Article: “The U.S. Government Should Consider Excusing Some Violations of Voluntary Departure Orders During The Pandemic ” by Arthur Lee, Esq.

As published in the Immigration Daily on October 27, 2020

Many deportable aliens utilize voluntary departure as a form of relief that allows them to leave the U.S. on their own in order to avoid the stigma of an order of removal on their record and certain bars to readmission, and eliminate risk of detention prior to departing the U.S.. During ordinary times, it is reasonably easy for a noncitizen who agreed to voluntary departure to leave the country within the time allowed to depart. As such, the penalties for not departing on time are understandably unforgiving. However, the U.S. government should consider leniency toward those who were granted voluntary departure during the time of coronavirus and not able to leave on time despite their best efforts.

Voluntary departure was codified in 1940 to help the U.S. government reduce costs on litigation by giving certain aliens an option to leave with less consequences on their future applications for immigration. Immigration Judges were given authority to schedule the alien’s departure date. When IIRIRA passed in 1996, IJs were divested of discretion in setting departure dates, and could only give a maximum of 120 days to an alien to depart under voluntary departure. This change was made with the goal of speeding up removal proceedings.

If an alien fails to depart by his/her voluntary departure deadline, he/she faces a plethora of harsh penalties including a final order of removal, civil fines of up to $5,000 and ineligibility for, among other things, adjustment of status, further voluntary departure, and cancellation of removal for 10 years. These severe penalties were enacted to deter aliens from violating their voluntary departure orders, and conceived in the context of relatively normal times where it would be easy to find a way out of the United States, and a failure to leave except for severe medical reasons was often viewed as a person flouting court orders and not making a legitimate effort to depart. In 2019, the last “normal” year, for instance, there was an average of 188,901 flights per day around the world. The world was inter-connected, and if one’s goal was just to leave the United States, that was easy to do. This would have certainly been doable in a 120 day period barring exceptional circumstances. By contrast, in 2020, many countries have closed or severely limited their borders to mitigate the spread of the virus. The number of daily flights cratered to approximately 64,523 on March 29 of this year with many cancellations due to travel bans and lack of passenger demand. Last minute cancellations on flights have become very common, and countries have enacted travel bans—some changing with high frequency so passengers could not know for sure whether they would be able to take their desired route until the day they board their flight. During the global peak of the pandemic, many countries did not even allow nationals of other countries to transit through their airports to reach a certain destination. As such, those with connections were often not allowed to board their flights as they would not be able to land at their connecting stops. Also, many countries, such as China, had and continue to have policies discouraging their nationals from moving back home during the pandemic. All of these factors have created an environment in 2020 in which departing the United States is far more difficult than any other time since the introduction of voluntary departure.

Since March 2020, booking a flight out of the U.S. and getting on it successfully has become a challenge layered with not only unpredictability but exorbitant costs. Take, for example, a national of China given 120 days to depart the U.S. in mid-February. In February, China and many other regions of Asia were the coronavirus hot spots. That national, very reasonably, could have decided to wait until the virus came diminished in China before departing the U.S.—as such, he/she would have pushed the booking window to sometime in April-June 2020. Then, once this national saw that the COVID situation in the U.S. became worse than that of China in March-April, then he/she decided to book a flight to China. To his/her dismay, the flight to China was canceled by the airline last minute as the flight operator decided to eliminate some flights due to lack of demand and budget cuts. Or perhaps the Chinese government compelled the airline to cancel that flight as it wanted to reduce flights from outside of the country to prevent the spread of the virus. Regardless, now it is May 2020 and he/she is stuck without a flight. He/she then books a flight to China leaving at the beginning of June, transiting through Taiwan (direct flights to China were already scarce at this time). However, the day before his flight, he/she is informed by the airline that he/she would not be able to get on the flight to transit in Taiwan because Taiwan is not accepting transit passengers. It is late May, and the Chinese national is stuck without a flight. At this point, his/her options are very limited. Chinese nationals are generally not allowed entry to many countries without visas (this is the case for the nationals of many countries). He/she must now fly to a country which will allow a Chinese national without a visa, and is allowing transit or entry during the coronavirus. At this point, all direct flights to China are booked out. All routes through connecting third countries must be researched as to whether they would allow a Chinese national to transit—and flights through countries that would allow transit are all booked out. At this point, the only options for this Chinese national are to fly to a country that would allow Chinese nationals without a visa, and would not bar him/her due to coronavirus restrictions. The option is to pay an exorbitant price to fly to a third country, one in which the Chinese national is a stranger, and in which he/she would not be able to get around. The options are therefore to either jeopardize safety in flying to unfamiliar territories or missing the voluntary departure date.

