Insight into Immigration

Increase in ICE Sweeps in Saratoga Springs, NY: More Proof of a Broken Immigration System

boydadimmigrationrallyI suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has now conducted two (2) sweeps in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.  “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan recently told the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee.  “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”  Nice, right?  No, not really.  Not at all.  The result?  According to reports, twenty six (26) men have been picked up off the streets of their (and my) community and detained, initially at the Albany County Jail and thereafter at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York.  Some of them will be placed in removal (i.e., deportation”) proceedings.  Others may already be in removal proceedings.  Yet others may have previously been removed and later came back to the United States, presumably unlawfully.  Those individuals will have their prior removal orders reinstated and will be removed again.  There may be other scenarios too.  I know.  Some were my clients.  Some are now my clients.

Public opinion is mixed as to what happened.  Some good, some not so good.  Here’s my take.

These individuals are fathers, husbands, brothers, cousins, and perhaps sons too.  Some and perhaps all of them played very important roles in our community.  In some respects, they were the backbone of our community.  That is, some, and perhaps all of them, worked for businesses that we frequent.  And some, although I am sure not all, worked for those business legally (e.g., pursuant to valid Employment Authorization Documents that our government issued to them while their applications for political asylum are being adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  It’s ironic, isn’t it?  On the one hand, our government issues these individuals Employment Authorization Documents so they can lawfully work in the United States while they wait for USCIS to adjudicate their asylum applications.  On the other hand, ICE picks them up off the streets and then detains them.

And what about the employers who employ these workers, and particularly those who were lawfully working for them?  Summer has officially started, and opening day of the Saratoga Race Course is now only weeks away.  Employers in service-based industries, and particularly the restaurant and hospitality fields, are particularly affected.  Quite candidly, these individuals work in jobs that the very vast majority of American workers do not want. (Trust me, it’s true.)

Is the Saratoga Race Course next?  This is the time of year you see long lines in front of the race track.  These are not fans going to see the races.  That’s for next month.  No, these are lines filled with hundreds of people hoping to get summer jobs at the track.  Those jobs are for what I will call “front of the house” positions, like gate attendants who take your money, people who sell programs, and food and beverage providers.  Of course there are many more.

The “many more” include the back stretch workers who are absolutely essential and who do all of the little things to make our track experience enjoyable.  These are the trainers, exercise riders, jockeys, grooms, farriers, veterinarians, muckers, jockey agents, and all the other positions associated with horse racing.  A great many of these workers are foreign workers.  And although many of these workers are no doubt here lawfully, dare I say that some are not?  Will ICE be on the race track’s doorstep next?

There are three issues that we’re dealing with here.  On the one hand, what’s happening to the foreign workers who have been picked up?  What about their families, some of whom are U.S. citizens?  Each of their situations will be different.  Each one may (or may not) have relief to stay in the United States long-term.  Time will tell.

On the other hand, we’ve got the employers.  Track season is the biggest part of their year, and right now those in the restaurant and hospitality industry are dealing with unexpected (and unwanted) labor issues.

And on the “third” hand, we’re in a very tight labor market right now.  Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have very low unemployment.  But with that comes issues associated with hiring enough workers to fill year-round labor needs, including the bump that employers need during track season.

The solution?  How about an immigration system that works?  One that is responsive to the legitimate needs of our business community.  Unfortunately, our immigration system is broken, and it’s been broken for a very long time.  But that doesn’t mean that federal law enforcement officials should be coming into our community and creating unnecessary fear among our friends, families and neighbors.  What we need are meaningful and compassionate solutions from our “friends” in Washington, D.C.  What’s the over – under that that will happen anytime soon?

Changes Potentially Coming to the H-1B Visa Program: Another Executive Order

Ydreamstime_xs_62076674 - Copyet another executive order related to immigration has come from the Trump Administration, this time potentially impacting the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. Ugh. On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order “Buy American and Hire American.” The Executive Order requires the relevant agencies (e.g., Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State) to review policies related to all visa programs and recommend changes to root out “fraud and abuse,” and to “suggest reforms” so that H-1B nonimmigrant visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid applicants. “Suggest reforms”?

Clients have been calling for months now wondering when the hammer was going to come down on aspects of our immigration system unrelated to enforcement. Well, it looks like it’s about to happen. Ugh again.

