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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.

 

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.

Creative Lawyering for Colleges, Universities and Entrepreneurs

droopy flagI saw an interesting article the other day in the Connecticut Law Tribune.  The premise of the article related to institutions of higher education using “creative solutions” to deal with the lack of available H-1B nonimmigrant worker visas for their graduates who wish to remain in the United States as entrepreneurs.  A little background (or refresher for some of you) is probably in order.

The H-1B nonimmigrant visa (or status) may be granted to foreign nationals who will perform services in a “specialty occupation.”  A specialty occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum requirement for entry into the occupation in the United States.  Examples of speciality occupations include architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts.

The U.S. government operates on a fiscal year basis that begins each year on October 1 and runs through the following September 30.  For those employers who wish to hire foreign nationals as H-1B workers, unless the position is “exempt”, a key concept here, there is an annual cap of 65,000 nonimmigrant visas that are available in each fiscal year (and an additional 20,000 H-1B nonimmigrant visas for foreign nationals who have earned a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education).  In recent years, the H-1B cap has been reached within days of April 1 (which is the first day that cap-subject employers can file a petition with USCIS for the non-exempt H-1B visa numbers).  Because of the incredible popularity of the H-1B worker program, which has resulted in the H-1B cap being reached within days of April 1 each and every year in recent memory, not every cap-subject employer is able participate in the H-1B program in a given fiscal year.

Consequently, employers, and yes, now even institutions of higher education, are trying to think outside the box so they can retain some of the best and brightest minds from having to leave the United States after they’re educated in the United States.  In doing so, these institutions of higher education are partnering with states and cities across the country to create programs that take advantage of an exemption to the H-1B cap for foreign nationals that are employed (or have received an offer of employment) by or from an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization.

Being employed by an institution of higher education is a wonderful exemption, and I am able to use it in my practice for clients every day.  But in addition to that, entities affiliated or related to institutions of higher education and nonprofit and governmental research organizations (that is, not the actual institutions of higher education themselves) are also eligible to petition for eligible foreign nationals.  According to the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (which is what USCIS examiners use as a reference when they are adjudicating H-1B petitions):

Congress deemed certain institutions worthy of an H-1B cap exemption because of the direct benefits they provide to the United States. Congressional intent was to exempt from the H-1B cap certain alien workers who could provide direct contributions to the United States through their work on behalf of institutions of higher education and related nonprofit entities, or nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations. In effect, this statutory measure ensures that qualifying institutions have access to a continuous supply of H-1B workers without numerical limitation. … Congress chose to exempt from the numerical limitations… aliens who are employed ‘at’ a qualifying institution, which is a broader category than aliens employed ‘by’ a qualifying institution. This broader category may allow certain aliens who are not employed directly by a qualifying institution to be treated as cap exempt when needed to further the essential purposes of the qualifying institution.”

AFM ch. 31.3(g) (13), H-1B Classification and Documentary Requirements.

So, one scenario that employers can consider to use this exemption is by having a “third-party petitioner” file the H-1B petition to employ a foreign national who will perform all or a portion of his or her job duties “at” a qualifying institution of higher education (e.g., basically, a private company sponsors a foreign national, and some of the job duties are performed “at” the institution of higher education).  There are other possibilities as well.  The third-party petitioner must establish that there is a logical nexus between the work predominately performed by the foreign national and the normal mission of the qualifying sponsoring entity.  Specifically, the third-party petitioner must demonstrate how the foreign national’s duties are directly and predominately related to, and in furtherance of, the normal, primary or essential purpose, mission, objectives or function of the qualifying institution, namely, higher education or nonprofit or governmental research.  There are plenty of ways to accomplish this.

Also important for this creative lawyering example, and highlighted by the article in the Connecticut Law Tribune, is that once the foreign national is employed by the cap-exempt employer, a cap-subject employer can then concurrently file their own H-1B petition on behalf of the same foreign national to allow them to also work for the cap-subject employer part-time. Because these foreign nationals are already working at least part-time for a qualified institution, this concurrent petition is also exempt from the H-1B cap (despite being filed by an employer that is otherwise subject to the cap).

Until there is an expansion of the H-1B program specifically, and reform to our immigration system in general, immigration lawyers are being forced to be more creative to accomplish the goals of their clients.  This is just one example of what’s possible.

 

Proposed STEM OPT Extension and “Cap Gap” Relief

female scientistOn October 19, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register seeking to improve and expand training opportunities for F-1 nonimmigrant students with science, technology, engineering or math degrees (commonly referred to as “STEM” degrees). The rule also proposes to expand what is called “cap-gap” relief for all eligible F-1 nonimmigrant students.

While this is a welcome regulation, and there’s a litigation aspect to it that I will not get into here (but probably should given my audience), the fact that we need this regulation at all is just another example that our immigration system is broken.

