U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced the upcoming publication of a proposed rule designed to redefine a status known as “public charge” — a category used to determine whether someone seeking permanent resident status is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” for those seeking to immigrate to the United States. This rule was signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on September 21, 2018 and will open for comment on the date of the official version’s publication in the Federal Register. As per past practices, the comment period should last for 60 days from the date of publication.

The 400 page rule expands greatly on how the government proposes to enforce a determination that a foreign national who is seeking a U.S. immigration benefit is or is likely to become a “Public Charge”, which means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Specifically, under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to that of an individual lawfully admitted for permanent residence (green card) is inadmissible if the individual, “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.” Public charge does not apply in naturalization proceedings. If an individual is inadmissible, admission to the United States or adjustment of status is not granted. (Note that there are many exceptions in which a public charge finding would not apply, including but not limited to: Refugees and Asylees, those who are victims of violence (VAWA), Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applicants, Amerasians, Afghan/Iraqi interpreters or U.S. Government employees, Cuban Adjustment Act applicants, NACARA applicants, etc.)

Currently, there is no formal definition of a public charge, but DHS states that “A number of factors must be considered when making a determination that a person is likely to become a public charge”. The proposed new rule would define a public charge as “an alien who receives one or more public benefits.” In the past, people have been at risk of being defined a “public charge” if they took cash welfare — known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Supplemental Security Income — or federal help paying for long-term care. (Immigrants must be in the country legally for five years before being eligible for TANF or SSI.) The new rule would expand the list to include some health insurance, food and housing programs. Specifically, it would penalize green-card applicants for using Medicaid under certain conditions, using food stamps, Section 8 rental assistance, federal housing vouchers and even enrollment in a Medicare Part D program subsidy.

Specifically, pages 95-96 of the proposed Rule lists the following that would be considered Public Benefits:
· Monetizable benefits: – Any Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, including: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Federal, State or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” in the State context, but which may exist under other names);
– Benefits that can be monetized in accordance with proposed 8 CFR 212.24:
· Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or formerly called “Food Stamps”),
· Public housing defined as Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program;
· Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation); and
· Non-cash benefits that cannot be monetized:
– Many Benefits paid for by Medicaid;
– Premium and Cost Sharing Subsidies for Medicare Part D; Benefits provided for institutionalization for long-term care at government expense;
– Subsidized Housing under the Housing Act of 1937.

While public charge is an old idea dating back to the 1990s, the proposed changes are unprecedented. Including programs like Medicaid and food stamps, which are much wider in scope, is a significant change.

In the past, DHS has been forgiving regarding the issuance of immigration benefits if someone had obtained government benefits in the past, so long the individual can prove that he or she is not likely to become a public charge in the future. Under the proposed rule as currently envisioned, it is clear that DHS will not be forgiving now looking at multiple factors including age, health, and past employment history, and, most importantly, receipt of past public benefits.

If implemented as contemplated, DHS will look back within a 36 month period of receipt of government benefits in making their decision on admissibility. Immigrants are encouraged to reexamine any currently public benefits that he/she is currently receiving to determine whether in the upcoming months it will be necessary to drop-out of these public benefit programs once the new public charge rule formally goes into effect.

DHS estimates that 2.5 percent of eligible immigrants would drop out of public benefits programs because of this change — which would tally about $1.5 billion worth of federal money per year, but others expect a much larger impact, including a chilling effect on the use of routine health benefits, particularly for children. In the proposed rule, DHS itself notes that the changes could result in “worse health outcomes,” “increased use of emergency rooms,” “increased prevalence of communicable diseases,” “increased rates of poverty” and other concerns.

Fear of being deemed a public charge and being unable to attain lawful permanent residency, and ultimately U.S. Citizenship will necessarily result in a detriment to low-income immigrant populations and eventually, the separation of families.

This is an early step in the complex federal rule-making process and many things could still change. Once the proposed rule appears in the Federal Register, it opens a 60-day public comment period allowing members of the public to provide input. As such, a final rule is unlikely to take effect before 2019.

We recommend that any immigrant, regardless of immigration status, who has previously received a public assistance benefit in the past for themselves, or immediate family members, should contact an immigration attorney for evaluation of their case.

Fox Rothschild immigration attorney, Kristen Schneck will be speaking on this topic as a panelist on Oct 24th, at the DHS Advisory Committee meeting to be held in Pittsburgh hosted by the Allegheny Dept. of Human Services.