The good news is that in the short-term, there should be no immediate changes or impact on the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. And, if there are changes eventually proposed, in reviewing the President’s Executive Order, many of the changes contemplated will require legislative action, or at minimum, a lengthy regulatory rulemaking process.

But are changes even necessary? Much has been reported in the mainstream conservative media that if it’s not inaccurate, it could certainly benefit from some explanation. For example, many conservative news outlets highlight the rampant fraud in the H-1B program. The simple fact is that demonstrated instances of fraud in the H-1B visa program are actually pretty low. The vast majority of employers that utilize the H-1B program use it appropriately, and specifically because they need the skills and talent of a particular foreign worker. Those who do not can (and should) be rooted out by the current anti-fraud provisions and programs.

There’s also a myth that U.S. businesses hire H-1B workers to save money. That’s simply not true. First of all, the fees and costs associated with filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) are high enough that most employers use the H-1B because they cannot locate a qualified U.S. worker to fill the position in the first place. (There’s also an argument that small businesses simply cannot afford to participate in the H-1B program, so if they do, it’s really because they’re desperate to hire the best available worker they can find.)

In addition, employers are required to pay the H-1B workers the “required wage”, which is the higher of the prevailing wage and the actual wage. So the argument that U.S. businesses hire H-1B workers to save money does not make sense.

In announcing the Executive Order, the President said that H-1B nonimmigrant visas “should include only the most skilled and highest-paid applicants and should never, ever be used to replace American workers.” Without getting into the minutiae of what his statement could end up meaning, U.S. employers who participate in the H-1B program do so because they’re able to hire the most qualified applicant they can find. That makes sense, right?

Notably, one of the changes that pundits think the President may propose is a “prior recruitment” requirement before employers are able to file an H-1B petition with USCIS for a foreign worker. Prior recruitment of U.S. workers is mostly not required in the H-1B program. Where it typically is required are some of the employment-based Green Card categories. For example, in order to file an immigrant (i.e., Green Card) petition with USCIS to qualify a foreign national for some employment-based Green Cards, employers are required to first obtain a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) that there are no minimally qualified ready, willing, able and available U.S. workers to do the job that the employer wants to offer the foreign national. “Minimally qualified”! That’s a pretty low standard. It seems to me that that’s not really what employers typically try want to do when they hire someone (i.e., hire someone who’s “minimally” qualified); that is, they try to hire the most qualified individual that they can.

Of course it remains to be seen what will actually come out of this. Any reforms proposed by the Trump Administration as a result of this Executive Order, however, must absolutely ensure that our temporary and permanent worker programs, including the H-1B nonimmigrant, remain viable and available tools for U.S. employers to use who seek to build and maintain a competitive workforce.

H-1B Filing Season has Come and Gone : The Economics of Immigration

female scientistThis is becoming a terrible annual ritual. That is, April 1 has once again come and gone, a new H-1B filing season was upon us, and on April 7, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) once again announced that it had reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for Fiscal Year 2018. So the H-1B filing season, after only five (5) days (because USCIS did not start accepting petitions until Monday, April 3, 2017), is over for employers who are not eligible to file cap-exempt petitions.

The H-1B program was created so that employers can fill specialty occupation positions in their companies on a temporary basis. These are positions that typically require a Bachelor’s Degree for entry into the field. Look around today’s Capital Region, or Tech Valley as it has come to be known. These positions are vital to local employers, allowing them to be more competitive, increase growth, and yes, even create jobs for U.S. workers here.

Unfortunately, employers are being stymied by these ridiculous artificial limits which were established when I wasn’t even practicing law! And, as USCIS has done in prior years when it received well over 200,000 petitions for these coveted H-1B visas, USCIS randomly selects petitions to determine those that will have a chance at the 85,000 visas available. (Imagine telling your clients, after they’ve paid you your fees for your professional services, that a “lottery” will dictate whether their petition will be selected.)

Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (“AILA”) was recently quoted as saying the following:

“With unemployment below 5% and an economy hungry for skilled, educated workers, why are we hampered by the arbitrary limits on this program? Instead of a lottery to funnel only 85,000 of the petitions through the process, this entire operation should be driven by market demand so that the program meets the legitimate needs of our country. Each year that we limit these visas with an artificial cap, we stifle economic growth and all of us lose out. It is an irrational system. Our immigration laws were written more than a generation ago, when Google and Amazon weren’t household names, before Twitter, Facebook, and social media itself existed. Every year that goes by without action on this and other necessary legal immigration reforms means countless opportunities lost.”

