Iraqi SIV Program Extended, But End in Sight

January 16, 2014

In the wake of much anxiety late last year over the future of the Iraqi SIV program, Congress has officially extended it, giving hope to those whose cases have been pending for months or years awaiting final visa approval. The end of the program, however, is now in sight.

When Congress extended the program at the end of 2013, it set key parameters, signaling the impending end. In particular, it limited the number of visas that will be issued to 2,500. Once that number is reached, no more will be issued. Congress did not set a deadline for issuing the visas.

In addition, it limited the qualifying work period to September 30, 2013, meaning to qualify for the SIV, the applicant must have worked for or on behalf of the US government for more than one year between March 20, 2003 and September 30, 2013.

The deadline for applying for a Chief of Mission approval for the SIV (the first approval phase), is September 30, 2014.

The U.S. refugee program through IOM remains available to Iraqis.

Below is the announcement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad regarding the extension. For more information about the extension and the eligibility criteria for the program, click here: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html

The Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program benefiting individuals who have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government has been extended through passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014.

The NDAA authorizes the issuance of 2,500 immigrant visas after January 1, 2014 to qualified principal applicants.

The NDAA does not include a date by which these visas must be issued, so consular officers have the authority to issue visas under this program until all 2,500 numbers have been used worldwide.  The Iraqi SIV program will end after all visas have been issued.

Under this legislation, the one-year period during which principal applicants must have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq begins on or after March 20, 2003, and ends on or before September 30, 2013.The legislation includes a requirement that the principal applicant must apply for Chief of Mission approval no later than September 30, 2014.

Those applicants with cases pending do not need to re-file.  If your petition has been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), we encourage you to provide all requested documents to the National Visa Center (NVC) immediately so that your visa interview can be scheduled promptly.

Derivative family members (i.e., spouses, children) of principal applicants who were issued SIVs prior to December 31, 2013 can still be issued after December 31, 2013.

Applicants are advised to check their email accounts and consult our website (http://iraq.usembassy.gov/) regularly for the most recent information regarding the SIV program.

The separate U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis remains an option, as the eligibility criteria are very similar to those of the SIV program.  For more information on USRAP, please visit http://iraq.usembassy.gov/refugeesidpaffairs.html.

If you want to know whether you qualify for the SIV program or have other options to immigrate to the United States, please contact our office at atty@vkvlaw.com or call 202-340-1215.


Iraqi SIV Applicants Face Longer Path To Green Card Due to More Security and Background Checks

July 22, 2011

Iraqi SIV applicants can expect even longer delays in processing due to a more extensive background check process out of concerns for U.S. national security.

The end of the long road to a green card used to be the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy, the background checks having been done before this stage.

Now, under a new policy, background checks are done again at the time of the interview to ensure no new negative information about the applicant has surfaced.

These delays are also occurring with Iraqi SIV applicants who are already in the United States and applying to adjust their status there. [The SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) is available to eligible Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for more than a year since March 20, 2003 and have experienced an ongoing serious threat because of that work.]

Our clients began experiencing these delays late last year. These delays can last weeks or months, or worse, years. There is no way of knowing when the person will be cleared and there is almost no way to rush the process.

For the Iraqis already in the United States, the delays are an inconvenience since most are in another valid status. For the Iraqis oversees, and in particular those still in Iraq, however, the delay puts their lives more at risk, thereby undermining the purpose of the SIV. Knowing a long wait exists may also be a deterrant for those seeking legal immigration, provoking  into attempting illegal migration to the United States or elsewhere.

We wish something could be done to speed up this clearance process, but there is little to do but wait at this point. Eventually, after an excessive wait –  normally excessive in the immigration context is years, not months – litigation may be an option.

The trigger for the revised and enhanced background check process was the arrest in the United States of an Iraqi who was admitted as an asylee despite being accused of planting roadside bombs in Iraq, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, more than 58,000 Iraqi asylees and refugees already in the United States will be re-screened, according to the Los Angeles Times article. In addition, those applying for asylee, refugee or SIV status will be subjected to a multi-step background check that due to the work overload on the agencies involved in this process inevitably will delay their application process

The following is an excerpt from an USCIS report on Iraqi refugee statistics that explains the revised background check posture.

Ensuring Security

We are committed to conducting the most rigorous screening in order to ensure that those being admitted through the refugee program are not seeking to harm the United States. In May 2007, DHS announced and implemented an Administration-coordinated, enhanced background and security check process for Iraqi refugees applying for resettlement in the United States. The security check regime, including both biographic and biometric checks, has been enhanced periodically over the last several years as new opportunities and interagency partnerships with the law enforcement and intelligence communities have been identified.

