Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ Category.

Indian Independence Day

shutterstock_134525195“Progress is implied in independence. Without self-government neither industrial progress is possible, nor the educational scheme will be useful to the nation…” – Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

When you think of the phrase “Independence Day,” naturally you think of July 4th and wonderful images of BBQs, apple pie and fireworks come to mind. August 15th is Indian Independence Day, which is relatively recent, having begun in 1947. It certainly feels recent to me since my father was ten years old at the time. Of course he later moved to Britain, where I was born, making me a British Citizen, therefore setting me up for a lifetime of combined pride and self-loathing. In the U.S., Indian Independence Day on August 15th is celebrated in numerous cities, and with a number of parades and parties.

India has come a long way. Just shy of one quarter of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, it is amazing to see the progress over the last decade. Modern cities and developments have sprung up all over India. The economy is booming and India is creating many different items for export. Perhaps its largest and most valuable export though, is people, in particular, highly educated people.

Continue reading ‘Indian Independence Day’ »

Conrad 30 – A “Win-Win” Response to the US Healthcare Crisis

shutterstock_102868775Affordable and accessible healthcare has long been a national priority.  However, for decades the United States has experienced a critical shortage of physicians.  The addition of millions more insured Americans to the healthcare rolls under the Affordable Care Act has heightened the problem.  In fact, the Association of Medical Colleges predicts the US will face a shortage of 46,000 – 90,000 physicians by the year 2025.[1]  While the US is now graduating more medical students than ever before, the number of graduate medical education residency and fellowship training programs has remained static.[2]  With American physicians increasingly choosing hospital-based medical specialties over primary care positions,[3] millions of vulnerable Americans are left without primary healthcare.

Fortunately, US immigration law provides an incentive to attract US-trained international medical graduates (IMGs) to parts of the country not fully served by American physicians.  Since its inception in 1994, state Departments of Health across the country have used the Conrad State 30 J-1 waiver program (“Conrad 30”) to place over 12,000 IMGs in medically underserved communities where they have provided healthcare to millions of our country’s neediest citizens.

Continue reading ‘Conrad 30 – A “Win-Win” Response to the US Healthcare Crisis’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2

shutterstock_211305115…Continued (Read Part 1 of this blog post)

In general, AILA and other industry stakeholders are finding strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for the EB-5 program.  And yes, Congress has extended the Regional Center (RC) program numerous times since 1992.

But, and this is important, the current legislative atmosphere is uncertain and complex – especially involving immigration issues.  Many legislators, from both parties, want to address all immigration issues as part of a larger comprehensive reform package.  Extending just the EB-5 program and other sunset immigration programs could be viewed as piecemeal and diluting a comprehensive approach favored by many.

Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1

shutterstock_211305115The EB-5 “Regional Center” visa program again finds itself in an all too familiar place – unless Congress reauthorizes by September 30, the program will sunset. For better or worse, the EB-5 program remains connected with three other sun-setting immigration programs (E-Verify, Conrad and Religious Workers).  AILA continues to be actively involved in the extension process and here are some updates:

Let’s start with a quick refresher. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa classification has many street names, such as the “Entrepreneur” visa, the “Investor” visa and the “Jobs Creation” visa. By any name, the U.S. Congress created this program in 1990 with the goal of encouraging the infusion of foreign capital to benefit the U.S. economy. And to that end, it would offer the privilege of U.S. residency to an entrepreneur in exchange for creating 10 new jobs for American workers.
Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1’ »

Acting in Haste

shutterstock_91837658National tragedies have long propelled political change. Often a terrible event will ignite a fervent desire in political leaders to take action on an issue that has been neglected or overlooked. However, it is in these times of passion and emotion that some of the worst mistakes are made.

Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, our nation felt justified in stripping thousands of Japanese-Americans of their land and forcing them into internment camps. After the horrible terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, our government implemented laws such as the Patriot Act that infringed on Americans’ constitutional rights.

