step, USCIS says it uses a combination of algorithms, detection reports and analysis to identify patterns of fraudulent SSN use and then lock the number in E-Verify.

The Process

If an employee attempts to use a locked SSN, E-Verify will generate a “Tentative Nonconfirmation” (TNC). The employee receiving the TNC will have the opportunity to contest the finding at a local Social Security Administration (SSA) field office. If an SSA field officer confirms the employee’s identity correctly matches the SSN, the TNC will be converted to “Employment Authorized” status in E-Verify.

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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Special Immigrant Status for Iraqi Nationals

The US government passed Public Law 110-181, which will permit Iraqi nationals, who assisted and were employed by the US government in Iraq for one year and can prove it (i.e. have evidence of their employment), to apply for an immigrant visa to the US.

Yesterday, USCIS announced that Congress has passed a bill extending the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for, or on behalf of, the US government. The President signed the extended bill into law on Oct. 4, 2013.

This program covers Iraqi nationals who — during the period between March 20, 2003 and Sept. 30, 2013 — were employed by, or on behalf of, the US government in Iraq for a period of at least one year. It was created by section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. The program had expired with respect to principal applicants on Sept. 30, 2013, but has now been extended.

The extension permits USCIS to approve petitions or applications for visas, or adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident in any Iraqi SIV case under section 1244, which were pending with USCIS or with the Department of State (DOS) when the program expired on Sept. 30, 2013. USCIS may also approve an additional 2,000 cases, as long as the initial applications to the DOS Chief-of-Mission in Iraq are made by Dec. 31, 2013.

Spouses and children of principal Iraqi SIVs are also eligible for SIV status. They can continue to make applications, and there is no numerical quota for the number of visas that can be issued to spouses and children of SIV.

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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USCIS Implements Customer Identity Verification at Field Offices

Starting September 9, 2013, if you are appearing for an interview or applying, or receiving evidence of an immigration benefit, you will be fingerprinted and photographed. This process is in addition to the biometrics check you may have already attended prior to the interview at the USCIS office.

USCIS is calling this new verification tool Customer Identity Verification (CIV) in its domestic field offices. The repeat biometrics could be taken at the info-pass windows of the USCIS office.

How It Works

After a customer is cleared through security, a USCIS officer will electronically scan two fingerprints and photograph the customer in order to verify their identity. CIV is only done for those customers who have an interview or are being issued evidence of an immigration benefit.

How It Helps

CIV is supposed to confirm identity and thereby reduce identity switching or theft. USCIS claims that the process will aid USCIS in verifying a customer’s identity, and improve and streamline the immigration system, while also fighting identity fraud.

However, none of my clients whom I accompanied to their interview were asked by USICS to be fingerprinted. That does not prevent USCIS from implementing the scheme more broadly in the future.

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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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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