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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. Employer Not Obligated to Offer Return Airfare to Discharged H-1B Employee

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) found a consulting company was not obligated to offer or pay a fired H-1B employee’s airfare to India, her home country, because she took no initiative to leave the United States. See Vinayagam v. Cronous Solutions (ARB Case No. 15-045 Feb. 14, 2017).

    Cronous, a consulting company, took several months to place Vinayagam. Eventually, it placed her with another company as a contract worker, where she worked for a few months before Cronous’ contract expired. Several months later, Cronous shut down its business and notified Vinayagam of her termination and her need to immediately leave the United States. Vinayagam stated she needed to be paid all the salary owed for her time she was “benched” (available for employment but not employed) and requested airfare to India. Cronous’ representative said he would check on that matter.

    Thereafter, Cronous sent a letter to the USCIS asking for revocation of its approval of the I-129 petition. Two months later, the USCIS did so. Cronous continued to pay Vinayagam until the revocation was approved.

    Vinayagam continued to reside in the United States for another 1 ½ years seeking other employment and unsuccessfully petitioning for a change of status to B-2 - visitor. She conceded she made no effort to leave the United States.

    Vinayagam filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) on underpayment of wages and a lawsuit in federal court. The parties resolved the lawsuit with Vinayagam receiving $45,000 in back pay for the period of February 2008 to February 2009. Vinayagam asserted at the DOL that she was entitled to back pay continuing until September 28, 2010 because Cronous did not offer or provide payment of return transportation costs upon her discharge.

    As most readers know, normally an employer who discharges an H-1B employee must offer to pay the employee’s airfare to his/her home country. Other conditions which employers must meet to affect a bona fide termination of an H-1B employee are express termination of employment relationship with the H-1B employee and notification of the USCIS of the termination in order that the I-129 petition can be revoked.

    The ARB determined Cronous had ended its obligation to Vinayagam by paying her wages through February 2009 and notifying her of her termination. It did not need to pay her costs home or offer to do so because Vinayagam voluntarily chose to remain in the United States without a valid visa, sought employment with other employers, and unsuccessfully sought to change to a B-2 visa.

    In this case, the employer was successful in not offering return transportation costs based on these particular facts. Your company may not be so lucky if it fails to offer the return transportation costs. Therefore, employers should always offer these return transportation costs when discharging an H-1B employee.
  2. USCIS Issues New I-9 Handbook for Employers

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    On February 14, 2017, the USCIS finally released the new “Handbook for Employers – Guidance for Completing Form I-9” (also referred to as M-274). In a comical note (at least for immigration compliance gurus), the USCIS backdated the handbook with the date of January 22, 2017.

    As you probably know, the M-274 Handbook for Employers is the USCIS’s guidance on how to complete and retain the I-9 form. Additionally, this M-274 handbook captures policy and regulatory changes since 2013, explains guidance regarding automatic extensions for certain Employment Authorization Documents, features more current sample documents, and provides an overview of unlawful discrimination due to citizenship status or national origin, document abuse, and retaliation. (These prohibited practices are not enforced by the USCIS; rather, they are enforced by the Immigrant and Employee Rights (IER) of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, which was formerly entitled Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC)).

    A new M-274 handbook was necessary due to USCIS’s introduction of the new I-9 form (eff. date 11/14/2016), which became mandatory for use for new hires on January 22, 2017. (This date explains the USCIS’s interest in backdating the M-274). As explained in a previous blog entry, the new I-9 form added a number of new features, including: modifying Section 1 to request certain employees to enter either their I-94 number or foreign passport information, rather than both; replacing the “Other Names Used” field in Section 1 with “Other Last Names Used”; requiring “N/A” be entered instead of blanks in certain fields in Section 1; providing a box for employees to check if they did or did not use a preparer or translator; modifying the I-9 form by adding a supplemental third page if using multiple preparers and/or translators; and adding an area in Section 2 to enter additional necessary information, such as for TPS extensions, OPT STEM extensions and H-1B portability. The new M-274 handbook offers guidance on how to utilize the new features of the I-9 form.

    The 64-page handbook is an important tool for Human Resource employees, who handle I-9 compliance, as well as immigrant attorneys, who want the latest guidance from the USCIS. Many of its explanations are repetitive from the instructions that accompany the I-9 form or information available on I-9 Central – an Internet-based website that answers many I-9 related questions. However, the M-274 handbook is a convenient go-to document that answers many questions.

