Category Archives: Immigration

Legalized Marijuana, Non-Citizens and Immigration Risks

Contributed by Jacqueline Lentini McCullough, August 22, 2019

book with words “immigration law” and glasses.

In May, we reported on Illinois becoming the eleventh state to permit recreational marijuana beginning January 1, 2020. Noncitizens in these eleven states and the District of Columbia may reasonably conclude that using marijuana in accordance with state law will have no bearing on immigration status. Unfortunately, that is a wrong assumption. Federal law controls immigration, and it remains a federal offense to possess marijuana. For the unsuspecting foreign national, this is a legal distinction that many will not understand. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers at the nation’s borders are the first line of defense in preventing illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. U.S. federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP Officers will continue to enforce the law.

For immigrant marijuana users, federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to prosecute state-legal medical cannabis, but allows funds to prosecute state-legal recreational cannabis, thus creating an enforcement distinction. There will also be increased scrutiny relating to travel outside the U.S. for green card and Naturalization applicants.

In some jurisdictions such as Colorado, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is adding questions to the Adjustment of Status (green card) interview and medical examination process to determine if a foreign national uses marijuana or has in the past.

Naturalization

Naturalization eligibility requires the individual to establish “good moral character,” as defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. A person who engaged in certain conduct as described in the Act is statutorily barred from establishing good moral character. In states such as Washington and Colorado where marijuana has been legal since 2012, the USCIS is aggressively questioning Naturalization applicants regarding marijuana use. For example, a legal permanent resident (LPR) who is applying for Naturalization, and who is in possession of marijuana is barred under federal law from establishing good moral character. The individual will be found to be inadmissible.

Any arriving foreign national who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict or who is convicted of, or admits to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of any law or regulation of the U.S relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the U.S. Furthermore, a naturalization applicant who has admitted possessing marijuana to a federal government official must not travel outside the U.S. The person may be found inadmissible upon reentry.

There are several legislative efforts afoot in Congress to resolve the complex issues created by the conflict between federal and state cannabis laws. In the meantime, though, noncitizens should take a very conservative approach.  

Takeaways for noncitizens living in the U.S.:

  • Never discuss conduct regarding marijuana with a government official such as a CBP Officer, USCIS, Embassies/Consulates abroad, et al.;
  • If you live in a state that legalized marijuana consumption, do not use it until you are a U.S. citizen;
  • Do not carry a medical marijuana card, pot related stickers, T-shirts, or paraphernalia, and delete any mention of marijuana on social media; and
  • If you’ve worked in the marijuana industry, obtain legal counsel before leaving the U.S. or applying for Naturalization

Stay tuned for further developments in this growing area of law.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Challenged on Third-Party Worksites

Contributed by Jacqueline Lentini McCullough, June 7, 2019

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memorandum-issued policy is at the heart of a court case challenging recent H-1B visa denials.

The “Contracts and Itineraries Requirements for H-1B Petitions Involving Third-Party Worksites” memo was issued on February 20, 2018 without any notice or comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The memo directs adjudicators to ensure a contractor has actual and exclusive “control” of the contractor’s employees at the third-party site as a criterion for visa approval. This requirement comes from a rigid interpretation of the Department of Labor’s definition of “employer” which reads: “Has an employer-employee relationship with respect to employees under this part, as indicated by the fact that it may hire, pay, fire, supervise, or otherwise control the work of any such employee….” Instead of considering any one of these circumstances as qualifying, USCIS effectively changed the “or” to an “and,” requiring all of them.

H-1B visa denial rates skyrocketed the past two years, especially for contractors working at third-party worksites. Denial rates for initial H-1B petitions in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 were 1 % for large technology companies but 34%-80% for companies that put H-1B visa holders at third-party sites. Third-party site work factors highly in IT consulting.

Visa Stamp

After having many H-1B visas denied or issued for short validity periods, several IT consulting firms filed lawsuits against USCIS. Those lawsuits have been consolidated into one under the aegis of the IT industry trade association ITServe Alliance.

Judge Rosemary Collyer presided over a court hearing of ITServe Alliance v. USCIS on 05/09/2019. Plaintiff attorneys produced data showing from FY 2012 to FY 2017, USCIS approved 94 % of their client’s ERP analysts’ H-1B petitions. During FY 2018 to FY 2019, the approval rate dropped to 19%.

Judge Collyer has taken issue with the disparate visa approval rates between different industries and USCIS’s requirement that contractors show three years’ worth of specific work assignments for H-1B petitioners when they are allowed “nonproductive” time as long as they are paid.

As Judge Collyer considers the case, she will rule on whether discovery is warranted to find out what has caused the different adjudications of H-1B petitions. Not only are H-1B approval rates markedly down for the IT industry, but requests for evidence and H-1B petition processing times have ballooned.