A brief primer on “practical training.”  Practical training may generally be defined as experiential learning, including paid employment or an unpaid internship, directly related to a student’s major area of study.  It may be authorized for F-1 nonimmigrant students who have been enrolled in a DHS-approved college, school, university, conservatory, or seminary for one full academic year.  There are two kinds of practical training available: (1) curricular practical training; and (2) optional practical training (“OPT”). OPT is the subject of this article.

Generally, students may be authorized for up to 12 months of OPT at each higher level of postsecondary education.  For example, a student may take 12 months of OPT during his or her bachelor’s level, an additional 12 months at his or her master’s level, and an additional 12 months at his or her doctoral level.

It is typically during OPT that a student identifies an employer that may wish to sponsor him or her for longer term temporary or permanent employment.  That requires the employer to sponsor the student, more often than not by filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) to change the student’s nonimmigrant status, usually to an H-1B nonimmigrant worker status.  The problem is, there are more employers wishing to petition for their workers than there are H-1B visas available, and often both employer and student are shut out of the H-1B program as a result.

A related and important issue is that typically a student’s post-completion OPT will run out months before he or she will be eligible for H-1B nonimmigrant worker status, assuming they were one of the lucky ones to be selected.  This brings in the concept of the “cap-gap.”

Spring postsecondary school graduates often face a gap in their period of authorized stay in the United States.  Typically it is the period between the end of their OPT and the beginning of their H-1B nonimmigrant worker status (which is generally October 1, the first day of the government’s fiscal year).  To deal with this, DHS issued an interim final rule in April, 2008 (the same rule that created the STEM extension and which is the subject of the litigation that I am not writing about), commonly referred to as the “cap gap rule.”  It offers an “automatic” extension of the student’s F-1 nonimmigrant status, including any OPT employment authorization that may have been authorized, until October 1 of the fiscal year for which a student is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition requesting a change of status to H-1B nonimmigrant worker status.  This regulation essentially provides continuing work authorization during the “cap gap” for students engaged in post-completion OPT who are also the beneficiaries of such H-1B petitions.

Under the 2008 interim final rule, F-1 nonimmigrant students who earn a degree in a STEM field may be eligible for an extension of their post-completion OPT for up to 17 months, for a total of 29 months of OPT.  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”) has designated certain Classification of Instruction Programs (“CIP”) codes assigned to major fields of study to constitute the eligible “STEM fields.”  While a student may be eligible for additional periods of OPT at each higher level of study, the STEM extension is a one-time benefit, and may be granted only if a student is currently engaged in OPT based on a STEM degree.  (To be eligible for a STEM extension, a student must also have an employer who is enrolled in the E-Verify program.)

The new rule would, among other things, extend the STEM OPT period to 24 months, allow an additional period of OPT for subsequent degrees, and even provide STEM OPT eligibility for a prior degree.  Very importantly for practitioners in this area, the rule also clarifies which occupations qualify.  The new rules also leaves open the possibility of adding eligible fields in the future.  Finally, and importantly, the new rule provides continued “cap gap” relief.

These changes are critical to attracting foreign students to our colleges and universities, and to encourage the pursuit of practical training from leading, innovative businesses in the United States. U.S. businesses that provide STEM OPT training opportunities benefit from this program through employee retention and a strengthened market position both domestically and abroad.
Once again, however, I will stand on my soap box and say our country still needs comprehensive immigration reform.  For the time being, however, we’ll once again need to satisfy ourselves with these regulatory “baby steps.”

H-1B Filing Season Comes and Goes: Why the Cap Should be Raised

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So, a little more than a year has passed since I wrote about the 2015 – 2016 H-1B filing season being upon us, and here we are again.  April 1 has now come and gone, a new H-1B filing season was upon us, because on April 7, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced that it had reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for Fiscal Year 2016. So the H-1B filing season, after only seven (7) days, is over for employers who are not eligible to file cap-exempt petitions. What am I talking about?

A little reminder about the H-1B nonimmigrant worker program.  An H-1B nonimmigrant visa (or status) is a temporary visa (or, as noted, a status) that may be granted to a foreign national who will perform services in a “specialty occupation.”  A specialty occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum requirement for entry into the occupation in the United States.  Representative examples of specialty occupations include architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts.

Since 1990 (which was the start of the H-1B program), Congress has placed a statutory limit on the number of H-1B nonimmigrant visas made available during each government fiscal year (unless an exemption applies to a petitioning employer). The current statutory cap is 65,000 visas per year, with an additional 20,000 visas for foreign national professionals who have graduated with a Masters or higher degree from a United States college or university.  In recent years, the statutory limit has been reached within days of April 1, which is the first day that H-1B visas are made available for the fiscal year that starts on October 1.