Fox Rothschild will continue to monitor and report on activity regarding these rule making efforts. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts with more details and updated regarding the Public Charge proposed rule. As always, please refer to ImmigrationView for the latest information on topics of importance in the immigration law practice.
For questions or more information about this alert, please contact Mark Harley at (412) 391-2418 or mharley@foxrothschild.com, Alka Bahal at (973) 994-7800 or abahal@foxrothschild.com or any member of the firm’s Immigration Practice

 

 

The President recently suggested that due process does not apply to immigrants coming to the United States of America. The 14th Amendment states that: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The language of “any person” has been well-established to include not only United States Citizens but also immigrants, including those here with documentation and those without proper documents.

The U.S. Supreme Court most recently addressed this topic when the Court ruled in Zadvydas v. Davis (2001) that “due process” of the 14th Amendment applies to all aliens in the United States whose presence may be or is “unlawful, involuntary or transitory.” This built upon previous Supreme Court cases such as Plyler v. Doe (1982), Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), and Wong Win v. United States (1896), all which establish precedent that due process is applicable every person in the United States and not just to U.S. Citizens.

Plyler v. Doe held that a Texas statute withholding state funds from local school districts for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States, and authorizing local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Wong Win v. United States held that the United States must provide for a judicial trial to establish guilt before subjecting aliens to infamous punishment at hard labor, or by confiscating their property.

Yick Wo v. Hopkins held that the guarantees of protection contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution extend to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, without regard to differences of race, color, or nationality.

Immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are entitled to Due Process under the United States Constitution.

If you are an immigrant (or anyone) and you encounter any government official, you have the right to remain silent and can refuse the search of yourself, your car or your residence. You have the right to leave if you are not under arrest and any government agent cannot enter your property without a warrant. You have the right to an attorney.

The recent rhetoric of the President does not negate the United States Constitution or hundreds of years of case law.

Asplundh Tree Expert Co., one of the largest privately owned corporations in the country, with 30,000 employees and 3.5 billion in annual sales, according to Forbes, has been ordered to pay $95 million in the largest fine against a company for hiring thousands of immigrants who did not have permission to work in the U.S., according to federal officials. Asplundh, a 90-year-old, family-owned company that employs 30,000 workers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, clears brush and vegetation from electric and gas lines and holds many municipal, state, and federal contacts.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia, Asplundh employed thousands of undocumented workers between the years of 2010 and 2014 with its top management remaining “willfully blind” while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States,” the office said. In addition to having to forfeit $80 million, Asplundh will pay a $15 million civil penalty for not complying with immigration law. Asplundh employed thousands of undocumented workers between 2010 and 2014 with its top management remaining “willfully blind” while lower-level supervisors hired people they knew were in the country illegally to maximize profit.

Homeland Security Investigations began auditing Asplundh Tree Experts on Nov. 19, 2009 to make sure the company complied with federal laws regarding the hiring of immigrants. After being given a list of names, Asplundh fired hundreds of its employees who were ineligible to work in the U.S. Others quit before they could be terminated. After acting like it was complying with HSI demands, Asplundh instead doubled down on its illegal practices, according to federal authorities. Many of the some employees Asplundh had just let go were re-hired under different names using fake or illegally obtained documents. One of its regional managers, Larry Gauger, even went so far as to tell supervisors who worked under him that they had “plausible deniability” because their illegally obtained social security numbers would be positive matches in the E-verify database, court papers state. Gauger has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

“This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit,” prosecutors said in a statement. “With a motivated workforce, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather-related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market.”

ICE issued a statement on 9/28/2017, “Today marks the end of a lengthy investigation by ICE Homeland Security Investigations into hiring violations committed by the highest levels of Asplundh’s organization,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan. “Today’s judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable. Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet.”

In a statement on its website, Asplundh said company officials “accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred.” Asplundh went on to say that is reviewing the identification of every employee and is adding a photo ID card system which includes the same facial recognition software used by ICE. The company is also adding a compliance specialist trained in ID examination in each region it does business.