These enhancements are a reflection of the commitment of DHS and other agencies to conduct the most thorough checks possible to prevent dangerous individuals from gaining access to the United States through the refugee program. The latest enhancement to the refugee security check regime involves a new “pre-departure” check shortly before refugees are scheduled to travel to the U.S. It is intended to identify whether any new derogatory information exists since the initial checks were conducted. These pre-departure checks went into effect in late 2010. No case is finally approved until results from all security checks have been received and analyzed.


Why PG County Schools’ Wage Violations May Throw Its H-1B Teachers Out of the US

July 17, 2011

In the wake of Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) settlement agreement involving H-1B wage violations, questions have been raised about the unfair affect this is having on the victims, the teachers who will be forced to leave their jobs and the United States once their H-1B time runs out.

As part of the settlement agreement, PG County schools are barred from filing H-1B and other employment-based petitions for two years, including extensions of existing H-1B workers. Once their H-1B time with PGCPS expires, these teachers will be out of a job and have to leave the United States unless they find another employer or other visa status.

It’s true. It’s not fair. The reason lies in the purpose of the visa regulations. H-1B and associated employment-based immigrant visa regulations, which include those of the Department of Labor and USCIS, were not created for the benefit of the foreign workers. Rather, the regulations were created for U.S. employers. These regulations enable U.S. employers to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled because insufficient numbers of qualified American workers (or other authorized workers) exist.

To prevent employers from using these regulations to undercut American workers, the regulations impose numerous obligations on employers. For H-1Bs, for example, the regulations set minimum wage requirements for each job based on the profession and location (known as the prevailing wage) and prohibiting benching (the worker must be paid the required wage even if the employer has no project or work to be done).  By imposing these obligations, the employer is discouraged from seeking foreign workers who it might be able to pay less for doing the job. These obligations also protect the foreign worker from exploitation, but is not their only purpose.

The process of obtaining an H-1B and associated green card has become sufficiently complicated, expensive and lengthy that it also serves as a de facto discouragement against hiring foreign workers.

With this in mind, the regulations impose penalties designed to punish the employer, such as fines and being barred from participating in the visa programs. They do not focus on remedies for the foreign worker. In the case of the PG County teachers, they are to be reimbursed the money they paid, but this order is less about refunding the teachers their wrongfully paid sums, and more about preventing the employer from benefitting from its violations, which it would if it were allowed to retain the money paid by the teachers.

As to the victimized teachers, the system is not concerned with their re-employment once their H-1B with the school expires. The H-1B visa is market driven, so the system lets the market decide their fate. Once their H-1B with PG County expires, the teachers can stay in the United States if they can find another employer or obtain some other visa status (e.g. student visa, marriage visa, etc.). From the system’s perspective, if the teacher does not find another H-1B employer, for example, then that must mean sufficient numbers of American workers exist, so a foreign worker is not needed to fill the job and must return home.

To prevent this unfair outcome, a change in the focus of immigration policy must happen. When the policy changes, the regulations will follow. If U.S. immigration policy concerns you, you can advocate for change by contacting Congress or volunteering to help immigration advocacy organizations, such as the American Immigration Council.

If your employer required you to pay for your H-1B fees or you have been benched or underpaid, you may have remedies available and should seek advice from a competent atttorney.

For more information about legal services we provide to H-1B employees with wage claims, please see our blog we co-author with Attorney Michael Brown here.


MD County’s Public Schools Barred from H-1B program and Fined for Wage Violations

July 15, 2011

In a settlement agreement signed this month in connection with H-1B wage violations, Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system must reimburse more than 1000 teachers $4.2 million in H-1B application fees and pay a $100,000 fine. The Department of Labor and USCIS have also barred the school system from filing applications for work visas for two years.

In April, the Department of Labor investigated PGCPS’ practice of requiring foreign teachers to pay their H-1B applications fees and found it to be a willful violation of the H-1B regulations prompting the fine and debarment. The investigation covered applications filed between May 2005 and January 2011, which amounts to 1044 teachers who must be reimbursed a total of $4,224,146.

Initially PGCPS was assessed $1,740,000 in civil penalties due to the violations, but in the settlement agreement this month that amount was reduced to $100,000 on the condition it not file any H-1B or green card applications for the next two years. If it fails to adhere to the condition, PGCPS will be required to pay the higher penalty.

The debarment does not affect active H-1B visas, but when these H-1B periods expire, the school system will not be able to file for extensions, putting these teachers out of work.

DOL and USCIS must be encouraged to continue holding H-1B program violators accountable. If you know of any DOL or USCIS actions against H-1B violators, let us know.

For more information about H-1B wage violations, benching, underpayment, and the rights of H-1B employees, please visit our blog H-1B Legal Rights, which we co-author with Employee Rights Attorney Michael Brown of Peterson, Berk & Cross.