I could not agree more. The simple fact is that U.S. employers are not able to find enough, and in some cases any, highly skilled workers to fill essential positions in their businesses. There are not enough U.S. workers with advanced skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematical occupations (i.e., STEM fields) to perform the work that many high-tech companies need. Indeed, this shortage of skilled labor has forced many companies to out-source their operations abroad, something I see clients of mine struggling with every day.

I think that the arguments as to why we need to limit the amount of H-1B’s (e.g., to protect U.S. workers, wages, etc.) are generally without merit (there are some companies that endeavor to abuse the program, but in my opinion they are outliers), and the current regulations implementing the H-1B worker program protect U.S. workers, wages and so on. The simple fact is, and the evidence and literature amply supports the proposition, that the H-1B worker program impacts our economy and employment opportunities of U.S. born workers in a very positive manner.

For example, between 1990 and 2010, the increase in STEM workers in the United States under the H-1B program were associated with a significant increase in wages for college-educated U.S. born workers in 219 cities in the United States. In addition, H-1B-driven increases in STEM workers in a city were associated with an increase in wages of 7 to 8 percentage points paid to both STEM and non-STEM college educated U.S. workers, while non-college educated workers saw an increase of 3 to 4 percentage points.

What about arguments that the H-1B worker program negatively affects employment rates? Not true. The simple fact is that H-1B workers complement U.S. workers, fill employment gaps in many STEM fields, and expand job opportunities for everyone.

The evidence shows that unemployment rates are low for occupations that use large numbers of H-1B visas. For example, many STEM occupations have very low unemployment, compared to, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall national unemployment rate. This means that the demand for labor exceeds supply.

Finally, what about those that argue that the benefits of the H-1B program are limited to those involved in technology fields? Some even argue that H-1B visas are all taken by Silicon Valley companies. Some even say Microsoft and Google take them all by themselves? Again, not true. According to data published by the Brookings Institution, in the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year, there were 106 metropolitan statistical areas across the United States that had at least 250 requests for H-1B workers. And while there are admittedly a lot of H-1B workers that are filling STEM occupations, there is also a significant amount of demand for H-1B workers in healthcare, business, finance, and life science fields.

There are exemptions to the H-1B cap that some employers are eligible for (e.g., institutions of higher education, related or affiliated non-profit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations), and it’s great to represent entities that have an exemption available to them. But the simple fact is, the cap should be raised, significantly, or even eliminated. The evidence is clear that the H-1B visa program enhances our economy in so many important ways.

 

[1]  See, e.g., Nicole Kreisberg, “H-1B Visas: No Impact on Wages” (Great Barrington, MA: American Institute for Economic Research, 2014); Giovanni Peri, Kevin Y. Shih, Chad Sparber, and Angie Marek Zeitlin, Closing Economic Windows: How H-1B Visa Denials Cost U.S.-Born Tech Workers Jobs and Wages During the Great Recession (New York, NY: Partnership for a New American Economy, 2014); Giovanni Peri, Kevin Y. Shih, and Chad Sparber, “Foreign STEM Workers and Native Wages and Unemployment in U.S. Cities,” NBER Working Paper No. 20093 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014).

[1] Giovanni Peri, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber, “Foreign STEM Workers and Native Wages and Employment in U.S. Cities” (Cambridge, MA: The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014).

[1] Id.

[1] Information Technology Industry Council, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Help Wanted: The Role of Foreign Workers in the Innovation Economy (Washington, DC: December 2012), pp. 2-3.

[1] Neil G. Ruiz, Jill H. Wilson, and Shyamali Choudhury, “The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas” (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2012), p. 1.

[1] Id.

 

U.S.C.I.S. Proposes the International Entrepreneur Rule

imm_2I originally wrote about this last Fall, but given the current events in Washington, the general chaotic environment that my colleagues and I are practicing in, and the great concern that clients are showing about their future prospects of remaining in the United States (whether they are here lawfully or not), I thought it appropriate to provide a positive update for the alien entrepreneurs out there.

