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currencyImmigration has become a particularly controversial political topic over the past year or two, but immigrants form a critical part of our culture and our economy. Recent reports have further confirmed immigrants’ economic impact, both in New Jersey and nationwide. New Jersey is currently suffering a net population decline, as residents move elsewhere. Immigrants are making up for some of that loss. They are also starting new businesses at a considerable rate, which helps local economies and the state as a whole. Numerous immigration programs play a role in this, such as the EB-5 investor visa program and the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While the forthcoming change in the White House is bringing significant uncertainty for immigrants, it is worth noting immigration’s economic benefits.

Congress established the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program to encourage investment, entrepreneurship, and job creation. It is available to immigrants who intend to invest a minimum amount in a “new commercial enterprise” in the U.S., which will create a minimum number of new jobs for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. 8 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(5). According to the December 2016 Visa Bulletin, the processing of EB-5 visa petitions is current for everyone except individuals from mainland China.

At least 3,000 EB-5 visas each fiscal year must be for new commercial enterprises in “targeted employment areas” (TEAs), defined as either a “rural area” or an area with at least 150 percent of the national average unemployment rate. Id. at § 1153(b)(5)(B). The minimum investment amount to qualify for an EB-5 visa is currently $1 million. 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(f)(1). For a TEA, the minimum investment is $500,000. Id. at § 204.6(f)(2). The investment must create at least 10 full-time jobs for “qualifying employees.” Id. at § 204.6(j)(4). A report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in September 2016 found that a substantial majority of recent EB-5 petitioners intended to invest in TEAs.

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George Washington BridgeThe recent presidential election has brought a massive amount of uncertainty for immigrants, prospective immigrants, their employers, and their families. The uncertainty ranges from the new president-elect’s rhetoric regarding deportations to the future of various permanent and temporary visa programs. The extent to which local governments participate in immigration enforcement potentially affects all immigrants. The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government exclusive authority over immigration, but enforcement efforts have expanded to include local law enforcement. Many local officials have pushed back in recent years, stating that they will not actively participate in federal immigration enforcement. Multiple court decisions support this position, but it remains controversial. Cities that have taken this position are often known as “sanctuary cities,” a term that can be both descriptive and pejorative, depending on the circumstances.

Part of the problem with addressing this issue is the lack of a clear definition of a “sanctuary city.” It does not mean that anyone in such a city is “safe” from immigration enforcement. At a minimum, it means that local officials will not cooperate with simple requests from a federal agency like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Federal immigration officials routinely review county jail rosters to check for possible immigration violations, and they place “detainers” on people they believe may be undocumented or otherwise in violation of federal immigration laws.

Congress has the sole authority “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 4. This means that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration questions. Immigration proceedings are federal civil matters. Local courts therefore have no jurisdiction to adjudicate such questions with regard to inmates in their custody. A detainer amounts to a request that local law enforcement continue to hold a person beyond the time they would otherwise be released, until ICE can take custody of them. Many local officials are saying that they will not comply with such requests unless they are accompanied by additional legal authority, such as a warrant or court order.

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Federal Courthouse BrooklynThe White House’s 2014 executive actions on immigration have been cause for controversy from the moment President Obama announced them almost two years ago. The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program prompted a lawsuit by 26 state governments. A U.S. district judge in Texas issued an injunction against the program, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) halted the implementation of DAPA nationwide in response. A new lawsuit filed in New York, however, challenges this action by DHS. Batalla Vidal v. Baran et al., No. 1:16-cv-04756, am. complaint (E.D.N.Y., Sep. 29, 2016). The plaintiff claims that the Texas court that granted the injunction lacked the authority to bind the DHS in New York.

The White House announced DAPA on November 20, 2014. The program would be similar to the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and it would cover qualifying undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The program represents an agreement by the federal government not to pursue (to “defer”) immigration enforcement action against a person for a defined period of time. To be eligible, an individual must show that they are a parent of a citizen or permanent resident, that they have been continuously present in the U.S. since 2010, and that they are not an “enforcement priority” under the administration’s immigration enforcement criteria. DAPA recipients may also be eligible for work authorization.

The Texas court granted the temporary injunction in February 2015. Texas, et al., v. United States, 86 F.Supp.3d 591 (S.D. Tex. 2015). The injunction covered DAPA and expansions to DACA included in the 2014 executive actions, but it did not affect the existing DACA program. The Fifth Circuit denied a request to stay the injunction in May 2015, 787 F.3d 733 (5th Cir. 2015), and affirmed it that November, 809 F.3d 134 (5th Cir. 2015). When the case went to the Supreme Court, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia meant that only eight justices were available to hear the case, and they split 4-4. 579 U.S. ___ (2016). The Fifth Circuit’s ruling was therefore allowed to stand, but with no adjudication on a national level.

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poultryImmigration law is deeply intertwined with employment in the United States, and the extent to which specific employment statutes apply to various immigrant statuses is under near-constant review by the courts. In the midst of this complex system, an employer involved in a dispute with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made a rather bold accusation against some of its employees. It is claiming that the employees who complained to the EEOC are falsely claiming harassment in order to qualify for U visas, which are available to certain “victim[s] of criminal activity.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(U). A recent federal appellate ruling essentially allows the employer to obtain information on the claimants’ immigration status. Cazorla, et al. v. Koch Foods of Miss., LLC, No. 15-60562, slip op. (5th Cir., Sep. 27, 2016).

