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Indian H-1B Workers Deported: Interpretation Of Employer-Employee Relationship
January 23, 2010

The recent deportation of a number of Indian H1B IT workers from Newark and JFK airports has sent shockwaves through the H-1B community. H-1B employers, employees and their attorneys alike are flabbergasted by this brazen act of official highhandedness where individuals arriving on H-1B visas were singled out even before their primary immigration inspection, put through a sham questioning, forced into making coercive statements, issued expedited removal orders, and sent back! Their crime? They landed in the U.S. with legitimate H-1B visas to work for genuine U.S. employers, but at a location other than the employer’s office, i.e., at a client site or third party site!
 
H1B employees working at a client site or a third party site is a practice as old as the H1B program itself, and is not a violation of the regulations when supported by appropriate documentation. What is shocking is that the disgraceful action by CBP inspectors was triggered by an overzealous (mis)interpretation of a recent Memo issued by Donald Neufeld, Associate Director, Service Center Operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
 
At its core, the Neufeld Memo underlines the requirement of an employer-employee relationship that would last the entire period of the foreign individual’s H-1B stay in the United States. In such a relationship the employer should have the “actual” control or the “right” to control the employee, to hire, fire, pay, and to decide when, where, and how the employee will be employed.
 
Based on the experience of this writer in processing thousands of H-1B petitions over a period of more than 15 years (and attending to the resultant issues), this situation can be addressed with a little foresight, logical planning, and preparation and maintenance of appropriate documentation. Also, H1B employees should be educated on how to answer questions from overbearing government officials. Pardon me for saying this, a small minority of employers, through a lackadaisical attitude towards adhering to the regulations, seem to bring a bad name to the entire H-1B community and to the H-1B program itself, resulting in such sweeping governmental actions that affect legitimate H1B employers and put the lifestyle of unsuspecting employees and their families in jeopardy. Moreover, this supplies fodder to the anti-H-1B bogey that is becoming more and more vociferous in the light of rising unemployment in the United States. We, at our office, always make it a point to emphasize to H-1B employers and employees alike to strictly adhere to the governing regulations and requirements of the H-1B program.
 
As stated above, the focus of the CBP enforcement action is as to who the actual employer is.   It should be noted, in situations where an individual works at a location different from the petitioning employer’s office, the question is whether such petitioner employer has the “actual” control or the “right” of control over the H1B employee. When the H-1B employee works at a client site, or a third party site, the H-1B employer may not always be able to exercise “actual” control over the individual’s employment. But to maintain the H-1B status and be in compliance with the regulations, the H1B employer needs to prove the “right” to control, if not the “actual” control.   There are various ways to meet the requirements of actual control or right to control, as we have been advising our clients, by ensuring acquisition, usage, and maintenance of appropriate documents. It takes logical planning under effective legal guidance.
 
In conclusion, we would like to remind our clients and other readers of this article that the government’s enforcement of the regulations can be expected to become stricter in the future, and appropriate proactive steps will save the employers and employees alike a lot of hardship and aggravation.

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