Voluntary departure was never intended to be such a challenge to a noncitizen to make the date or be barred from most forms of immigration relief for 10 years. Rather, it was seen as a plea deal option to expedite the country’s removal operations and provide a reasonable solution for a noncitizen to depart on his or her own to avoid many of the consequences of a deportation. In 2020 during the pandemic, departure from the country is a significant challenge on its own marred with unpredictability, cancellations at no notice, ever-changing travel rules of all countries, and exorbitant cost. As such, failure to meet the 120 day voluntary departure deadline during the COVID-19 pandemic should be forgivable, and certainly should not carry such harsh penalties as the inability to gain most immigration benefits and relief for the next 10 years, so long as the noncitizen is able to show that he or she undertook a good faith effort to leave on time.

The authority to alleviate the consequences of a violation of voluntary departure under the circumstances lies with Congress which wrote the law, the President through a possible executive order (since we have seen many statutes “trumped” by executive order in the past few years), or by DHS itself in extending an individual’s time to depart the US through devices such as satisfactory departure or deferred departure and divorcing the VD penalty until the end date of the other program’s extension. By whichever method, the present situation, although admittedly not affecting millions of people, should not stand.


Article: “Interim Final Regulations (IFRs) on Wage Hikes by DOL and on H-1Bs by DHS and Some of the Flaws of Their Logic”

As published in the Immigration Daily on October 19, 2020

In the last desperate days of the Trump presidency, it becomes increasingly clear that this administration sees the handwriting on the wall and is speeding up its actions to indelibly stamp the nation with Supreme Court confirmation hearings and regulations thrusting the nation further backwards on immigration, race relations, the environment, women’s rights, gay rights, foreign relations, and America’s role on the world stage. It hopes that, with the assistance of the Supreme Court, it will keep the Trump agenda largely intact even if Democrats sweep both houses of Congress and the presidency.

To reward Senate Republicans for their complicity during four years of a misguided and corrupt presidency would not be in the best interests of the country, and voters should vote a straight Democratic ticket across the nation.

The recent use of interim final regulations (IFRs) in the field of immigration instead of the regular process of beginning with a proposed regulation, going through a period of comment, review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and final regulation with another small period of time before implementation, illustrates that this administration intends to continue piling on regulations until the day that Joe Biden takes office on January 20, 2021. The Bidens might have to call on the DC police and National Guard to evict the Trumps.

The Department of Labor (DOL) IFR, “Strengthening Wage Protections for the Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens in the United States,” was published in the Federal Register on October 8, 2020, with an immediate implementation date. Its simple proposition is that wages on the OES system go up blindingly – that in calculating wages, DOL looked at all the wages in a certain occupation in the area of employment and recalculated OES level wages to a higher percentile of where all the wages fall. Level I went from what the 17th percentile is earning to what the 45th percentile is earning; Level II from the 34th percentile to the 62nd percentile; Level III from the 50th percentile to the 78th percentile; and Level IV from the 67th percentile to the 95th percentile. The orchestration of various premises to bring this about was fairly devious and moved in five said and unsaid steps: 1.) Mythologization of H-1B specialty occupation jobs almost to the point of being rare birds requiring more than a regular bachelor’s degree –a specialized bachelor’s degree. 2.) That without higher qualifications than a regular (as opposed to specialty) bachelor’s degree, an alien cannot obtain the visa. 3.) That the current wage system is not accurate since it takes into account wages paid to workers who almost certainly would not qualify to work in a specialty occupation. 4.) That an alien qualifying for an H-1B visa should be paid at the same level as a US worker with the same qualifications, and since most H-1B entry level individuals have a Master’s degree, they should be paid at the same rate as US workers with similar degree and experience. 5.) Entry-level H-1Bs should be paid the same rate as similarly qualified US workers regardless of the actual job that they are performing. This ignores a number of factors such as 1.) The H-1B registration process is skewed to accepting more US Masters and higher degreed individuals than those with bachelor’s degrees. The Trump administration expressed pleasure at changing the formula of H-1B selection, so it seems fairly incongruous to somehow try to imply that aliens and their employers are gaming the system in having Masters level individuals fill entry-level positions or that their possessing a Masters degree suggests that the position is anything other than entry-level. 2.) USCIS ignores its own regulatory list of H-1B amenable fields when it sides even further with DOL that many occupations in these fields can be adequately filled without a directly related specialized bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. 3.) To say that an H-1B candidate with a Master’s degree in an entry position should be paid as much as a US worker with a Master’s degree in a much more complex position defies logic. Extending that proposition to its logical conclusion, an alien just graduated with a PhD in chemical engineering with past experience in the home country who manages to grab a job as a junior chemical engineer would be paid at the same rate as a non-alien senior chemical engineer with a similar PhD. Such thinking is violative in spirit of §212(n)(1)(A) of the INA that employers pay H-1B workers the greater of the actual wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar employment in question or the prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment. The statute envisions a connection between the payment for “similar employment” and the occupational classification prevailing wage – not the DOL ignoring the specific job that is offered.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) IFR, “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program,” was published in the Federal Register on the same day, but with an implementation date of December 7, 2020. As with the DOL rule, this regulation was rushed through the screening process and review waived by the OMB to ensure that it would appear before the election. The IFR redefines specialty occupation in a way in which very few individuals will be able to qualify by changing the degree requirement for the specialty position from being one that is “normal”, “common”, or “usual” to the occupation to one that is in a “directly related specific specialty” or its equivalent. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), the seeming “bible” of USCIS, however, very few professional occupations can be done by just holders of one specific degree. USCIS lists a number of fields amenable to H-1B occupations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)( 4)(ii) as:

Specialty occupation means an occupation which [(1)] requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields of human endeavor including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts, and which [(2)] requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.

Yet for examples, the OOH holds forth that biomedical engineers can qualify to become biomedical engineers through a related engineering field & electrical or electronics engineers through a related engineering field (engineering); chemistry or materials scientists through a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field (physical sciences); market research analysts through a bachelor’s degree in market research or a related field (social sciences); medical or health services manager through a bachelor’s degree in health administration, health management, nursing, public health administration or business administration (medicine & health); high school teacher through a bachelor’s degree with many states requiring them to have majored in a subject area (education); fashion designer through a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as fashion design or fashion merchandising (arts).

The IFR quotes INA §214(i)(1)’s second requirement of specialty occupation being attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty or its equivalent and then describes very restricted circumstances under which any equivalency would be found such as electrical engineering and electronics engineering study for the position of an electrical engineer. However, this is a mean-spirited interpretation of “equivalent” in today’s world of education in which cross subject majors are taught all the time. Use of the words “normal”, “usual”, and “common” more accurately describe the equivalent education that should be looked at to qualify for a specialty occupation.

The rate of denial for new H-1Bs is currently 29% through the second quarter of FY 2020 and only anticipated to increase tremendously under the IFR.

It is expected that multiple lawsuits will be filed against the two IFRs, and there is a report that multiple technology companies have already filed suit on October 16, 2020, against the Department of Labor in a New Jersey federal court. Both rules are expected be challenged as not having gone through adequate review, especially the effect upon impacted parties, and one of the arguments certain to be used against the DHS rule is its improper chain of succession invalidating any actions by the current DHS Secretary, Chad Wolf.

The DHS rule is not retroactive and will only be applied to petitions filed on or after the effective date of the regulation, including amended petitions or petition extensions. It is not to be applied to pending petitions nor to previously approved petitions either through reopening or a notice of intent to revoke.

Of some comfort is the thought that a Joe Biden presidency will be more reasonable to the immigration needs of US businesses, but it is a long time to January 20, 2021, and to however long it will take him and his administration to get around to H-1B questions. Without the Senate, the Democrats will have a difficult time trying to reverse four years of Trump actions in immigration and other areas. Joe Biden will have a lot on his plate immigration-wise as a July 2020 Migration Policy Institute report catalogued 400+ executive actions taken in 3 ½ years by the Trump administration in the field of immigration.

Q&A’s published on and the Epoch Times on October 16, 2020 1. Can I do Something on My Deportation? 2. I File I-130s For My Children and They Are Minors.  How Long Will the Process Take? 3. My Fiancé Was Granted Voluntary Departure.  When Can He Re-enter the United States?

1. Can I do Something on My Deportation?

I am from India and I got deported because I worked the last time I was in the USA and I was not supposed to since I was on B1/B2 visa.

Mr. Lee Answers:
Unfortunately, there are not enough facts in your question for a lawyer to give a reasoned opinion. It appears that you are under a 10-year bar from the deportation unless you were stopped and removed from the port of entry, in which case the bar would be 5 years. Other than that, there is nothing in your question to indicate what possible grounds of relief you may have. I suggest that you make an appointment with an immigration lawyer familiar with deportation work so that he or she can go over all your circumstances and make recommendations. 

2. I File I-130s For My Children and They Are Minors.  How Long Will the Process Take?

I am a permanent resident. I file for my son and daughter from my country and they are 14 and 12 years old. How long will the process take for an approval?

Mr. Lee Answers,
The question is – where are the kids? If they are here and legally residing in the States under some type of nonimmigrant status, you may be able to adjust them immediately to permanent residence since the visa chart for July 2019 shows open visa availability for the F-2A category (LPR filing for spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21). If your children are not in the U. S., you will have to wait until U.S.C.I.S. approves the I-130 petition for alien relative, the petitions must then go through consular processing, and the kids can only be interviewed after that if the priority date (date of filing I-130 petition) is current. A rough guess for the time process would be approximately 2 years if that was the case. 