Employers should remain alert and vigilant in their I-9 compliance practices. The Asplundh investigation is a lesson in compliance, demonstrating that liability exists not only in the evidence apparent in the paperwork, but also in an employer’s procedures, policies, and practices. An ICE investigation can be triggered from any number of sources, from an enforcement initiative within Homeland Security Investigations to a tip from an individual to the exchange of data between government agencies (SSA, IRS, DOL, etc.). An ICE investigation can result in more than just financial losses due to monetary penalties. These types of investigations, which can often carry on for years, result in the loss of workers and damage to company reputations and image, affecting relationships with customers and the public in general. Our recommendation on best practices is for employers to be prepared by performing private internal audits before ICE comes knocking.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

Statue of Liberty
Copyright: dvrcan / 123RF Stock Photo

On our Emerging Companies Insider blog, Fox associate Alex Radus provided an update on the new International Entrepreneur Rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The rule, which would grant limited entrée to entrepreneurs establishing stateside startups, has undergone a public comment period. Slated to become effective July 17, 2017, the rule would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to offer parole (temporary permission to be in the U.S.) to individuals whose businesses provide “significant public benefit.” That means the startup should have a substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation, and that the entrepreneur’s parole would significantly help the startup conduct and grow its business in the U.S. As a result of public comments, USCIS generally made it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to establish startup companies in the U.S. via the program.

Alex outlines the changes made in the final rule since his previous discussion, including the timeframe for startup formation, the definition of “entrepreneur,” the minimum investment amount and other aspects. He also notes that with the change to the Trump administration, the future of the role, which was spearheaded by former President Obama, is uncertain. He also notes some of the practical concerns surrounding the rule as proposed. We invite you to read his valuable discussion.

Today, January 13, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will expand upon the notice of proposed rulemaking released on January 11, 2017 by publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register, titled ‘EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization,’ addressing a variety of policy issues including Targeted Employment Area (TEA) designation and minimum investment amounts.  Notably, minimum investment amounts may increase from $500,000 to $1.35 million for TEA investments, and from $1 million to $1.8 million for non-TEA investments.

Changes to TEA designation include eliminating the method of designation by which states designate areas of high unemployment, and limiting how census tracts can be aggregated to qualify for high unemployment designation.  These regulatory changes will impact both EB-5 Regional Center projects and EB-5 Direct projects.   The deadline for stakeholders to submit comments on the proposals is April 11, 2017.  EB-5 investors or those interested in pursuing an EB-5 investment opportunity should consider acting quickly.


Ali Brodie is counsel in the Denver and Los Angeles offices of Fox Rothschild LLP.

Statue of Liberty
Copyright: dvrcan / 123RF Stock Photo

On our Emerging Companies Insider blog, Fox associate Alex Radus published an excellent piece covering a proposed new rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The rule would grant limited entrée to entrepreneurs establishing stateside startups. The rule would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to offer parole (temporary permission to be in the U.S.) to individuals whose businesses provide “significant public benefit.” That means the startup should have a substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation, and that the entrepreneur’s parole would significantly help the startup conduct and grow its business in the U.S.

Alex outlines the qualifications that foreign entrepreneurs will have to meet when seeking to benefit from the program, as well as the investor requirements and timespan involved. He also notes some of the practical concerns surrounding the rule as proposed. We invite you to read his valuable discussion and join the debate during the public comment period provided by DHS.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced significant increases in fines for immigration-related paperwork violations, in an interim final rule slated to take effect this fall. Harsher financial penalties come as part of the federal government’s recently-expanded efforts to ensure that employers comply with strict verification, recordkeeping, and document retention requirements, with regard to the Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification).

Fines for employers who commit procedural or substantive errors when completing I-9s will now be set at a maximum of $2,156 per violation, nearly doubling the current maximum penalty of $1,100 per I-9. Additionally, companies found to employ undocumented workers can now expect to pay fines of up to $4,313 for an initial offense and up to $21,563 for each individual violation thereafter. The increased financial penalties will be assessed after August 1, 2016, for employers whose associated I-9 violations occurred after November 2, 2015.

All employers are required by law to review any employee’s original proof of identity and employment eligibility and complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 within three days from the first date of employment. Though a seemingly simple form to complete, the complex requirements of federal immigration laws, intense government scrutiny, and simple human error often lead to considerable financial liability.