So what does U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) do when there are more employers filing petitions than there are H-1B visas available?  They employ a lottery to choose whose petition will be adjudicated and whose will be rejected.  Imagine telling your client, after they’ve paid your fees to get their case prepared and filed, the USCIS may not select their case to be adjudicated!

That’s right, due to incredibly high demand, USCIS uses a random selection process for all cap-subject petitions received within the first five business days available for filing H-1B petitions in a given fiscal year. (It’s a little more complicated than that with the inclusion of the U.S. Master’s or higher degree exemption limit being factored into the mix, but the point remains the same.)

Which of course begs the question whether the cap makes sense.  According to USCIS, in the last ten years, six times the cap has been reached in less than ninety days.[1] In four of those years, the cap was reached in six days or less.  This year it was seven (7) days.

I’ve heard (probably) all of the arguments as to why we need the cap (e.g., to protect U.S. workers, wages, etc.).  In my opinion, the current regulations implementing the H-1B worker program do that just fine.  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.[2]

For example, between 1990 and 2010, the increase in STEM workers in the United States under the H-1B program (i.e., those working in the science, technology, engineering or math fields) were associated with a significant increase in wages for college-educated U.S. born workers in 219 cities in the United States.[3]  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.[4]

What about arguments that the H-1B worker program negatively affects employment rates?  Bologna. (I haven’t seen, let alone written, that word in 30 years!)  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,[5] compared to, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall national unemployment rate. This means that the demand for labor that 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?  Wrong!  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.[6]  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.[7]

There are exemptions to the H-1B cap that some employers are eligible for (e.g., institutions of higher education, a related or affiliated non-profit entity, a nonprofit research organization, or a governmental research organization), and it’s a pleasure 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] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “USCIS Reaches H-1B Cap,” 2005; see also U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “USCIS Reaches H-1B Cap,” 2006 – 2014.

[2]  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).

[3] 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).

[4] Id.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] Id.

Obama’s Immigration Executive Action: Some Lawful Immigration Changes

So of course the centerpiece of President Obama’s administrative “fix” of our “broken immigration system” are his initiatives to grant “deferred action” to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States, and who were brought to the United States as children and raised here.  But the President did much more when he announced on November 20, 2014 several other initiatives which affect lawful immigration, and which are supposed to assist our country’s high-skilled businesses and workers.  Here’s a brief overview.

 1.  Immigrant Visa Issuance.  The President wants to ensure that all available immigrant visas (basically, “Green Cards”) are used each year, and the President has created a new interagency task force to modernize and streamline the immigrant visa system.  Because of delays in processing applications for immigrant visas, some visas going unused each fiscal year.  Given the unbelievable backlogs in some of the family- and employment-based immigrant visa categories, this is clearly unacceptable.  The President’s action is an attempt to ensure that all immigrant visas available for issuance in a year are used.

 2.  Optional Practical Training.  The President announced that he would expand the duration of any “optional practical training” (commonly known as “OPT”) engaged in by foreign national students who studied science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly known as “STEM” fields) at institutions of higher education in the United States on F-1 nonimmigrant student visas.  The President also proposed to expand the degree programs eligible for OPT.

Presently, foreign national students studying in the United States on F-1 nonimmigrant visas may request 12 months of post degree temporary employment, or OPT, in their field of study.  In 2008, regulations were promulgated which permitted students in STEM fields to request an additional 17 months of OPT, for a total of 29 months of OPT.  However, only students in STEM fields are eligible for this 17 month extension, and these students can participate in OPT for no more than 29 months.

3Aliens Whose Admission to the United States is in the National Interest.  The President proposes to expand the use of the immigrant visa category which allows aliens with advanced degrees or “exceptional ability” to obtain an immigrant visa without a sponsoring employer if their admission to the United States is in the “national interest.”

 4.  Inventors, Researchers, and Founders of Start-up Enterprises.  The President proposes to use the authority granted to the executive branch in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to “parole” foreign nationals into the United States when there is a “significant public benefit” to allow some inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises to enter and lawfully remain in the United States without a visa.

5.  L-1B Specialized Knowledge Aliens.  For companies who wish to hire foreign nationals as “intra-company transferees” using the L-1B nonimmigrant visa program, the President’s proposal seeks to clarify and standardize the meaning of “specialized knowledge” for purposes of the L-1B visa program.  The L-1B nonimmigrant visa allows companies to transfer certain employees who are executives or managers, or have “specialized knowledge” of the company or its processes, to the United States from the company’s foreign operations.

