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Invisible Wall

The term “invisible wall” is a well-known term among immigration attorneys. While the current administration calls for the construction of a physical wall, the administration has already erected an invisible wall which appears to reduce and discourage, not only illegal immigration, but legal immigration as well. While one of the stated goals of the administration is to reduce regulations in order to promote businesses, there is one area where the reverse appears to be taking place. In the field of skills-based immigration law, the administration’s new policies, guidelines, and rules are making it more difficult for American businesses to bring necessary talent to the United States. This is being accomplished through new bureaucratic obstacles and excessive requirements that deter American corporations from bringing engineers, software and computer specialists, and other technical personnel, to the United States. Although the administration is framing these regulations as a necessary measure to protect U.S. workers, the regulations may also reflect a political statement about the administration’s attitude toward immigrants.

The concept of protecting U.S. workers is difficult to argue against, and is a concept many want to enforce. However, one could also argue that there are times where U.S. companies may have a hard time finding available local U.S. employees for highly-skilled occupations, as the U.S. employees tend to be currently employed elsewhere. Or that, even if the talent brought from overseas is occupying a spot that otherwise could be occupied by a U.S. worker, the foreign employee could help enhance the U.S. company’s products, make the company more competitive worldwide, improve exports, help businesses remain viable, and create new innovations and jobs for U.S. workers. Such arguments would also support the concept of protecting U.S. workers.

The majority of reputable studies examining the effects and impacts of foreign workers on the U.S. economy have determined that foreign talent brought to the United States ultimately helps our economy and produces a large number of new jobs for U.S. workers. As anecdotal evidence, some of the largest U.S. entities were, and are, created by immigrants or children of immigrants, for example, Apple or Tesla. Such companies continue to hire many U.S. workers.

The issue with the potential negative consequences of the invisible wall is that its effect will not be seen for years to come, and is slow to materialize.  The administration’s new regulations and policy surrounding immigration may not have a tangible effect on the U.S economy within the next year or two, but would have an effect within a decade or two – long after those who are creating these policies could be held accountable for the decisions they are making today.

The slow materialization of the effects of the invisible wall increases the difficulty of the opposition to the invisible wall, and increases the difficulty for those who may believe the studies which reflect that immigration adds a substantial value to our society and to our economy. The only hope is that more reasonable attitudes will prevail, and the current impediments to immigration (which has been the cornerstone to our society since Independence) are temporary and that our view towards immigration will be restored to its normal, optimistic vision.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional, Bi-national Same-Sex Couples Can Now Receive Immigration Benefits

The decision on June 26, 2013, issued by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, will benefit same-sex married couples in which one spouse is not either a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident. The Defensive of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law that limits the recognition of marriage to only opposite-sex couples.  Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government cannot exclude same-sex couples from federal laws and programs, which include immigration laws.

As of June 26, 2013, following United States v. Windsor, U.S. federal immigration law allows a United States Citizen or Permanent Resident to legally sponsor his or her non-citizen spouse for Permanent Resident Status on the basis of marriage. Permanent Residence allows non-citizens to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Thus, the foreign national in a same-sex marriage can now obtain a “Green Card” as long as his or her marriage was legal where it took place. In the U.S., same-sex marriage is legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision. In this statement, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of DHS, applauds the Court for ruling DOMA unconstitutional, calling DOMA “discriminatory” towards same-sex couples; “Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

As this development is brand new, we anticipate questions yet to be answered. However, under current law, we are able to assist any bi-national same-sex married couple in pursuing and obtaining Lawful Permanent Residence for the foreign national spouse. We will be happy to take such cases and look forward to representing same-sex married couples in the future. In fact, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already granted Permanent Residence in a bi-national same-sex marriage case.

Please call our office to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys who will be able to explain in more detail what your options may be and how our law office can assist you in the process.

For more information on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, read the Court’s opinion released June 26th, 2013: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_6j37.pdf.

Read the full statement by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, released June 26th, 2013: http://www.dhs.gov/news/2013/06/26/statement-secretary-homeland-security-janet-napolitano-supreme-court-ruling-defense

Note: Foreign nationals seeking lawful status in the U.S. are subject to all immigration laws, and even with a lawfully recognized marriage, may be inadmissible or otherwise unable to obtain Permanent Residence in the U.S. on other grounds, such as certain criminal convictions or immigration violations. This is true of anyone seeking immigration benefits from the U.S. Government.

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Dear Immigrants: We want your business! Sincerely, Michigan

Much to my delight (and I’m sure to the delight of immigration attorneys across Michigan) Governor Snyder spoke about the positive contributions immigrants make during his State of the State speech in January.  It was a surprise to hear the newly elected Governor speak positively about immigration, an issue that has unfortunately become and increasingly political issue and dogmatic tool. Thankfully, Governor Snyder “gets it.” He understands the tremendous value immigrants contribute directly to our economy. Governor Snyder has publicly stated he opposes Arizona-like (SB-1070) anti-immigration legislation (many thanks to AIR of Michigan for its efforts on this front) and has taken pragmatic steps to increase the appeal of Michigan to foreign business.