Requests for evidence (RFE) for all H-1B petitions have jumped from below 30% in first quarter FY 2017 to 60% in first quarter FY 2019. Meanwhile the number of petitions approved with a completed RFE has sunk from 80 % to just over 60 %.

Stay tuned as we will continue to provide updates as new information emerges.

2018 Has Shown A Significant Increase in ICE Form I-9 Audits – Is Your Company Ready?

Contributed by Sara Zorich, June 18, 2018

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

“U.S. Citizenship and  Immigration Services” text with American flag in background 

We have seen a major increase in 2018 of Form I-9 audits from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). First we saw 122 companies audited in California in February 2018. Next, we saw a number of companies in the Chicagoland area and throughout the Midwest receive Form I-9 audits in March 2018. Then, just weeks ago ICE made a number of arrests in the Chicagoland area.

This increase in activity is not showing any signs of slowing. In fact, we anticipate I-9 audits to increase and are aware of ICE hiring additional agents in the Chicago area to assist in the increase of Form I-9 audits.

What should a company do in light of ICE’s increased audits?

First, you need to ensure that your employees responsible for the Form I-9 process understand the Form I-9 requirements. The Form I-9 has changed a number of times over the last couple of years and we are finding that those changes are not necessarily understood by employers. Make sure you are using the most recent form.

Second, you should audit your Form I-9’s, either on your own, or have an attorney assist you to help identify and correct technical Form I-9 errors. A self-audit before ICE arrives can assist in reducing your liability during an ICE audit.

Third, you need to have a plan if ICE audits your Form I-9’s. Your plan needs to include what to do the day ICE arrives along with what to expect from the audit process and potential ramifications on your business.

Universities and International Students May Still Benefit Amid Uncertain Immigration Future

Contributed by Jacqueline Lentini McCullough, February 2, 2018

After a decade of rapid growth which saw the international student population increase 85 percent to over a million students, the number of newly arriving international students fell 3 percent in the 2016-2017 academic year.

President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and subsequent action as President have contributed to substantial declines in international student enrollment for the current academic year. Across the country the number of new international students declined an average of 7 percent according to a study of about 500 campuses by the Institute of International Education, with 45 percent of campuses reporting at least some decrease.

41338099 - celebration education graduation student success learning conceptI encourage education and university clients, and any employer hiring international students to be calm and take a breath.  One thing I have noticed about President Trump’s actions is that they have been very consistent with his campaign promises: border enforcement and bans. He wants to move to a merit-based immigration system similar to Canada and Australia.

If the U.S. does move to a merit-based immigration system, international students may gain an advantage. A merit-based system is point-based and prizes highly educated immigrants. Who would be better positioned than those who gained a U.S. college education?

In fact, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Jeff Flake introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate last week, the Immigration Innovation (I-Squared) Act of 2018, to allow as many as 195,000  H-1B visas. The proposal would increase the number of H-1B visas by 110,000 (from 85,000), while awarding U.S. advanced degree-holders expanded priority in the selection process.

As colleges regroup to recruit internationally in this context, it is recommended that they approach prospects with an eye toward the H-1B visa that international students will ultimately want to apply for.  These are students who:

  • Intend on a STEM major: Engineering majors are the safest bet.
  • Plan to work in a STEM field or true specialty occupation: Qualifying occupations include doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers.

Unfortunately, unless a student wants to teach a foreign language, liberal arts students are unlikely to qualify for an H-1B visa.

Colleges may even want to use the possible advantage of U.S. college education in a merit-based immigration system as a recruiting point.

U.S. colleges, universities and employers can weather this intense immigration storm by staying calm and focusing their recruitment on the areas most likely to succeed with visas.

2018 Immigration Updates

Contributed by Sara Zorich, January 16, 2018

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Renewals Resume
As of January 13, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that, due to pending litigation and a federal court order, it is going to resume accepting and processing renewals for DACA recipients including Employment Authorization Documents granting work status.  This only applies to DACA recipients who had previously been granted deferred action status and USCIS is NOT accepting first time DACA applications.

USCIS has indicated the following:

  1. If the person previously received DACA and their DACA expired on or after Sept. 5, 2016, the person may still file a DACA request as a renewal request which includes a request for extension of the person’s work authorization.
  2. If the person previously received DACA and the DACA expired before 9/5/16, the person may file a new initial DACA request including work authorization.

Employers should check the USCIS website for additional information, but this is good news for employers and employees as employees on DACA now have an avenue to once again renew their employment authorization and legal work status.

Temporary Protected Status
On November 20, 2017, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security announced the decision to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti.  The transition period is for 18 months and the TPS designation will end on 7/22/19.