On July 1, 2015, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 14 in San Francisco, while walking arm-in-arm with her father. The man who reportedly shot her, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times and been convicted of several drug-related offenses in the past. This random and senseless act is fueling the urge on the part of Congress to do something.

On July 23, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3009 to punish local jurisdictions – known as “sanctuary cities” that don’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) indefinite detainer requests for non-violent criminals.  If enacted these provisions will have devastating fiscal and humanitarian consequences for these municipalities.  In addition to other penalties, non-compliant cities would be ineligible to get reimbursed for the cost of detaining immigrants accused of or convicted of crimes.  In California, where we are just emerging from a severe recession and still have unemployment levels above the national average, such a federal mandate would prove devastating to our recovering economy. Continue reading ‘Acting in Haste’ »

H-1B Cap Slows U.S. Innovation

The Fiscashutterstock_192420653l Year 2016 H-1B random selection process for skilled workers is over.  As with many other immigration lawyers around the country, I am dealing with employer fallout over the loss of badly needed skilled professionals whose petitions weren’t selected.  Many of these would-be H-1B beneficiaries are already working for the employer in a status called Optional Practical Training.  Optional Practical Training is an employment authorized status permitted for 12 to 29 months after graduation from an accredited U.S. university.

This post addresses the plight of  U.S. based employers who produce products and services for the U.S. economy including legitimate management consulting firms who work with clients to install and improve management technology and go on to new projects.   These employers are to be distinguished from the perceived type of employer mentioned in recent New York Times pieces.  While the entirety of those situations aren’t yet known, what I do know is this: the H-1B visa was not intended to displace U.S. workers and there are regulatory safeguards in place.  In fact, the H-1B visa has contributed to the productivity of many employers in ways that have then led to many more jobs for U.S. workers.

It is hard to tell an employer that a star employee will no longer be authorized to work for them in the U.S.  They don’t understand how random and arcane the process is, particularly that this year there were only enough H-1B visas available to cover about 25% of the 233,000+ petitions filed for fiscal year 2016.

I’ve worked on a number of H-1B cases over the years and the employers I work with are doing their best in a confusing process. Here’s an example – one client requires a special skill set offered in a program at a top rated university. In recruiting at this institution, they discovered that only one US worker was enrolled in the program, so hiring a U.S. worker with the skills required is virtually impossible from the outset.

Other employers are scrambling looking for alternative work visas and when that fails, to figure out the legalities of contracting for remote services to be performed abroad for key employees.  These are but two of thousands of compelling examples of what U.S. employers are dealing with.  I’ve had multiple employers tell me that if they could find US workers to fill their open positions, they would gladly hire them and avoid this “visa morass.”

More than half of the H-1B petitions filed are for occupations in the STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics fields).  Many of those whose employers have applied for them graduated from U.S. universities with STEM degrees! According to the Institute of International Educational Exchange, two thirds of foreign students studying at US universities are pursuing degrees in STEM or business fields; 84.8% of them have attained U.S. Master’s or Doctorate Degrees. Now that we’ve educated them, shouldn’t we do our best to keep them in the U.S. to become job creators?

Today, the U.S. is in an international fight to maintain hegemony in innovation and technological advances.  These highly skilled foreign students that we have educated can pick from a number of welcoming countries nipping at our heels to pass us as the world’s leading innovators.  They are a significant – and vital – part of our continued growth in cutting edge industry; indeed, according to Todd Park, the former U.S. Chief Technology Officer, every foreign-born graduate with an advanced STEM degree is associated with, on average, 2.6 jobs for American workers.  And, by some estimates, according to Mr. Park, immigration was responsible for one-third of the growth in patenting in past decades; these innovations contributed to increasing U.S. GDP by 2.4 percent.