3. My Fiancé Was Granted Voluntary Departure.  When Can He Re-enter the United States?

My fiancé was granted Voluntary Departure about a month ago. He is now in Mexico. He was put into removal proceedings after they realized he had overstayed his Tourist Visa.

Mr. Lee Answers,
As your fiancé left the U. S. on voluntary departure, he is not barred from returning to the U. S. That being said, he needs at the very least another visa to return to the U. S. (if he did not overstay by 180 days) since his overstay automatically invalidated his tourist visa. He would have to explain his circumstances to the American consulate or embassy officer, and it would be up to him or her as to whether to give another tourist visa. A major question at such interviews is whether the applicant has nonimmigrant intent, and the fact that he is engaged to someone in the U. S. is an unfavorable factor in the adjudication. If he overstayed by 180 days, he is barred from returning for 3 years, and if the overstay was a year or more, the bar would be 10 years.  He could request a nonimmigrant waiver of the bar(s) after refusal at the consulate or embassy, and it would be up to the consular officer whether to recommend him for a waiver to USCIS.  If you are a U. S. citizen, you can file a K-1 fiancée visa petition on his behalf and he would be interviewed in his home country in approximately 9 months. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you can marry him and file an I-130 Petition for alien relative for him to immigrate. Such process would take approximately 2 years if all goes well. Finally if he overstayed for long enough to incur the bar(s), those timelines do not apply and he would need a waiver of inadmissibility based on extreme hardship to a US citizen or LPR spouse or parent if he wanted to immgrate prior the 3 or 10 years.  

Article: In Provisional I-212 Appeal Win, AAO in Non-Precedent Decision, In Re: 9072079 (AAO 9/24/20),Clarifies What Constitutes After-Acquired Equity, Correct Standard of Adjudication, and Rightful Consideration of Evidence.

Please see attached AAO decision Dated September 24, 2020

We at the law firm are pleased to release a copy of our recent win at the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) in a non-precedent provisional I-212 decision which decided in favor of our client on three points:

  1. After-acquired equity – The equity of our applicant’s wife being a permanent resident was downgraded in the District Director’s decision as an after-acquired equity and entitled to less weight as his wife had entered the United States with permanent residence following the applicant’s deportation order. We pointed out that the decision conflated the wife’s date of entry with the date of marriage in mistakenly reducing the weight of equities of extreme hardships faced by the spouse and the AAO agreed stating that the record reflected that the applicant had married his spouse 25 years prior to his deportation order and that their four children were born prior to the deportation order.
  2. Standard of adjudication – The District Director found it unlikely that the applicant could establish extreme hardship to his spouse to qualify for a provisional waiver. The AAO pointed out that extreme hardship to a qualifying relative is not a requirement for permission to reapply for admission, and that positive factors may include the applicant’s respect for law and order, family responsibilities, and hardship to the applicant and other US citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives. The AAO further thought that the Director’s considering the unlikelihood that extreme hardship to the spouse could be established in a later I-601A application in his decision was not within the province of the Director as “[a] provisional waiver application is a separate application for relief, and pursuant to the regulation at 8 CFR §212.7(e)(4)(iv), an individual inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the Act for having been removed must obtain permission to reapply for admission before applying for a provisional waiver.” The AAO added a footnote that the applicant could seek the I-212 permission “[i]rrespective of whether a waiver under section 212(a)(9)(B)(v) for unlawful presence will be needed after the applicant departs and regardless of whether he obtains a provisional waiver.”
  3. Correct consideration of evidence – Besides the Director’s error on the weight to be given to the equity of the permanent resident wife, the AAO took issue with his not fully considering evidence of significant positive equities in the record such as the applicant’s living in the United States for 30 years, having no apparent criminal history, payment of taxes, assisting community and family members, and the applicant’s statement that if forced to leave the United States, he could never have his entire family together again, that he loved his family and would do anything for them, provided care for his wife, used his construction skills to assist friends and neighbors, and helped his son in his restaurant. Also that the submitted evidence included the spouse’s medical report and psychological evaluation showing that she suffered from a host of medical and psychological problems and the spouse’s statement that the applicant did everything he could to keep her healthy and comfortable, and that she would suffer emotionally if she returned to China because she would miss her family members in the US and feared returning to the country where she was forcibly sterilized. The AAO also noted that the Director’s decision did not consider submitted evidence regarding the applicant’s claimed hardships to his US citizen and lawful permanent resident children and grandchildren as well as to himself which included affidavits of the applicant’s US citizen son and grandson.

Although a non-precedent decision, the AAO decision is instructive in addressing points of law at the intersection of a provisional I-212 application for permission to reapply for admission and a later contemplated I-601A application for provisional unlawful presence waiver.