By: Lori T. Williams, Esq.

Part 2 of my Immigration Law series focuses on the employer side of things. Click here to read Part 1, which pertains to individuals and families.

Rona Lum, Immigration Attorney

Rona Lum is an 18 year attorney, who for the last 13 years has focused her practice in the area of Corporate Immigration Law, by helping employers with Immigration issues and employment visas. Lum chose this field of practice because she has “always enjoyed people from different backgrounds and from different Countries, as well as travelling internationally." She chose the corporate side of Immigration Law because she “likes the business world, has a business background, and this area of the law is steady, repeat business."

Congress and the President determine what legislation passes which impacts Immigration issues. The singular event that has impacted our nation’s Immigration laws in the recent past has been 9/11. Additionally, the economy and unemployment rate impacts the manner in which the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) adjudicates cases. The USCIS replaced the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and is currently an agency of the Department of Homeland Security. The USCIS is tasked with reviewing and adjudicating applications and petitions for immigration benefits, including temporary visas for work, school, etc., immigrant visas, and citizenship. These governing bodies have become stricter in the manner in which these applications and petitions are adjudicated. In some cases, Lum advises her clients against proceeding with a case, due to the way the regulations are interpreted and applied.

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is responsible for preparing the American workforce for new and better jobs and ensuring the adequacy of America’s workplaces. Within the context of immigration law, the USDOL is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the U.S. labor market. The agency is responsible for the administration and enforcement of over 180 federal statutes including those covering workers’ wages, health and safety, employment and pension rights, equal employment opportunity, job training, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation programs, and collective bargaining. USDOL also collects, analyzes and publishes labor and economic statistics. “The USDOL wants to make sure that the wages of US workers aren’t being undercut by companies who are hiring foreign nationals for positions within the US", says Lum.

“This is a very politically driven area of the law, and some groups are calling for comprehensive Immigration reform", says Lum. “Information technology companies, a portion of the business community which operates internationally, and various ethnic groups are among the constituencies calling for reform." Several states have become impatient with what they view as inaction on the part of the Federal Government in dealing with any type of meaningful immigration reform. The most publicized example of states taking matters into their own hands is Arizona. Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1070 on April 23, 2010. The bill was enacted because of an abundance of illegal immigrants crossing the border of Mexico and entering Arizona. Arizona passed the bill to restrict access and expand law enforcement’s ability to check immigration status under certain circumstances. SB 1070 was scheduled to go into effect on July 29, 2010. In response, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder filed a lawsuit to enjoin enforcement claiming that portions of the bill were unconstitutional. On July 28, 2010, one day before the bill was to take effect, a Federal District Court granted the U.S. Government’s request for a Preliminary Injunction, preventing enactment of the most controversial provisions of the bill. Lum expects to see this issue go to the US Supreme Court before it is finally resolved. Although Lum practices in Auburn Hills, MI, she represents clients throughout the U.S. She stays abreast on state laws that impact immigration petitions and applications, such as petitions for a work visa that requires the foreign national to be licensed by the state of intended employment.

“Worksite enforcement efforts are also on the rise," according to Lum. “ The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), also under the purview of The Department of Homeland Security, frequently performs unannounced inspections at employer worksites, seeking to verify information contained in the H-1B or other work visa petitions filed by the employer." Lum advises her clients that this can happen and what to do if an inspection occurs. Additionally, Lum notes that “I-9 form compliance issues are also on the rise, with worksite inspections being done to make sure every employee is reported on an I-9 and that the forms are completed properly." Sometimes the Wage and Hour Division sends written notice and other times they make unannounced inspections requesting to review the I-9 forms. They can assess fines and penalties for non-compliance.

Lum notes that there are common misconceptions about Immigration Law. “The mainstream media reporting is often sensationalized and gives the impression that foreign workers are taking jobs away from US citizens and that companies are paying below market wages to foreign workers. This simply is not true, because by law a company must disclose the rate of pay on H1B visas and must meet or exceed prevailing wages as set forth by the Department of Labor." There also seems to be an inherent prejudice towards foreigners in the US. Unfortunately, there are too many times when “foreigners are presumed illegal if they look to be of a certain ethnicity", says Lum.

One thing to watch out for when hiring an Immigration Attorney is their level of experience and credentials. Lum says that all serious immigration practitioners are part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association(AILA). Employers should be wary of services that hold themselves out as experts in Immigration, but who are not licensed attorneys, as they often fail to provide the service for which the client paid and hired them to provide.

Lum has built relationships with other immigration attorneys in Michigan and around the Country who she can call on when needed to assist her clients, since she specializes in a very small niche of Immigration Law. Business to Business immigration is Lum’s focus, with a special focus in health care professionals, foreign physicians, foreign health care workers, IT and other professionals. Lum understands the licensing and credentials requirements for these professionals in Michigan and around the Country. For more information, visit her website.

Points to Ponder and Share:

What immigration issues have you faced in the workplace?

What questions do you have about Immigration Law?

What, if any, reforms do you think are needed in Immigration Law, which impact the workplace?

Lori T. Williams is a 22 year attorney based in Birmingham, MI. She owns a legal referral and legal consulting business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation by connecting them with the right legal specialist for their situation. She also provides consulting services for attorneys and other professional service providers on how to generate more business through effective branding, marketing, networking, and by creating strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.bestlegalresource.com.