The problem with the H-1B shortage stems from the Immigration Act of 1990 (Immact 90).  For the first time, annual numeric caps were imposed on the H-1B visa initially permitting a limit of 65,000 visas per year. What appeared to be a generous figure in 1990 soon became a huge headache for employers. In 2000, the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act exempted certain non-profits, primarily institutions of higher education and governmental research groups from the cap.  It also temporarily increased the H-1B cap to 195,000 for FY 2001 through 2003.  This was an acknowledgement that the existing H-1B cap was woefully inadequate and one can only conjecture that it was anticipated that by the end of this cap increase, a solution to the problem would be forthcoming.  It was not. After the H-1B returned to the draconian limit of 65,000, a permanent increase of 20,000 for holders of U.S. Masters Degrees was enacted.  A total of eighty-five thousand H-1B petitions is still woefully inadequate for our nation’s increasing demand for highly educated workers, especially in the STEM fields.

Static numerical limits for visas and green cards are fraught with problems.  A fixed numerical cap established almost 25 years ago doesn’t anticipate the needs of a growing economy. Another example of short-sightedness in visa limitations can be seen in the green card context. The Immigration Act of 1990 also abolished the old employment-based 3rd and 6th immigrant visa system and set up a five tier employment-based system with increased immigration numbers.  Again, many of these categories have become badly backlogged over time, particularly for those chargeable to the India and China country quotas.

A reform of our current system is badly needed if we are going to continue to retain the talent that we educate and utilize their abilities to help our economy’s growth. Every day, week, month, and year that goes by and Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform is another day, week, month, and year where our nation stagnates instead of grows.

Written by Deb Notkin, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee Vice Chair and former AILA President

Game Changer

Dushutterstock_147037244ring a recent campaign event in Nevada, Hillary Clinton blindsided the 2016 Presidential contestants by stating her unequivocal support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and a clear path to citizenship for the undocumented migrants in the U.S. She also stated the obvious – that when immigration restrictionists talk about legal status “that is code for second-class status.”

A week later – Hillary’s husband, Bill, followed suit during an appearance on Univision and stated his own support for a path to citizenship and referred to the policy of “inclusive governance” as “not rocket science.”

Indeed – as a nation of immigrants – we should encourage and celebrate the possibility of having more citizens.  New blood not only brings innovation, but also supports our industries, and enriches our culture.  Even the idea of long-term or permanent non-citizens is an insult to our Founding Fathers who released this country from the clutched fists of a British government which sanctioned the idea of  having “Subjects” as opposed to free Citizens.

To be sure, I am not a Clinton cheerleader.  Though I voted for Bill Clinton, I am also sober to the many mistakes made under his watch: NAFTA, DOMA, DADT, and of course IIRAIRA, to name a few.  However, I am excited to hear Hillary Clinton speak about CIR because we need to have this discussion once again.

As we all know, in 2013 a reform oriented bipartisan immigration bill passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 68-32.  Though not perfect, we had a bill we could work with.  Unfortunately, it was never taken up by the House and succumbed to an agonizingly slow death by expiration date when the new congressional session began.

The national conversation then turned to border security, only the Southern border of course, and also to the executive actions taken by President Obama on immigration policy.  The actual way forward, the way to solve the immigration problem, unfortunately got lost in all this noise and useless bravado.

I am not naive.  I understand that to pass any bill, we need both a President and a Congress who are willing to work together.  But I also understand that we live in a democracy where according to a May 2015 CBS/NYT poll, 57% of Americans want the undocumented migrants in this country to be able to apply for citizenship while only 29% want them to leave. We also have the 2016 elections coming up – a chance to vote for a whole new set of Representatives in Congress and a new president in the White House.

That is why I was excited to hear Hillary Clinton bring up CIR.  I am equally ecstatic that Bill Clinton, the very person whose signature is on the dreaded IIRAIRA, is also keeping this discussion alive.  People need to see the obvious: that it is morally reprehensible and financially impossible to remove the entire undocumented community and torpedo the unity of countless families.  Moreover, our security as a nation demands a full accounting of everyone residing within our borders.  It is also a fool’s errand to keep talking about baby steps on immigration reform without acknowledging that the final product cannot be anything short of a path to full U.S. citizenship for those who have already contributed in countless ways to our prosperity.