 6.  I-140 Portability under AC21 §106(c).  The President seeks to clarify what is meant by the “same or similar job” for purposes of INA §204(j), which provides that employment-based immigrant visa petitions remain valid when the foreign national employee changes jobs or employers so long as the new job is in the “same or similar occupational classification” as the job for which the original petition was filed.

 7.  Labor Certification (“PERM”) Modernization.  The President seeks to review the Labor Certification program (commonly called “PERM”), whereby the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) certifies that the issuance of an employment-based immigrant visa will not displace U.S. workers, or adversely affect the wages or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.  More particularly, the President wants to identify methods for aligning domestic worker recruitment requirements under the PERM regulations with demonstrated occupational shortages and surpluses.

 8.  Human Trafficking and Crime Victims.  The President announced that the USDOL will certify (a) applications for T nonimmigrant visas for foreign nationals who have been victims of human trafficking, as well as (b) applications for U nonimmigrant visas for eligible victims of extortion, forced labor, and fraud in foreign labor contracting that the USDOL detects in the course of its workplace investigations.

The President announced other initiatives too (which I will write about at a later time).  As you can see from the above, not everything the President announced was controversial (even though some feel how he went about it was).  It seems clear to me, however, that what he announced was very necessary and very welcome (by most, anyway).

Obama’s Executive Action : Expanding Deferred Action Initiatives to Unlawful Aliens

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????OK, so let’s break it down.  Clearly the centerpiece of President Obama’s administrative “fix” of what he has repeatedly described as a “broken immigration system” are his initiatives to grant “deferred action” (essentially, temporary relief from being removed or deported from the United States) to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States, and who were brought to the United States as children and raised here.  A second group of aliens unlawfully present in the United States who will benefit under the President’s actions are those who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s”, or “Green Card” holders).

Deferred Acton for Childhood Arrivals

So what are the specifics?  In June 2012, President Obama’s then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a program, commonly known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), whereby aliens unlawfully present in the United States who had been brought to the United States as children and who met other criteria could receive “deferred action.”  In many cases, these individuals also received employment authorization.  Eligibility for DACA, however, expressly excluded aliens unlawfully present who were over the age of 31, or who had entered the United States on or after June 15, 2007.

On November 20, 2014, President Obama modified the DACA program by eliminating the age ceiling and making individuals who began residing in the United States before January 1, 2010 eligible.  Moreover, the President announced that DACA grants and accompanying employment authorization will, as of November 24, 2014, last three years instead of two.  We’re informed that those eligible under the new criteria should be able to apply within 90 days of the President’s announcement.

Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents

Hand-in-hand with the expanded provisions of DACA was the President’s announcement that his administration would also be granting “deferred action” to the parents of U.S. citizens and LPR’s.  This initiative is commonly called DAPA.  Like those eligible for DACA, some applicants for DAPA will be eligible for employment authorization too.

Specifically, aliens unlawfully present in the United States, and who have children who are either U.S. citizens or LPR’s, will also be eligible for deferred action (and employment authorization) pursuant to the President’s announcement.  To be eligible, in general, these aliens must be able to show “continuous residence” in the United States since before January 1, 2010, physical presence in the United States both on the date the initiative was announced (i.e., November 20, 2014) and when they request deferred action, (3) not being an enforcement priority under the administration’s newly announced enforcement priorities, and that they present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, would make the grant of deferred action inappropriate.

The Obama Administration estimates that approximately 5 million aliens unlawfully present in the United States could be directly affected by the expanded DACA and new DAPA initiatives.  However, the actual number who apply for benefits under either program may be much smaller, depending on outreach, access, cost, and numerous other factors.

So What did President Obama Actually Do?

Immigration reform has arguably become the third rail of politics.  Those on the political right will say that the President granted “amnesty” to all these aliens.  I suppose whether that’s true depends on what your definition of amnesty is.  I personally don’t believe that’s the case. Here’s what I can tell you.

A grant of deferred action is not “legalization” as that term is commonly understood in the world of immigration.  Legalization is typically a process whereby aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States acquire legal status, typically as LPR’s.  LPR’s can then typically apply for U.S. citizenship after a statutory period of time (and assuming they meet certain conditions).  That’s not at all what happened here.

Aliens granted deferred action are generally “lawfully present” in the United States under federal law.  That’s it.  They may also be eligible for certain benefits, like applying for driver’s license, but by and large, they would not be eligible for public benefits.

Being “lawfully present” in the United States is not the same as being in a “lawful status.” Aliens granted deferred action are not in a lawful status.  Thus, a grant of deferred action, in and of itself, does not result in an alien obtaining a Green Card, and as a result, such an individual cannot eventually apply for citizenship.  Indeed, aliens granted deferred action could conceivably have their status terminated by Congress in the future.

Of course, I personally hope this will not be the case, but one never knows.  The next two years may tell us a lot.  Politics is a funny thing.

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