On January 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) published a final rule to improve the ability of certain alien start-up founders to begin growing their companies within the United States and help improve our nation’s economy through increased capital spending, innovation and job creation.

Under the new rule, effective July 17, 2017, DHS may use its “parole” authority to grant a foreign national a period of authorized stay (that is, temporary permission to be in the United States), on a case-by-case basis, to those alien entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Those who are eligible may be granted a stay in the United States for up to 30 months, with the possibility to extend the period for an additional 30 months if they meet certain criteria, and in the discretion of DHS.

Here are the specifics. An applicant for parole would need to demonstrate that he or she meets the following criteria.

1. First, that the applicant possesses a substantial ownership interest in a start-up entity created within the past five years in the United States that has substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

2. Second, that the applicant has a central and active role in the start-up entity such that the applicant is well-positioned to substantially assist with the growth and success of the business.

3. Third, that the applicant can prove that his or her stay will provide a significant public benefit to the United States based on the applicant’s role as an entrepreneur of the start-up entity by:

A. showing that the start-up entity has received a significant investment of capital from certain qualified U.S. investors with established records of successful investments;

B. showing that the start-up entity has received significant awards or grants for economic development, research and development, or job creation (or other types of grants or awards typically given to start-up entities) from federal, state or local government entities that regularly provide such awards or grants to start-up entities; or

C. showing that they partially meet either or both of the previous two requirements and providing additional reliable and compelling evidence of the start-up entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Under the rule, parole eligibility may be extended to up to three entrepreneurs per start-up entity, as well as their spouses and children. It is important to note that alien entrepreneurs will be only be eligible to work for their start-up business.

This recently published final rule is a legacy of former President Obama. Some of you will recall that back in 2014, because of Congressional inaction, former President Obama vowed to take whatever steps he could, short of legislation, to advance his immigration agenda, and in this case, to make it easier for alien entrepreneurs to start up or scale up their businesses. Well, he made good on his promise. (Let’s hope our current president keeps this in place, or even improves upon it. There has been a smattering of news that suggests that he may try to kill it.)

A few other important points related to all of this. First, and significantly, there is no required wage obligation for the alien entrepreneur parole beneficiary. However, to maintain parolee status, the alien entrepreneur must maintain a household income that is greater than 400 percent of the federal poverty line for his or her household size as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). HHS revises these guidelines annually.

The new rule also requires the alien entrepreneurs to immediately notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) of any material changes that could reasonably affect USCIS’s determination that the alien entrepreneur provides, or continues to provide, a significant public benefit to the U.S.
Finally, USCIS has indicated that the required investment and revenue amounts will be automatically adjusted every three (3) years by the Consumer Price Index and USCIS will post the required amounts on its website.

As I have previously mentioned, the investment thresholds appear not to be overly-burdensome. The rule also seems to recognize that new businesses are not all funded the same way, and provides flexibility for entrepreneurs using new or novel funding models.

So that’s the good news. The bad news continues to be that there’s no “next step” for when the entrepreneur’s parole period comes to an end. That is, unless a foreign national has a vehicle in place to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e., a Green Card holder), under the rule, they will not be allowed to change their status from their parole status to some other type of lawful nonimmigrant status while they’re in the United States. That means the entrepreneur would have to leave the United States, try to apply for a temporary visa abroad, and then re-enter the United States (assuming that’s even a viable option).

So, progress? Yes. Panacea for foreign national entrepreneurs? Not totally, but it is for sure a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it stays in place and Congress and our President improve upon it.

It’s H-1B Visa Filing Season, but is it “Cheap Labor”?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Here we go again. The start of the H-1B nonimmigrant visa filing season is once again upon us. And once again, immigration practitioners around the country are having difficult conversations with their clients who wish to hire foreign nationals into what are called “specialty occupation” positions. But this year, with President Trump in office, will the conversations be different than in previous years?

As always, a (reminder) primer is in order. The H-1B nonimmigrant visa is a temporary visa that allows employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in “specialty occupations” (e.g., architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts). These positions typically require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent for entry into the field. Typically, a foreign worker with an H-1B visa is admitted to the United States for a period of up to three years, and his or her visa may be extended for a maximum of six years. (There are some exceptions to this.)

