Just In from New Zealand, a New Way to Beat Immigration Laws

By David North on May 24, 2010

There are lots of ways to use money to beat the immigration laws; some are blessed by Congress (as in investor visas), others are out-right criminal bribery.

I thought I could count all the ways to outwit the system, but learned of a new one (at least new to me) while reading the most recent edition of CIS' e-news roundup, CISNEWS.

The story caught my eye because it was from New Zealand, where I had spent a lovely year as an alien decades ago (I had a Fulbright) and it was in the Auckland paper, the New Zealand Herald, for which I had written a couple of op-ed pieces.

The mechanics are these: migrants to N.Z., there on temporary work visas "...are entering agreements with employers to pay their own taxes and wages in order to obtain New Zealand permanent residence, and the 'scheme' has its own name - PYO (pay your own)."

More specifically, according to the Herald, the migrant gives the employer a large sum of money, the employer uses part of it to pay New Zealand's hefty payroll taxes, and returns the rest to the worker, thus getting the alien's labor for free. Later the employer certifies that he has paid the worker and the worker gets to convert the earlier temporary work visa into permanent resident status.

It is, of course, totally illegal and harshly exploitative of the worker, but the employer gets free labor for a while (how long was not reported), and the worker gets a document allowing life-long residence in a lovely, prosperous little nation at the edge of the South Pacific.

I had not yet developed a strong interest in immigration policy when I was there half a century ago – I was studying government regulation of campaign finances – but I did notice some immigration matters. It was ten years after WW II and both Australia and New Zealand were busily promoting immigration from Europe, on the grounds that their own countries were pretty empty, considering the huge populations of the Far East (i.e., their Near North).

I was in Wellington, the capital and a port city, and lived in an apartment overlooking the harbor. The other Fulbrights and I paid attention to the ships in the harbor, and every so often we would see the "Dutch Ship," which had been chartered by the government to bring immigrants from Holland. While the newly-arrived Dutch stirred little comment from the resident population, virtually all of whom came from British or Irish stock, the government's decision to go so far as to subsidize the immigration of Italians and Greeks raised a few ethnocentric eyebrows at the time.

There was virtually no migration from Asia or Africa in those days.

Getting back to U.S. immigration matters, I find it inconceivable that the New Zealand ploy is not happening in the U.S., where there are hundreds of thousands of nonimmigrants working for employers whom they hope will facilitate a green card for them some day. Maybe it is a frequent occurrence and I just do not know about it. Unless the alien involved complained about it – which would put the alien's green card in danger – it would be hard to detect by the over-worked, and not-always-terribly-curious, USCIS. (If any readers know of such practices, I would love to hear about them at [email protected] .)

Our government does detect a more obvious, related tactic from time to time; this is when a nonimmigrant holding an L or H-1B visa, creates his or her own modest corporation, and then uses that business to petition for a green card for the owner-employer, in what might be called the "I-am-my-own-grandpa" maneuver.

Readers of the decisions of the DHS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) see these cases semi-exposed occasionally. I say "semi-exposed" because that quasi-judicial agency, unlike the federal court system, routinely blocks out the names of the aliens, their employers, and even the employers' lawyer when it publishes the decisions. (That must be a boon to the lawyers who lose AAO cases.)

For example, there was a tiny language school, masquerading as a multi-national corporation, which had used the L-visa to bring the alien involved to the U.S. When he – who was the owner and probably the sole employee – sought to convert that visa to a green card, he used the same corporate structure, but this time USCIS caught him in the act, denied him a petition; he appealed, and AAO confirmed the denial.

The appeals agency could not determine, for instance, whether or not anyone else worked for the language school; in other words, there did not seem to be anyone for this alleged multi-national corporate manager to manage. For the text of the decision see here.

In a somewhat similar case, involving a small tour operator in North Carolina, the AAO ruled similarly, finding: "...the beneficiary [i.e., the alien] to be a majority owner of the petitioning entity and concluded that in light of this ownership interest, the petitioner does not have the requisite employer/employee relationship with the beneficiary." In other words, he was caught posing as his own grandfather.

These American cases, while just as illegal as the New Zealand ones, do not involve the alien's sacrifice of wages. The language teacher and the tour operator presumably pocketed whatever fees they secured in their enterprises.