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Archive for the ‘Immigration & I-9 Services’ Category

USCIS Reverses Course – STEM OPT Students May Now Work At 3rd Party Client Sites

Posted on: September 18th, 2018

By: Ken Levine

On August 17th U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted an announcement on their website to publicize the agency’s decision to once again allow STEM OPT F-1 students to engage in training programs at a third-party client worksite.  This update supersedes the Agency’s policy change in April 2018 which disallowed STEM OPT students from being placed at 3rd party client sites.

This new guidance essentially restored an employer’s ability to place OPT students in a science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) field at a 3rd party client site, so long as all applicable training obligations are met, and a bona fide employer/employee relationship is maintained for the full duration of the assignment.

This USCIS policy reversal was welcome news for the many U.S. employers who had historically trained their OPT personnel by placing them at 3rd party work sites.  However, it is extremely important that employers be vigilant in ensuring that the training is in full compliance with the I-983 training program. Companies that sponsor their OPT employees for an H-1B visa should expect that USCIS will closely scrutinize the OPT training program details.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Ken Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

Another Day, Another Dollar: Private Detention Center Sued By Detainees for Violations of the Washington Minimum Wage Act

Posted on: August 9th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

A lawsuit filed by thousands of detained immigrants held at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington alleges systematic wage theft by GEO Group, Inc.  The Plaintiffs seek to recover wages under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, as well as other damages allowable under State law.

GEO Group, Inc. has owned and operated the NWDC, which has 1,500 beds for immigrants, since 2005.  The lawsuit alleges that rather than hire from local workforce, GEO relies upon “captive detainee workers to clean, maintain, and operate NWDC.”  It further states that “GEO’s NWDC Detainee Handbook describes detainee work assignments as including kitchen and laundry work, as well as recreation/library/barber and janitorial services.  The Handbook refers to these various tasks as ‘work’ and a ‘job,’ and references ‘wages earned’ by detainee ‘workers.’”

The Plaintiffs asked the Federal District Court for class certification.  Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington determined that the detained immigrants have an “employment relationship with GEO.”  The Judge determined that the group of detained immigrants all participate in a volunteer program at NWDC and allege the same “injury,” which is that they are only paid a $1 per day for work, “an amount not commensurate” with the law.  The Judge granted certification for the Plaintiffs to proceed as a class.

In addition to the Federal lawsuit, the State of Washington has also brought a lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. in the State Superior Court that alleges GEO is violating the State’s minimum wage laws.  The Attorney General for the State of Washington, Bob Ferguson, stated, “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day. That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and others, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes.  The outcome of these cases will have significant effect on the way prison systems treat and compensate detained workers.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

USCIS Creates Another Roadblock for Legal Immigrants

Posted on: August 8th, 2018

By: Kenneth Levine

A proposed Trump administration change to the “public charge” regulations, expected to be issued within the next few months, will dramatically alter the process for how Immigration Officers determine eligibility for citizenship or permanent residency.  USCIS designates an applicant as a “public charge” if they are likely to become predominantly dependent on government benefits for long term survival.  Currently, USCIS Officers focus on the petitioning sponsor’s income (or a cosponsor’s income if the petitioner’s income falls below the required amount) in assessing eligibility.  Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act currently allows USCIS to deem a permanent residency applicant ineligible if they are likely at any time to become a “public charge.” Although the current regulation appears to afford an Immigration Officer considerable discretion in assessing an Applicant’s public charge prospects, in practice there is virtually no discretion.  In other words, if the petitioner or the co-sponsor’s current income satisfies the affidavit of support, then USCIS will typically have no justifiable basis to deny an application on public charge grounds.

The new regulations would substantially redefine “public charge” criteria by creating new grounds of ineligibility if the foreign national (or immediate family members) ever obtained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or signed up for supplemental assistance programs for financial and/or nutritional assistance for their U.S. citizen children.  Moving forward, USCIS Officers will be allowed to analyze a foreign national applicant’s income, employment history, job skills, health status, assets, and any family history of having received public health benefits (no matter if they were legally entitled to receive such benefits).  This new approach will dramatically expand USCIS authority to deny a case based on the arbitrary whims of an Officer who looks unfavorably on an applicant’s job history or the amount of money they have saved in the bank.

At this point it is unknown whether there will be different public charge standards for permanent residency or citizenship applicants.  Regardless, FMG Immigration Attorneys fully expect that federal litigation will ensue once USCIS attempts to implement the new public charge regulations.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Kenneth Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

A Contradiction In Terms – Recent Developments On 3rd Party Placement Of STEM Opt Students

Posted on: July 13th, 2018

By: Kenneth Levine

In April 2018, USCIS issued official guidance that precluded the assigning of a U.S. employer’s STEM OPT employees to off-site third-party locations.  A STEM OPT employee is a foreign national who is pursing “practical training” through a U.S. employer after having received a degree from a U.S. college/university in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics program.  This development was viewed as especially detrimental to IT consulting companies, whose business model is largely predicated on providing IT services to 3rd party client sites.   These client sites have always served as a fundamental training ground for recent graduates of information technology programs.

In issuing the April guidance, USCIS appears to have blatantly disregarded conflicting guidance that remains in effect.  3rd party placement of STEM OPT employees by staffing agencies is clearly permitted in the preamble to the STEM OPT regulation (8 CFR 214.16 and 81 FR 13040, 3/11/16) and ICE’s “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers” document.

The ICE FAQ addresses this issue as follows:

STEM OPT students are permitted to use staffing/placement agencies to find a training opportunity. However: … [a]ll STEM OPT regulatory requirements must be maintained, and … [t]he staffing/placement agency cannot complete and sign the Form I-983 as an employer, unless … the staffing/placement agency is an E-verified employer of the student, and … [t]he staffing/placement agency provides and oversees the training.

FMG Immigration Attorneys have received recent independent verification from colleagues that H-1B petitions are being approved where USCIS sought to challenge eligibility for the visa based on 3rd party placement of the OPT STEM employee.   Accordingly, so long as it can be demonstrated that each element of the above referenced ICE guidance for 3rd party placement (including full compliance with the I-983 training program) have been satisfied, then there is no reason for staffing companies to discontinue this practice.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Kenneth Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds President Trump’s Travel Ban

Posted on: June 27th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld President Trump’s latest travel ban.  The Court dismissed the anti-Muslim statements of President Trump and other administration officials when evaluating the legality of the ban. The decision stated that the ban is neutral and advances the national security of the United States.  The Judges relied on the discretionary powers granted to the President under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”).

The travel ban restricts entry of foreign national to the United States from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Venezuela.  A waiver can be granted on a case-by-case basis by the U.S. Department of State.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].