On January 8, 2018, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced the decision to terminate the TPS designation for El Salvador.  Again, there is an 18 month transition period and the TPS designation will terminate on 9/9/19.

These announcements will eliminate the ability for individuals from Haiti and El Salvador to apply for employment authorization documents and work authorization based on their TPS status.

If a company employs an alien authorized to work, the company must keep track and monitor the date in which an alien’s work authorization expires.  These employees require reverification.  See USCIS Handbook for employers for more information about reverification of current employees.

How Will the End of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrival (DACA) Affect Employers?

Contributed by Sara Zorich, September 14, 2017

On September 5, 2017, the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security rescinded the memorandum issued during the Obama administration that had established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, announcing that it will be phased out over the next six months, allowing Congress time to craft a “permanent legislative solution.”

Ending DACA will affect not just the people covered under the program, but also thousands of employers nationwide. A controversial Obama-era policy, DACA has been a program where certain people who came to the United States as minors without documentation, yet met several guidelines, could request consideration of deferred removal proceedings and request authorization to live and work in the United States legally. Currently, the program shields around 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation and allows them to work legally.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration ServicesU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new guidance on their website as of September 5, 2017 regarding initial DACA requests and DACA renewals. Here are the key points to note:

  • DACA beneficiaries will not be affected until after March 5, 2018—six months from the date of the announcement
  • No new DACA applications will be considered, but applications filed by September 5, 2017 will still be processed
  • Current DACA recipients whose permits and or work authorization expires between now and March 5, 2018, have until October 5, 2017 to apply for renewal of these benefits

In light of this change, employers are recommended to review their Form I-9’s and identify any individual whose work authorization is going to expire on or before March 5, 2018. Employers should notify these employees of the date their work authorization will expire and remind them that the company cannot continue to employ the employee past this expiration date unless the employee is able to provide proof of continued work authorization. To reiterate, any DACA renewals must be filed no later than October 5, 2017 or USCIS will not process them. Read the USCIS announcement for details.

However, some Employment Authorization Document (EAD) categories (other than DACA) have been granted a 180 day automatic extension to the employee’s work authorization deadline. Visit the USCIS website for more information on the eligibility requirements for the Automatic Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Extension. Thus, employers must be careful to follow the applicable guidelines when addressing the proper end date of an employee’s work authorization and reauthorization requirements.

Final Takeaway: Employers must understand that they MAY NOT discriminate and cannot refuse to hire an individual solely because that individual’s employment authorization document will expire in the future.

We anticipate that Congress may now attempt to fast track some type of immigration reform related to those persons that were formerly covered under DACA, but only time will tell.

2017 Compliance Check Up

Contributed by Sara Zorich, January 19, 2017

We are now almost three weeks into the New Year and while it might be tempting to ease into 2017, the time is now to ensure that the required compliance updates have been made to your payroll and Form I-9 procedure to comply with the 2017 changes.

Minimum Wage

The following 21 states have updates to their minimum wage that affect your payroll for 2017:

  1. Alaska (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.75 to $9.80.
  2. Arizona (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $10.00.
  3. Arkansas (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.00 to $8.50.
  4. California (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $10.00 to $10.50.
  5. Colorado (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.31 to $9.30.
  6. Connecticut (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.60 to $10.10.
  7. Florida (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $8.10.
  8. Hawaii (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.50 to $9.25.
  9. Maine (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $7.50 to $9.00.
  10. Massachusetts (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $10.00 to $11.00.
  11. Maryland (Effective July 1, 2017) – minimum wage increases from $8.75 to $9.25.
  12. Michigan (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.50 to $8.90.
  13. Missouri (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $7.65 to $7.70.
  14. Montana (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.05 to $8.15.
  15. New Jersey (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.38 to $8.44.
  16. New York (Effective 12/31/16) –minimum wage increases from $9 to $9.70.
  17. Ohio (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.10 to $8.15.
  18. Oregon (Effective July 1, 2017) – statewide minimum wage increases from $9.75 to $10.25 (Portland Metro minimum wage increase from $9.75 to $11.25).
  19. South Dakota (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $8.55 to $8.65.
  20. Vermont (Effective 1/1/17) – minimum wage increases from $9.60 to $10.00.
  21. Washington (Effective 1/1/17) –minimum wage increase from $9.47 to $11.00.

Employers should ensure that these required changes have been conveyed to your payroll manager and payroll provider and perform an audit to ensure that the change was made effective in your payroll system.

Form I-9

As we reported on November 17, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the new version of the Form I-9 on November 14, 2016. NO LATER THAN January 22, 2017, employers MUST use the revised form (dated 11/14/2016 N) for all new hires and any employee that requires reverification of employment eligibility.

Employers should review their Form I-9 practices, ensure they are complying by using the new form by the deadline, and train employees responsible for completing the form regarding the new form requirements.