Laws at the federal, state, and local levels protect employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of categories like race, sex, religion, color, and national origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects these categories, and laws in many jurisdictions offer even broader protection. The EEOC receives complaints from employees, former employees, and job applicants about alleged unlawful conduct. After investigating the claims, the EEOC may pursue a civil enforcement action on behalf of the complainants, or it may authorize them to file suit. Title VII and most other anti-discrimination statutes do not limit their coverage based on immigration status, although the extent of the protection they offer to undocumented immigrants remains controversial.

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The H-1B visa allows people in “specialty occupations” to live and work in the United States temporarily. A lesser-known aspect of the program also allows fashion models to come to the U.S. to work. Federal law limits the annual number of new H-1B visas that the government can issue, meaning that many individuals seeking an H-1B visa for a particular fiscal year will be disappointed. Several other types of visas are available for fashion models who want to come to the U.S. for work, provided they meet the qualifications. Fashion model visas have been the subject of media attention in recent months, largely due to allegations arising from the presidential election. Specifically, several models formerly employed by one candidate claim that they were present in the U.S. with tourist visas, which would not have allowed them to work as models.fashion

Federal immigration law provides a specific type of visa for workers in “specialty occupations” or “fashion models.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). A specialty occupation job that qualifies for an H-1B visa must require an advanced degree and the specialized knowledge or skills that come with such a degree in order to perform the work. The total number of new H-1B visas available each fiscal year is capped at 65,000. Id. at § 1184(g)(1)(A). Immigration officials receive a substantially higher number of H-1B petitions every year.

The H-1B fashion model visa, also known as the H-1B3 visa, is available to individuals of “distinguished merit and ability in the field of fashion modeling,” who want to come to the U.S. “to perform services which require a fashion model of prominence.” 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(i)(C). Federal immigration regulations define “prominence” in fashion modeling in a rather circular manner, as being “renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of fashion modeling.” Id. at § 214.2(h)(4)(ii). A model or their employer may establish their “prominence” in the field with documentation of their past work and with affidavits from people with knowledge of the industry. Id. at § 214.2(h)(4)(vii). They must also provide a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(n)(1).

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Hoboken NJAn administrative law judge (ALJ) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently reversed a ruling finding an employer liable for wage violations affecting workers with H-1B visas. Administrator v. Volt Management Corp., No. 2012-LCA-00044, order (DOL, Jun. 16, 2016). The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) had initiated an investigation of the respondent after receiving a grievance from an H-1B worker. The investigation grew to include 80 H-1B employees and resulted in a finding that the respondent had underpaid them by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The ALJ found that the WHD exceeded its authority by expanding its investigation. It reversed the entire ruling and penalty, except for the award of damages to the individual complainant.

A limited number of H-1B temporary worker visas are available each fiscal year for workers in “specialty occupations,” which typically require an advanced degree or specialized training. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). In order to obtain an H-1B visa for a prospective employee, the employer must petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and file a labor certification application (LCA) with the DOL. The LCA must attest that the worker will receive comparable wages to others in similar positions and that hiring a nonimmigrant worker will not adversely affect working conditions for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Id. at § 1182(n)(1). If the DOL approves the LCA, it issues a labor certification to the employer, which forms part of the petition to USCIS.

Federal immigration law gives the DOL authority to investigate employers for violations of the conditions of their labor certifications under certain circumstances, including a grievance filed by an H-1B visa holder. Id. at § 1182(n)(2)(A). The DOL can initiate a random investigation against an employer within five years of the date the employer is found to have violated certain terms of its labor certification. Id. at § 1182(n)(2)(F). It can also initiate an investigation of an employer with H-1B workers if it “has reasonable cause to believe that” the employer has violated H-1B wage regulations. Id. at § 1182 (n)(2)(G)(i).

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red markerUndocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria can apply for waivers allowing them to proceed with an immigrant visa petition. One type of waiver is known as a “provisional unlawful presence waiver” (PUPW). Individuals with six months to one year of accrued unlawful presence in the U.S. who voluntarily depart the U.S. are deemed inadmissible for a period of three years. A PUPW allows a person who meets these criteria to request a waiver of the three-year inadmissibility period, provided they leave the U.S. and apply to reenter at a U.S. consulate abroad. A new rule that took effect at the end of August 2016 streamlines the application process and expands eligibility for PUPWs. 81 Fed. Reg. 50243 (Jul. 29, 2016). Previously, PUPWs were only available to people seeking family-based immigrant visas. The new rule makes them available for employment-based and other visa petitions.

To qualify for a PUPW, an individual must be inadmissible under § 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(9)(B)(i)(I). This provision applies to people (1) who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days but less than one year, (2) who voluntarily depart the country, either on their own or with the government’s permission under 8 U.S.C. § 1229c, (3) prior to the beginning of removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. §§ 1225(b)(1) or 1229a.