Notwithstanding what you read in the news, before an employer can file an H-1B petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the employer must first take steps to ensure that hiring the foreign worker will not harm U.S. workers. First, employers must attest, on a Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) filed with and certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), that employment of the H-1B worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. (More on this below.) Employers must also provide existing workers with notice of their intention to hire an H-1B worker.

Since the H-1B category was created in 1990, Congress has limited the number of H-1B visas made available during each government fiscal year. The current annual cap is 65,000 visas, with 20,000 additional visas for foreign professionals who have graduated with a Master’s or Doctoral degree from a U.S. university. As I have indicated in previous articles, in recent years, the H-1B cap has been reached only a few days after the visas were made available.

Over the past year or so, now President Trump has spoken a lot about our immigration system, his theme being that we need to protect American workers. Although a lot of attention was placed on “building a wall” on our Southern Border, and making “Mexico pay for it”, a good deal was also said about overhauling other aspects of our immigration system, including the H-1B program.

During his campaign for president, then candidate Trump said the H-1B visa program was a “cheap labor program” that takes jobs from Americans workers.

Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

“Cheap labor program”? Reality or myth?

I’ve written so much about this in the past couple of years my head is about to spin. There is a plethora (yes, a plethora) of evidence that foreign workers fill a critical need in our labor market, particularly in the STEM fields (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Foreign workers, including skilled foreign workers, help create new jobs and new opportunities for economic expansion.

So how do H-1B workers impact wages? Well, for starters, here are a few things to consider. As I noted above, prior to filing an H-1B petition with USCIS on behalf of a foreign worker, the employer must first file and have certified an LCA with the DOL. The LCA contains several attestations that the employer is required by law to make before the DOL may certify the LCA.

These attestations include, among others, that the employer will pay the required wage rate to the H-1B workers employed pursuant to the LCA. The required wage rate must be the greater of (1) the actual wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals at the job site “with similar experience and qualifications for the specific employment in question,” or (2) the prevailing wage level for the occupation in the area of intended employment. Cheap labor program? I think not.

Another attestation the employer must make is that it will offer the same benefits package on the same basis to similarly employed U.S. workers and H-1B workers. Eligibility and participation criteria must be the same for all workers. H-1B workers cannot be denied benefits because they are “temporary employees.” The employer must also attest that employment of H-1B workers will not adversely affect the working conditions of workers similarly employed in the area of intended employment.

A violation of any one or more of these attestation can result in serious penalties to the employer, and ultimately in debarment from participating in the H-1B program.

So, what is the empirical evidence as to wages? According to one study, H-1B-driven increases in STEM workers were associated with a significant increase in wages for college-educated, U.S.-born workers in 219 U.S. cities. In fact, a one percentage point increase in foreign STEM workers’ share of a city’s total employment was associated with increases in wages of 7 to 8 percentage points paid to both STEM and non-STEM college-educated natives, while non-college educated workers saw an increase of 3 to 4 percentage points.

What else you ask? According to another study, from 2009 to 2011, wage growth for U.S.-born workers with at least a bachelor’s degree was nominal, but wage growth for workers in occupations with large numbers of H-1B petitions was substantially higher.

There is other data as well. And not only do H-1B workers positively impact wages, they positively impact employment rates as well.

Bottom line, there are too many myths (dare I say “fake news”) perpetuated about the H-1B visa category, and not enough focus on the important contributions H-1B workers make to the U.S. economy.

Super Bowl Ads Rebuke Xenophobia and Sexism

dreamstime_s_44860969Two years ago, Coca-Cola’s 60 second Super Bowl advertisement featuring people singing a multilingual version of “America the Beautiful” sparked a national discussion of immigration and diversity.  (Click here to read my comments in response to the bigotry that followed that ad. )  Is it any surprise, given the moment of history we’re living in, that Coca-Cola decided to dust it off for Super Bowl LI and run it again?

And they weren’t the only ones who ran a political advertisement in the Super Bowl. Airbnb, the community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book accommodations around the world, ran an advertisement that promoted its view of an open, multicultural world, reflecting its commitment to housing refugees. “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” A hashtag at the end of it read #WeAccept, and it went viral on social media by halftime of the game.