Even law-abiding employers who strive to comply with Employment Eligibility Verification rules and do not deliberately hire undocumented workers are subject to government scrutiny and could face steep fines if inspected. Beyond paperwork errors, employers may be fined for failing to retain their I-9s within the mandatory retention period.

Employers are subject to investigation by any number of agencies and investigatory units within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, as well as the Justice Department.

Employers can, however, prevent steep financial liability by having counsel conduct internal audits, and by correcting mistakes on forms, where possible. Employers are also wise to establish a standardized I-9 training program and implement best practices for verification, recordkeeping, and retention, thereby greatly reducing the risk—and the prospective expense—of any future liability.


Scott E. Bettridge, a partner in the firm’s Immigration Practice in Miami, co-authored this post.

In a continuation of its effort to encourage eligible immigrants to become U.S. citizens, the Obama administration is proposing adjustments to the immigration benefit fee schedule that would raise the cost of some benefits but reduce naturalization fees for certain low-income immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its proposed changes to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fee Schedule on May 4, 2016, affecting its fees for services.  The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register (81 FR 26904, 5/4/16) and is open for comment. Comments are due by July 5, 2016. The proposed changes are likely to go into effect this fall.

According to USCIS, it conducted a comprehensive fee review, after refining its cost accounting process, and determined that current fees do not recover the full costs of the services it provides.  Accordingly, it has stated that adjustment to the fee schedule is necessary to fully recover its costs for services and to maintain adequate service levels.  DHS proposes to increase USCIS fees by a weighted average of 21 percent and add one new fee.  In addition, DHS proposes to clarify that persons filing a benefit request may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview and pay the biometrics services fee, and make a number of other changes.  USCIS last adjusted its fee schedule in 2010.

This chart summarizes the proposed changes.  The range of fee changes varies, for example, increasing by $45 for an application for naturalization and by $195 for an application for a fiancé visa. The rules also include a new fee of $3,035 to recover the full cost of processing the Employment Based Immigrant Visa, Fifth Preference (EB-5) Annual Certification of Regional Center, Form I-924A.  In addition, the DHS proposal would clarify that people who apply for a benefit may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview and to pay the biometrics services fee, among other changes

Largely exempt from the increases, however, are low income immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens.  Under the proposed rule, “DHS would charge a reduced fee of $320 for naturalization applicants with family income greater than 150 percent and not more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.”

“DHS is proposing this change to increase access to United States citizenship,” the proposed rule explains.  The allowance effectively cuts in half the current cost of naturalization — $680, including the $85 biometric fee for these individuals while seeking an additional $45 increase in the cost of naturalization applications for those immigrants who can afford it.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), who has been promoting naturalization and voter registration across the country as a means for immigrants to “Stand Up to Hate,” cheered the rule.  “Right now, a lot of immigrants face a difficult choice: pay $700 or so for the chance to take all the tests and apply for citizenship, or pay $450 to renew a green-card for five years,” Gutiérrez said in a statement.

“Now, the math is much better,” he continued. “You can apply for citizenship and a fee waiver and become an American citizen – with all the rights, duties and honor of citizenship – for a more attainable price or maybe even for free.  The new calculation is going to mean that millions of those who are already eligible can finally take the step and apply for citizenship.”

Applicants can apply for a fee waiver if their income is below or 150 percent of the poverty line, they are receiving a means-tested benefit, or they are experiencing “financial hardship.”

In recent years the Obama administration has put an emphasis on encouraging the estimated 8.8 million eligible legal permanent residents in the U.S. to naturalize and become citizens. Immigration activists, like Gutiérrez, have also embarked on campaigns to help immigrants naturalize and register to vote in a bid to influence the upcoming 2016 election.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

Congress in 2015 tried to tackle new EB-5 reform legislation, but instead chose to extend the program without any changes until September 30, 2016. This was a result of an impasse on issues relating to increase in the capital threshold amount and the change in the metrics used to determine what is a (“TEA”) targeted employment area. The contentious debate on these issues provided both developers and regional centers one more year of status quo in the program.

What will happen this year is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that Congress is holding hearings on EB-5 reform. These hearings provide the opportunity for individuals in the EB-5 industry to voice their opinion as to the future of the program.