People covered by this provision of the INA are ineligible for readmission for three years, beginning on the date they leave or are removed from the U.S. The PUPW waives the six- to 12-month period of unlawful presence, making them eligible for an immigrant visa without the three-year bar.

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Department of LaborBefore an employer in the U.S. can hire a worker from abroad for a job here, the employer must petition for a visa for the worker. This requires a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL). The employer must establish that it is in compliance with U.S. labor law regarding the employment of someone from outside the country. In a recent case, a DOL certifying officer (CO) denied a request for certification on the basis that the job posting disadvantaged U.S. workers. The DOL’s Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) reversed the CO’s decision. In re Cosmos Foundation, Inc., No. 2012-PER-01637, dec. order (BALCA, Aug. 4, 2016).

Permanent labor certifications are required for employment-based immigrant visas, through which an immigrant employee can come to the U.S. with the intention of staying permanently. The main purpose of a labor certification is to demonstrate that no qualified U.S. workers are available to fill a position, and hiring someone from abroad will not negatively affect wages for workers here. A similar process, known as the labor condition application, applies to petitions for temporary visas, such as the H-1B visa program. The Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) system, an electronic application system established by the DOL in 2005, is supposed to enable the DOL to process an application in 60 days or fewer.

DOL regulations impose numerous requirements for labor certifications. The Cosmos case involved an alleged defect in the way the employer advertised the position. If an employer places a job advertisement in a newspaper or professional journal before applying for a labor certification, the advertisement must describe the job in terms that are “specific enough to apprise the U.S. workers of the job opportunity for which certification is sought.” 20 C.F.R. § 656.17(f)(3).

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notepadThe H-1B “specialty worker” visa program allows individuals who meet certain criteria regarding education and job skills to come to the U.S. on a temporary basis to work in a qualifying job. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for administering parts of the H-1B program. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) enforces regulations regarding the conditions of employment for H-1B workers. In July 2016, the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ), also part of the DOL, affirmed an order from the WHD finding that an employer violated DOL regulations by failing to notify the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that it had terminated an H-1B employee. Adm’r v. ME Global, Inc., No. 2013-LCA-00039, dec. and order (OALJ, Jul. 29, 2016). The OALJ ordered the employer to pay almost $183,000 in back wages.

In order to obtain an H-1B visa for an employee, an employer must get approval from both the DOL and DHS. Obtaining the DOL’s approval requires submission of a labor condition application (LCA). Among multiple other requirements, this document must state that the employer will pay the H-1B worker a fair wage and provide fair working conditions. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(n)(1). An employer is required to pay wages to an H-1B worker for as long as they are working and during any period of time that they are not working “due to a decision by the employer.” 20 C.F.R. § 655.731(c)(7)(i).

If an H-1B employee becomes “nonproductive” because of “conditions unrelated to employment” that the employee requests, because the employee is unable to work due to accident or illness, or after “a bona fide termination of the employment relationship,” the employer is not required to pay wages. Id. at § 655.731(c)(7)(ii). The issue presented to the OALJ in ME Global was whether a “bona fide termination” had occurred.

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world mapFederal immigration law allows U.S. employers to petition for an immigrant visa for a current or prospective employee, and citizens or lawful permanent residents may do so for a family member. The length of time it takes for the government to approve an immigrant visa petition mainly depends on two factors:  the type of visa sought and the prospective immigrant’s country of origin. Most family- and employment-based visas are subject to annual numerical limitations. Federal law also imposes an annual cap on the number of numerically limited visas available to citizens of any one country. A bill currently pending in the U.S. Congress, H.R. 213, or the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2015, would eliminate or increase the limits placed on each country. The bill likely has little to no chance of passing during the current Congressional session, but it offers a useful look at this particular system of numerical caps.

Some prospective immigrants are not subject to any numerical limitation, such as “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens. 8 U.S.C. § 1151(b). All other prospective immigrants are subject to annual caps of up to 480,000 family-based and 140,000 employment-based immigrants. Id. at §§ 1151(c), (d). These immigrants are assigned to employment- and family-based immigrant visa categories, based on either the type of job involved or the petitioner’s own status and the immigrant’s relationship to the petitioner. 8 U.S.C. § 1153. In addition to these annual caps, the total number of visas given to citizens or nationals of any one country in a fiscal year cannot exceed seven percent of the total number of authorized visas. 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(2). For dependencies of a foreign country, the limit is two percent. Id.

This per-country numerical limit largely affects nationals of some countries more than others. The monthly Visa Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of State, which indicates how long beneficiaries of each type of immigrant visas petition may expect to wait, illustrates the disparate impact on countries with a high volume of petitions. The Visa Bulletin shows the priority dates for each immigrant visa category that are currently being processed by the government. A petition’s “priority date” is roughly equivalent to its filing date. The Visa Bulletin further distinguishes between petitions received from China, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and all other countries. According to the August 2016 Visa Bulletin, the current priority date for the “F1” family visa category for most countries is May 22, 2009, a waiting period of just over seven years. For the Philippines, however, the priority date is March 22, 2005. For Mexico, it is March 8, 1995.

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