USCIS Starting to Do the Right Thing on H-1B? Some Promising Signs

By David North on February 24, 2010

Sometimes it is hard to tell the significance of a government document just by reading it.

Sometimes the true impact becomes clear only when the activists speak out. A case in point: the recent USCIS announcement regarding employer-employee relationships in the H-1B program.

When I first read the USCIS document with the eye-glazing title "Questions & Answers: USCIS Issues Guidance Memorandum on Establishing the 'Employee-Employer Relationship' in H-1B Petitions," I was not particularly intrigued. The first question and answer confirmed my eyes' initial reaction:

"Q: Does this memorandum change any of the requirements to establish eligibility for an H-1B petition?

A: No. ..."

But shortly thereafter the H-1B cheerleaders in the immigration bar started reacting.

At first, the reaction was pretty calm. Kate Kalmykov, with the New York and Philadelphia Klasko law firm, blogged:

...If the H-1B worker will be employed at a "job shop"/third-party worksite where they will report to a manager of that third-party company and the petitioner will not retain control over the beneficiary's [i.e., the H-1B's] work, the petition will be denied.

That, of course, is the point of the exercise; the new guidance continues to make it easy for employers to import H-1Bs to work at their own firms, but raises questions when the petitioning employers farm out their H-1Bs to other firms.

Soon the inspectors working at least two airports got the message from headquarters; apparently sensing a geographical disconnect among the airport used, the location of the petitioner, and the actual jobsite, they denied admission to some arriving H-1Bs. Here's a report from a clearly upset immigration lawyer, Matthew Morse, that appeared in Immigration Daily:

In some recent cases US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspecting officers have separated H-1B visa holders from other non-immigrants applying for admission into the United States on arriving at a port entry. Several of these H-1B visa holders were denied admission by CBP inspecting officers and placed on an aircraft to be returned to their home countries. Unfortunately, some of these H-1B visa holders were placed in expedited removal by CBP inspecting officers, rather than being permitted to withdraw their applications for admission, which resulted in these individuals potentially being barred from re-entering the United States for a five-year period. Such treatment has been reported at John F Kennedy International Airport, New York and Newark International Airport, New Jersey.

This treatment of H-1B visa holders by CBP inspecting officers may be the result of a memorandum issued on January 8, 2010 by Donald Neufeld of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Then, on February 18, the USCIS Office of Public Engagement held one of its "collaboration sessions" on the subject in Washington. I was not there, but a friend was, and he told me that Bruce Morrison, the former chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee (D-CT), was the first to speak. He told the gathering that he wrote the H-1B law. He was very concerned that the Neufeld memo would threaten what he, Morrison, called the "staffing model" which he claimed had a long and successful history.

By then, the significance of the USCIS memo was pretty clear.

Frankly, anything that limits the flows of H-1Bs into the U.S. labor market, whether they work directly for the petitioning employer or for someone else, is good news. For whatever reason, it looks like USCIS, on this narrow issue, is moving in the right direction.