Among other actions taken, Governor Snyder has called for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to take an active role in the development of pro-immigration business policy. This is a wonderful step in the right direction. Michigan should be investing its resources not only into bringing tourists here, i.e. the Pure Michigan campaign, but also on attracting and welcoming business investors and employers.

Based on the experience of our clients, the simple step of proactively reaching out to potential and new businesses already committed to Michigan from Square One would be most welcome, and welcoming, to foreign investors. A point of contact should be readily able to guide them through our laws, regulations, cultural norms, and myriad logistical challenges, to anticipate what those challenges may be and equip the business leadership with knowledge and resources that will better enable them to open and oeprate their business successfully, and should be available should an obstacle arise. Of course countless other obstacles and solutions already exist and need to be explored.

Moving beyond the walls of the office, it is imperative that Michigan consider the lives of foreign workers and their families as residents. When an immigrant comes to live and work in the U.S. for a period of a year, or a few years, or several years, it is important to remember that he or she is not just a visa number, or an employee. Rather, he or she is a resident and citizen (small “c”) of Michigan, eager to explore the beauty and culture of our State and Country. This is an aspect of immigration that, I believe, has been overlooked. We should make it as easy as possible not only to get here, but to live here.Yet simple aspects of daily life that Michiganders take for granted are unecessarily challenging for immigrants. Thankfully, solutions are apparent and accessible. For starters, it should be simpler and easier for foreign workers and their families in Michigan to obtain a driver’s license, qualify for in-state college tuition, and understand tax responsibilities.

Currently, the Secretary of State has in place an internal policy to automatically deny any B1/B2 visa holders a license. This is more restrictive than the federal laws and regulations, needlessly. A visitor in this status can be present for up to 18 months – denying him or her the ability to drive, upon paying fees and passing the required tests, makes no sense. How else are they to get around in Michigan, where mass transit is undeniably limited. Assuming he or she can prove legal status, current residence in Michigan, and identity, he or she should be able to obtain a license. This could impact potential foreign investors visiting Michigan for a long period as they explore business investment opportunities and/or family members visiting.

Additionally, for other visa holders, like those in TN, H, E, and L status, the process should be seamless. Yet, the staff at Secretary of State (SOS) branch offices regularly fail to recognize the meaning of documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), improperly questioning the validity of a visa or a person’s status. Any single discrepancy between the SOS and DHS record of names, including an obvious typo cleared up by a passport and other identity documents, results in denial of a driver’s license. SOS staff regularly instruct immigrants they must fix the error with DHS before a license can be issued. Obtaining a new document from DHS for name correction can take months and can be quite expensive. Similarly, immigrants from Latin America and the Middle East treat last names differently from the U.S., in a well-known and predictable manner. For example, an TN visa holder from Mexico will technically have two last names, the last name of her father followed by the last name of her mother. This is simply how it is done in that culture. However, it is extremely common for Latin Americans to use only one of those last names on a regular basis. Despite this widespread, commonplace, predictable practice, SOS branch offices regularly require applicants to provide documentation that matches the SOS system, even if her passport, work authorization card, and birth certificate all evidence her full name. Again, she will be told to rectify the name difference via DHS or Social Security. This is overly restrictive at worst, highly inconvenient at best.

Many foreign workers, their spouses, and children, who are eligible to attend school in Michigan are constructively prevented from doing so due to cost. Although they are residents of Michigan, and are often times home owners, qualifying for “resident” for purposes of receiving in-state tuition rates is burdensome. For those who can even qualify for in-state tuition at all, they must first show payment of Michigan taxes for at least a year. Instead of doing so, or paying extremely high international rates, they simply do not attend at all. Colleges that could be benefitting from their enrollment at any rate, lose out altogether, as does the larger economy to which they could contribute their increased knowledge and skill.

Lastly, foreigners must pay U.S. and Michigan taxes upon residing here for a certain period of time. Generally speaking, foreigners do properly file their taxes, but it is nonetheless a daunting system that may prevent others from paying, or from doing so easily. A section of the State of Michigan Treasury website devoted to immigrants, with simple tools to help determine whether they must file taxes could result in greatly increased tax revenue, and will at least be an attractive resource to foreign workers.

Overall, these are problems that appear minor but that dramatically frustrate the ease with which immigrants move to and integrate into life in Michigan. Yet, the solutions to solve these problems are relatively simple and are certainly easily achievable. Foreign investors are necessarily concerned with the quality of their employees’ lives, and consider the ease of living in a foreign place when selecting locations. Making the lives of investors, business owners, their employees and their families better, will indeed send the signal that not only is Michigan a wonderful place for foreigners to do business, it is a wonderful place for foreigners to live.

With Governor Snyder’s leadership and support, Michigan is poised to lead the 50 States toward an economy that encourages and embraces immigrants, countering the unproductive and misguided anti-immigration trend. Michigan has led the U.S. economy before, and by taking this new course, it will do it again. It is an exciting time to be a proponent of immigration in Michigan and I look forward to witnessing and contributing to the progress.

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