August 2011 Archives

August 22, 2011

Foreign Students Walk Off Hershey's Chocolate Factory Jobs

chocolate.jpgRecently, the news -- local Pennsylvania news, the Associated Press, and even The New York Times -- has been filled with a story about foreign students who came to the USA to participate in an "exchange program," who ended up working under allegedly harsh conditions at the Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. Here at Fong & Aquino, we began to get calls from people around Los Angeles, as well as throughout the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs and Palm Desert), about these exchange visitor visas.

Essentially, the J visa program was created as a foreign-policy tool to encourage international understanding, to provide a way for foreigners to get to know American life and work. It also allows a freer exchange of information, permitting professors and researchers to continue their studies and presentations in the USA. The visa is for a:
* professor or research scholar,
* short-term researcher or scholar,
* trainee or intern,
* college or university student,
* teacher,
* secondary school student,
* nonacademic specialist,
* foreign physician,
* international visitor,
* government visitor,
* camp counselor,
* au pair, or
* summer student in a travel/work program.

Each of these categories has its own set of requirements -- too much to mention here. Suffice to say that the J-visa holder must be taking part of a legitimate program and should have sufficient funds; be able to speak, read, and write English; maintain sufficient medical insurance in case of accident and illness; and have and maintain a residence abroad to which the visa holder will return.

The J visa program was established to allow visa holders -- typically students, trainees, researchers, and teacher/professors -- to visit the USA, engage in cultural programs, teach or lecture to share information, do home-stays or au pair work as part of family exchange programs, or to do hands-on training in a field for which they have had educational or vocational training.

The program was certainly not created to allow employers to avoid hiring US workers, or to use foreign students as cheap labor, or to cheat foreign students out of a valuable chance to have a cultural-exchange experience in the USA.

Unfortunately, less-than-scrupulous organizations have created partnerships with certain employers and manufacturers to provide inexpensive labor in the guise of cultural exchange. Even more shocking: many of these student visitors are CHARGED by the organizations which have organized this so-called cultural-exchange experience for them -- the way one might be charged by a tour operator. In the end, however, these J-1 students apparently had a very unpleasant experience.

I know nothing of the alleged conditions at Hershey. However, it is important that visitors thoroughly understand the visa that they are applying for and feel comfortable with the attorney or trip organizer with which they are working. --jcf

August 19, 2011

Beware of Notarios and other Immigration Scams

handshake.jpgFong & Aquino serves the entire Los Angeles area, including Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, Long Beach, and indeed, clients all around the United States. We handle family visas, business and investor visas, and removal / deportation cases. Our attorneys frequently encounter people who come in and say that they have been working with an "immigration service" or "immigration consultant" or "notario" or "notary public" for the processing of their paperwork. In the vast majority of these cases, the results obtained by these so-called service-providers have been devastating.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a nationwide program to target non-attorney notaries and others who are advising and preparing paperwork for clients. The immigration system is complex, and although DHS often views attorneys as a hinderance to its work, DHS also understands that the only way an immigrant gets proper representation, a fair hearing, is through a competent, licensed attorney.

This is a difficult subject, because those of us at Fong & Aquino have met and seen the work of a few excellent, conscientious, knowledgeable notaries. However, to be frank, these are a great exception. In truth, notaries have no legal training and have no requirement to stay up-to-date in their knowledge. Attorneys do.

It is also true that not every attorney is going to be a good fit with every client: as you seek an immigration attorney, please ask yourself:

* Is this person a licensed attorney? If you're not sure, ask the state bar association.

* Does this lawyer have the experience to handle my case? Ask whether s/he has handled such a case before. Ask how long s/he has been licensed to practice. Some attorneys TEACH immigration law to other attorneys. This is a pretty good sign that the attorney has solid practical experience.

* Is this attorney listening to me? Some attorneys handle cases in mass quantities and do not make the effort to know you, your family, or your business.

* Is this attorney telling me what s/he is going to do? Some attorneys will just say, "it's ok, just leave it with me. I will take care of it." This is not good. You need to know what is being done by the attorney in your name. In the end, you are responsible for what the attorney files if you sign the papers.

* Is this attorney willing to explain things to me? Immigration law is a field of law where the client must understand what's going on; your future in this country depends on being knowledgeable. Does this attorney explain things to you clearly and in a way that you understand?

* Do I fundamentally trust this attorney? You are putting your family or business in the hands of this professional. Look him or her in the eye and ask yourself, "is this person honest, clear, and straight-forward?"

* Is this attorney a member of a reputable immigration law association? Merely being a member of any ole' professional organizations is not the key here; any lawyer can write a check to join an organization. However, some organizations require a minimum number of years in practice before an attorney can apply to be admitted to membership. It should raise a little bit of concern if your attorney is NOT a member of, or active with, any such organizations. The main professional organizations for immigration attorneys are the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Federal Bar Association (Immigration Section).


August 16, 2011

H-1B Quota Numbers August 12, 2011

It has been a while since I have posted H-1B quota numbers but here is the most recent update from USCIS as of August 12, 2011:

  • Approximately 25,300 petitions received for the regular H-1B quota.

  • Approximately 14,700 petitions received for the advanced degree H1B quota.

    H-1B processing times remain the same: slow. Cases that were filed in May can still be pending if an RFE has been issued. Those who were planning on beginning work on October 1, 2011 can still request premium processing on pending cases if petitioners wish to have an approval notice in hand on that date. If your H-1B case is still pending and is outside processing and you wish to inquire about the status of your case, petitioners can use the USCIS 1-800 customer service center number and ask for a status inquiry. ---ecf