On Wednesday April 13th 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its second hearing of 2016 on the EB-5 Program titled, The Distortion of EB-5 Targeted Employment Areas: Time to End the Abuse.  The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from several witnesses including the Executive Director of IIUSA, Peter Joseph.  IIUSA is the national non-profit trade association representing EB-5 developers, regional centers and other professionals that are in the EB-5 space. Peter Joseph in his testimony pointed to several critical issues that the Committee should consider in the long term reauthorization of the EB-5 legislation. Those issues include:

  • Increase visa capacity to enhance economic impact of EB-5 and address the backlog of

investors currently waiting for visas to be available.

  • Staff commercially viable processing system at USCIS that addresses existing backlogs

and prioritizes predictability and length of processing times for EB-5 related petitions and

applications.

  • Avoid retroactive application of new law and reform to protect the existing EB-5

investors and their families and the billions of dollars in financial commitments and

contractual obligations.

  • Ensure all EB-5 investors with petitions currently filed, or at a later stage in the EB-5

process, are guaranteed adjudication (not approval) and eligibility for immigration

benefits throughout the entire EB-5 process (I-526 petition, EB-5 visa issuance, and I-829 petition)

regardless of future reforms, lapses, or expiration of the program.

  • Continue to allow economic impact models including indirect/induced job creation to

count for EB-5 purposes (using the same econometric models that are generally accepted

as economic policymaking tools by government, academia, and business).

  • Improve program integrity, including through enhanced oversight and reporting

requirements of Regional Centers that are not unduly burdensome, such as site visits

funded by user fees.

  • Clarify geographic (including targeted employment areas (TEAs)), structural, and

industry project characteristics that enable consistent adjudication of EB-5 petitions and

applications.

The issues that Peter Joseph mentioned in his testimony on Capitol Hill clearly mirror the position that most in the EB-5 industry have taken on EB-5 reform. The program has been largely a success with a substantial amount of foreign capital being invested in job creating projects in the United States. Everyone in the EB-5 space would like to see an extension of the EB-5 legislation for at least a five (5) year period.

Since 2008, the Program’s annual contribution to foreign direct investment inbound into the U.S. grew over 1,200% to total almost $5 billion in fiscal year 2015 alone. This investment capital is creating tens of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers in diverse communities by funding projects in a wide variety of industry sectors across the country.

Will Congress take any action this year to reform the current EB-5 legislation? I believe not.

This is a Presidential election year. It is very likely that Congress will defer on making any substantive changes to the EB-5 program until 2017. Immigration reform legislation has never passed both houses of Congress in an election year.

The economic benefits of the EB-5 program are not in dispute. The major issue that Congress needs to address is improving the compliance portion of the legislation. This will provide transparency to the program. Something that is much needed.

 

Since September 30, 2015 Congress has considered several immigration bills that would have completely overhauled the EB-5 program. All of us in the space, especially attorneys, had prepared ourselves for the inevitable change of the current EB-5 regulations. We all knew that the minimum capital threshold requirement would increase to $800,000. In addition, the targeted employment area (“TEA”) definition would change, thereby eliminating important metropolitan areas such as New York City from consideration. All of this was occurring against the backdrop of Congress trying to pass the appropriations bill so that our government would not run out of money.

Congress has been wanting to revamp the EB-5 program for a significant period of time. All of the recently introduced EB-5 bills contained measures to increase compliance and make the program safer for foreign investors that were seeking a “Green Card”.  Developers and attorneys lobbied for reform that would not be onerous and would provide a certain amount of compliance. Most of us did not want the new legislation to be the “death knell” of the EB-5 program.

Well, we all got our wish. Congress voted to renew the EB-5 program in its present state until September 30, 2016.  What will happen between now and the expiration of the legislation is anyone’s guess.  But I think the writing is on the wall. Congress seeks to reform the EB-5 program on two fronts. The first is the minimum investment capital threshold requirement. It is a foregone conclusion that prior to September 30, 2016 Congress will pass EB-5 legislation that increases the minimum investment in a targeted employment area (“TEA”) to $800,000. The second is on the compliance front. Congress will include provisions in the new bill that require “on-site audits” of projects and regional centers.  In addition, Congress will require all principals that have equity in a regional center to submit to a Federal background check. This will ensure that the players in the EB-5 space are not unscrupulous characters.

All in all, the changes would be welcome by most in the industry. The impact that the higher investment amount would have in China and other markets is something that is yet to be seen. All of us though are breathing a sigh of relief for the EB-5 extension.