84 Lumber, a Pittsburgh-based national building supply chain, ran an advertisement that was so controversial that Fox wouldn’t air the complete version of it. (It’s available here and worth a look.) It featured a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter making a grueling trek across Mexico in search of a better life. Apparently the depiction of the mother and daughter confronting a border wall between the United States and Mexico was “too controversial.”

Budweiser’s Super Bowl advertisement featured the journey that Adolphus Busch made from Germany to St. Louis in the 1800’s and the discrimination he overcame on his way to success. Unbelievably, the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser trended earlier in the game (the advertisement had been running for days before the game). Later on, however, that same hashtag was being used by others to defend Budweiser and mock the boycotters.

And then there was Audi. Audi’s advertisement advocated equal pay for women. Narrated by a father asking questions about what to tell his young daughter one day as she competed in a go-cart race, he said, “Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” The young girl won the race, and her father remarked that maybe he will be able to “tell her something different.” The advertisement ends with Audi of America’s statement that it is “committed to equal pay for equal work.”

We are living in an unprecedented moment in history. The Super Bowl is without question the biggest day of the year for advertisers. And in this moment of history, companies did not shy away from calling out President Trump and his politics (even if none specifically used his name), offering up loud rebukes against xenophobia and sexism.

Let me remind everyone that we are a nation born of immigrants. The President’s election, and his recent actions on immigration and other issues, has divided our country. Advertisers paid $5 million for 30 seconds of air time to reach more than 110 million viewers. I think they were very successful. Let’s hope their messages were loud and clear to Washington.

“Should I become a U.S. Citizen?” The Case for Naturalization and Trump’s Executive Order

imm_3I received a call the other day from a friend of mine in Boston who said he wanted my help in applying for citizenship. He’s been a permanent resident (i.e., Green Card holder) for many, many years, and I know for a fact that he’s an upstanding individual (and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts knows that too since he’s a restaurant owner and maintains a liquor license). I asked him why he now wanted to become a U.S. citizen? As you can imagine, he expressed concerns about just being a permanent resident under President Trump. This individual is Irish to the core and he should have nothing to worry about. His concerns, however, are well-founded.

Not everyone who is a permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen (i.e., naturalizes), nor is there any legal requirement that one must naturalize. However, permanent residents who naturalize gain important benefits, not the least of which (these days) is security from deportation (in most cases) and the ability to travel with a U.S. passport.

Under the law, to qualify for U.S. citizenship, permanent residents must (a) be at least 18 years of age, (b) reside continuously in the United States for five years (or three years if they are spouses of U.S. citizens), (c) be of good moral character, (d) demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand English (unless they are exempt from this requirement), (e) pass an examination on U.S. government and history (unless they are exempt from this requirement), and (f) be willing and able to take the naturalization Oath of Allegiance.

Seems simple, right? Sometimes it is. Other times, however, issues arise as to whether someone is a person of good moral character (because of something he or she might have done in his or her past), continuous residency in the United States, to name just a couple.

Is it worth it? I don’t often counsel clients to become a U.S. citizen. I think that’s a very personal decision, and there are many factors that go into that decision. However, these days, I personally think there’s much more at stake for permanent residents, whether they’re from one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries designated in President’s Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” or otherwise.
Few people expect to be arrested for a crime. But the risks for permanent residents who are arrested for a crime, even a seemingly minor one (like a misdemeanor under state law) are much, much higher. Permanent residence can be revoked and the individual can be deported. While there are many benefits associated with being a permanent resident, “permanent” does not necessarily mean “permanent.”

And if not for you, what about your children? We all know that kids make mistakes, and many times they’re really stupid ones. Immigrant kids are especially at risk if they make stupid mistakes. For example, with few exceptions, most convictions related to the use of illegal drugs can result in deportation of a permanent resident. So can a conviction related associated with sexual conduct by a young adult with a person who is a minor. Indeed, many immigrants who have lived in the United States with their families as permanent residents since they were very young children have been deported after being convicted of crimes they committed as youth or young adults. Becoming a U.S. citizen can protect you and your children from deportation.

We are living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it feels like the rules of engagement in the world of immigration are changing by the day. I would not normally counsel clients (or anyone for that matter) to become a U.S. citizen. However, in these uncertain times, I think it’s very much worth looking into.

Tags: President Trump, Executive Order, Refugees, Muslims, Deportation, Removal, Citizenship, Naturalization.

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