I hope that the Clintons’ remarks will end the national inaction on immigration and reboot the necessary conversation on CIR.  The restrictionists have, for far too long, drawn the battle lines on this issue.  I am glad to see the reformists reclaim the debate at the onset of our upcoming electoral process.  As an immigrant who is an immigration attorney, I believe the immigration reformists along with the American people at large will be the winners at the end of this Game of Thrones.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Another Kind of Obstacle Course

Interesting pshutterstock_136036019iece by Kristina Wong in The Hill last week (Army already enlisting ‘Dreamers’ as Congress debates immigration) about 50 DACA recipients (“illegal immigrants” as the author calls them) joining the United States military. The US military has long tapped skilled people to join its ranks, whether they be citizens or not.  Our country’s military has a long history of non-citizens fighting shoulder to shoulder with American citizens from the War of 1812, the Civil War and both World Wars.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was created, as Wong states, to “recruit people with medical training or who speak a critical language.”  In short, the MAVNI program’s purpose is to increase military readiness which is vital to the national security of the United States.  Skilled people increase this readiness and security and we should thank and applaud these young Dreamers who desire to serve our country and protect our freedom.

Instead Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) used this opportunity to denigrate these young skilled recruits while also risking our readiness and security for his political benefit by stating about the enlistment of Dreamers: “the Rules Committee has the power, and indeed the duty, to prevent such a threat to our national security.”  I believe we should be glad that Rep. Brooks was not in Congress during WW II, as political games seem more important to him than obtaining the essential skills to win a conflict and protect our country by using all of the assets this great country has to offer.

In February of 1942, as the U.S. war effort in the Pacific faced a determined enemy, one exceptionally skilled at breaking US military code and learning US military strategy, it seemed as if no code was safe.  Along came Philip Johnston and he approached the Marine Corps with an idea to recruit Navajo American Indians from a California reservation and use the Navajo language on the battlefield as code.  He was confident the enemy would never be able to break the code.  After some internal discussion, the 382nd Platoon of the US Marine Corps was born several months later.  The code was never broken and we know the result. The military tapped the skills of the Navajo, a historically underutilized and overlooked but available asset until that point in the war, and it made a significant difference.

The purpose of MAVNI, Congressman, is to protect the United States by using all assets available to our great country regardless of politics, race, religion, creed, nationality and immigration status. For someone who trumpets national security’s importance so often, why are you standing in the way?

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Borderland Preservation or Destruction?

shutterstock_269393675If you can look past the ugly politics in Arizona, it is truly a beautiful place to live and work. I have resided in Tucson, Arizona, for most of my life and there are times when I’ll be driving, hiking or running in the surrounding wilderness and the scenery is breathtaking. The saguaro cactus, the javelina, the bobcats and the rattlesnakes are some of the unique aspects of the Sonoran Desert ecology.  Sadly, over the past decades this stunning background has been slowly decaying with increased militarization and more border patrol vehicles, drones, surveillance and detection equipment scattering the desert panorama. If the border security bill, S. 750, becomes law—and it just passed out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee–it would further eviscerate the beauty of the millions of acres of federal land in the Yuma and Tucson Border Patrol sectors.

S. 750 (“Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act”) is a bill that was written by Arizona Senator John McCain. In spite of its name, it may very well have the opposite impact on protection and preservation of the desert. It would give 100% access for the “functioning and operational capability to conduct continuous and integrated manned or unmanned, monitoring, sensing, or surveillance” by the U.S. Border Patrol. That includes national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands. This bill permits widespread deployment of communications, routine motorized patrols and surveillance that could encroach upon the sacred tribal lands of the Tohono O’odham and the Pasqua Yaqui.