Feds Cracking Down with Criminal Convictions against Employers for H-1B and Work Visa Fraud

May 19, 2011

H-1B and other employers who run work visa scams have more to fear than just the Department of Labor for their violations. These employers increasingly are facing criminal convictions and imprisonment on charges typically used against organized crime and trafficking rings, such as the Mafia.

In the past several months, federal prosecutors have publicized several cases against employers who were convicted under trafficking and criminal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) laws for procuring and exploiting foreign workers through visa fraud.

Of note, in March 2011, federal prosecutors in New Jersey reported that the owner of a tech staffing company was sentenced to six months in prison, fined $50,000 and ordered to forfeit an additional $296,921.82 for money laundering in connection with trafficking in immigration documents used to obtain H-1B visas and green cards for Indian workers. Six immigrant employees who paid the employer for the fake visas pleaded guilty and were placed on supervised probation, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

The owner, Nilesh Dasondi, pleaded guilty to submitting employment-based visa applications for unqualified and ineligible foreign workers for jobs that did not exist at his company, formerly  Cygate Software & Consulting, now Sterling System LLC. When the workers arrived in the United States, the employer told them to go find jobs elsewhere. The employer then ran fake payrolls for these employees to make it look like they were working for the company. As part of the scam, the employees had to reimburse the employee for this payroll and related expenses, DOJ said.

In April, two other staffing company owners  in Iowa were convicted of H-1B visa fraud and sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to forfeit more than $ 1 million in proceeds. Fazal Mehmood and Viheet Maheshwari, who ran Worldwide Software Services and Sana Systems, plead guilty to applying for H-1B visas for foreign workers that contained false statements about their jobs and work locations typical of body shop scams, according to DOJ. For example, they told the government that employees would be working as programmers and analysts, but those jobs did not exist.

In an unrelated case, eight co-workers of  several connected Missouri and Kansas staffing companies that provided labor to the service and construction industries nationwide were similarly convicted of human trafficking and RICO charges for securing visas for illegal workers, DOJ said. The employers exploited the workers by threatening deportation if they complained about the working conditions that amounted to indentured servitude. They were forced to live in crowded apartments for which they were charged exorbitant rents, they worked but were not paid for overtime, and numerous “fees” were deducted from their paychecks resulting in negative earnings ensuring their “debt” to the employer could never be paid.

The Department of State has launched a public education campaign to combat exploitation and trafficking of foreign workers. More information on this resource is available in our blog article Handy Government Guide to Employee Rights; Download and Keep It With You.

If you believe the visa application your employer submitted for your visa may have contained false statements, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

For more information about legal services for H-1B employees who suspect they have been victims of employer fraud, please visit our co-authored H-1B Legal Rights blog, blog page here.


H-1B Cap Hit for FY 2010

December 26, 2009

USCIS announced it has received sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 for fiscal year 2010. 

December 21, 2009 is the cut-off date, or “final receipt date,” for new H-1B petitions requesting employment for the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2009.

USCIS has also received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the “advanced degree” exemption. 

Properly filed cases will be considered received on the date that USCIS physically receives the petition; not the date that the petition was postmarked.  USCIS will reject cap-subject petitions for new H-1B specialty occupation workers seeking an employment start date in FY 2010 that arrive after Dec. 21, 2009.

For all petitions that are subject to the cap and were received on Dec. 21, 2009, USCIS will use a computer-generated random selection process. USCIS will use this process to select petitions needed to meet the cap. USCIS will reject, and return the fee, for all cap-subject petitions not randomly selected.

Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap will not be counted towards the congressionally mandated FY 2010 H-1B cap. Therefore, USCIS will continue to process petitions filed to:

•           Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States. 

•           Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers. 

•           Allow current H-1B workers to change employers. 

•           Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.


EB-5 Regional Center Program Extended Three Years to Sept. 30, 2012

October 31, 2009

President Obama has signed a law extending the EB-5 Regional Center program for investor visas through Sept. 30, 2012.

 The  FY10 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill (P.L.111-83) did not include the Senate’s proposed amendment to make the EB-5 Regional Center program permanent. This proposed amendment was rejected Oct. 13, 2009 in a conference report issued by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The law also extends the non-minister religious worker (section 568), the “Conrad 30″ (section 568), and the E-Verify (section 547) programs through September 30, 2012.

It also grants USCIS the authority to complete processing of permanent residence applications for surviving spouses and other relatives of immigration sponsors who die during the adjudication process (section 568).

The bill was previously approved by the House of Representatives on 10/15/09 by a 307-114 roll call vote, and by the Senate on 10/20/09 by a 79-19 vote.


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