    I recommend all individuals involved in I-9 compliance read the new handbook. For non-immigration compliance gurus, the reading of the handbook may be the answer for insomnia.
  3. Attorney and Spouse Sentenced to 2 Years Probation for Visa Fraud

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    After pleading guilty to fraud in relation to H-1B visas, New York immigration lawyer Loreto Kudera, and his wife, Hazel Kudera, the owner of several medical staffing agencies, were sentenced to two years probation and fined $25,000 each. Previously, they had forfeited $1 million.

    Hazel Kudera owned multiple staffing agencies in New York that specialized in providing nurses to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. According to the government, Hazel and Loreto Kudera submitted at least 100 fraudulent applications to authorities, and profited from filing fees collected from the nurses and from the health care facilities that paid Hazel Kudera’s staffing agencies.

    Hazel and Loreto Kudera falsely stated that the foreign nurses would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when in actuality they were going to work as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or registered nurses (RNs) at much lower rates of pay.

    As part of the alleged scam, Hazel Kudera falsified a staffing agreement between NYC Healthcare Staffing and Dewitt Rehabilitation listing job positions that did not exist, such as clinical coordinator and health care quality assurance manager, in order to cover up the false job titles she provided to USICS.
  4. Attorney Pleads Guilty To Falsifying Visa Documents for H-1B Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    A Virginia attorney, Sunila Dutt, pled guilty in a New Jersey federal court to criminal charges for submitting false documents to USCIS and Department of Labor and obstructing an investigation. These acts were part of a scheme to fraudulently obtain H-1B visas for foreign workers of two information technology companies, SCM Data Inc. and MMC Systems Inc.

    SCM Data and MMC Systems conspired with Dutt to falsify paperwork submitted to the federal government that stated the workers had full-time “in house” positions with the companies. In fact, SCM Data and MMC Systems would only pay the foreign IT consultants after placing them in roles working for third-party clients. Dutt also provided fabricated employment documents to the DOL after it started an audit of both companies. Furthermore, Dutt advised one of the foreign workers to lie to the USCIS about living arrangements to extend visa status.

    Dutt will be sentenced in February 2017 at which time he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
  5. New I-9 Form, effective January 22, 2017

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    On November 14, 2016, the USCIS finally issued the new I-9 form, effective January 22, 2017. The current I-9 form continues to be in effect; however, during the interim period before January 22, 2017, an employer may use either the current 2013 version or the 2017 version. The new I-9 form has an expiration date of August 31, 2019.

    The most significant change is to make the downloadable I-9 form into a “smart” form. What does a “smart” form mean? It is not an electronic I-9 form. The downloadable I-9 form, using an Adobe reader, has been enhanced with error checking which is designed to prevent the most common mistakes. An example is if you fail to fully complete section 1 of the I-9 form, you will receive an alert that you did not enter data into all of the required fields.

    Employers filling out the smart I-9 version must still print the form, obtain signatures, monitor reverifications and updates. Second, if you use the smart form and make a mistake, your company will be held to the same standard of review when faced with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inspection.

    With the addition of the “smart” form, there are three types of I-9 forms: paper, “smart”, and electronic.
    Some of the other changes are:
    (1) Replacing the “Other Names Used” field in Section 1 with “Other Last Names Used.” This will avoid employees writing their nicknames in this field;

    (2) Modifying Section 1 to request certain employees to enter either their I-94 number or foreign passport information, rather than both;

    (3) Requiring you designate whether the employee’s number is an Alien (A) number or USCIS number, if using the smart form (however the numbers are the same though the more recent green cards refer to the number as USCIS);

    (4) Requiring “N/A” be entered instead of blanks in certain fields;

    (5) Replacing the word “date” to “today’s date”, next to signature boxes (this may help some people from entering their birthdate or from backdating the signature);

    (6) Providing a box for employees to check if they did not use a preparer or translator;

    (7) Modifying the I-9 form by adding a supplemental third page if using multiple preparers and/or translators;

    (8) Adding an area in Section 2 to enter additional information for TPS extensions, OPT STEM extensions and H-1B portability to avoid having to note this information in the margins of the I-9 form; and

    (9) Increasing the pages of instructions from 6 to 15.

    Although most of the changes may not appear significant, I would advise employers to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney as to compliance with the new I-9 form.
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