S. 750 is a bad idea and should be opposed!

Most frightening from an immigration viewpoint is the completely infeasible sealed border that Sen. McCain wants in the bill, a standard that DHS Secretary Johnson says is “unworkable” and that N. Korea and other totalitarian regimes with a shoot to kill practice can’t even achieve. Instead of attempting to pass piecemeal border security bills, Senators McCain and Flake should be re-focusing their immigration-related efforts on trying to rekindle the push for comprehensive and common-sense solutions. The business community is struggling to bring or retain high-skilled workers in the wake of the 2015 H-1B filing debacle where 233,000 applications were filed and more than 2/3rds of these applications (plus the filing fees) are being rejected due to an antiquated quota system. Ultimately, this only hurts our nation’s economy.

The agriculture community has been pressing for their own visa reforms and the need for a modernized guest worker program and potential path to a green card.  The family-based immigration system is a mess and in dire need of changes. Millions of hard-working, deserving undocumented individuals remain in limbo. So, rather than trying to push for a straight border security bill that would ultimately increase the militarization on the border and have a negative impact on the desert environment, I respectfully ask that the two Arizona senators look at the bigger picture as they did in 2013 and avoid the unworkable border-security-above-all approach to reform.

Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Without Good Counsel

shutterstock_271782686On April 21, 2015 – a Harvard University graduate student, Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn,  published a column in the Los Angeles Daily News titled: “How U.S. immigration laws helped tear my family apart.”

Ms. Rodriguez-Lynn is a U.S. citizen and a resident of Southern California; she shares her story, beginning with her marriage to the love of her life, an undocumented Mexican citizen who had crossed over to the U.S. without authorization at age 17.  They had a baby boy and they later moved to Cambridge, MA so she could attend a Harvard graduate program.  She was living the American dream – except that her husband did not have the proper documents.

Wanting to legalize her husband’s immigration status, she eventually filed an Immigrant Petition – Form I-130 – for him that USCIS promptly approved a few months later.  Following a routine process USCIS sent the case to the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez (CDJ), Mexico for final adjudication of the immigrant visa. After receiving a notice for a visa interview, the family travelled cross-country from MA to CA and down to CDJ.  Her dream of living happily ever after with her family was suddenly shattered though when the visa officer informed her husband that he was subject to a lifetime bar due to his previous unauthorized entries to the U.S., a decision which they could not appeal.  That bar has separated her family for over 10 years.

It is no secret that our immigration laws are broken beyond repair.  On Twitter #RepealIIRAIRA should be trending!  However, that is not the point of this blog.

For over 2 years, without any cause, the State Bar of California has been targeting immigration attorneys with allegations of fraud.  State Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D-SD) has made it her mission to “protect” immigrants from attorneys who she claims, without a shred of evidence, are systematically defrauding immigrant communities.  She wants to regulate immigration attorneys more than any other lawyers in the State via AB 1159.  The goal of the law is “to prevent unscrupulous practitioners from taking advantage of immigrants’ hopes and taking money for services they could not perform.”

Noble goal, but unfortunately, immigration attorneys are lumped together with notarios.  Since notarios essentially practice law without a license, the State Bar does not have any sway over them.  Perhaps realizing this fact, the State Bar of California released a goal-oriented outreach campaign which warned the public that per AB 1159 it is illegal for immigration lawyers and consultants to take money for services related to federal immigration reform until Congress acts.

When information like this is disseminated, through the State Bar or the offices of our legislators, it confuses people. If a Harvard graduate student made the mistake of not consulting with an immigration lawyer regarding her husband’s case, perhaps because she did not trust an attorney, then anyone could make the same mistake.

It is unconscionable for our public officials – including some members of Congress – not to acknowledge that immigration laws are some of the most unforgiving in our legal system. They should actively encourage their constituents to consult with qualified immigration attorneys if they have any immigration issues. Perhaps if they admit to the reality that our immigration laws are so complicated that only an immigration lawyer may make sense of them they will find the courage to finally fix the problem so families like Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn’s aren’t separated for life.  #RepealIIRAIRA.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee