With the rise of H-1B visa audits, H-1B visa site visits and Labor Condition Application (LCA) investigations, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) Wage & Hourly Division (WH) is becoming more veracious in prosecuting employers suspected of violating LCA regulations. In this escalated enforcement environment, an immigration lawyer defending employers in H-1B visa audits must be a seasoned litigant. Having fiercely defended H-1B visa audit cases during the past several years, I can speak with authority on the subject. It is my belief that once an investigation is launched against an employer, the USDOL will rarely agree to walk away empty handed unless forced to do so by vigorous and aggressive litigation. H-1B visa dependent employers are more vulnerable and stand to receive more scrutiny as well as WH determinations carrying higher fines and back wages.
Some of the employer practices which I commonly see causing the launching of H-1B visa audits include benching of employees, paying employees "per diem" compensation instead of payroll, failing to file a new LCA once the employee changes employment, and failing to pay the employee after the H-1B visa petition is approved.
Whether the employer likes it or not, she might find herself suddenly facing an LCA or H-1B visa investigation process that may later lead to litigation and a potential financial liability as well as debarment from using the H-1B visa program. These consequences might very well bring the entire business to a lethal downward spiral. What I find as a common denominator in all H-1B visa audit cases I defended is that the employer is culpable to variant degrees. That is to say, there are usually issues that cause concern for employers once they undergo such a process. Hence, once the employer becomes subject to an H-1B visa audit or LCA investigation process, the USDOL will most likely find infractions and deviations from the LCA regulatory requirements somewhere in the employer's system. Perhaps such frequent incidence of employer deviation is caused by complex, and often conflicting, record keeping and reporting directives of the H-1B visa process vis-à-vis the realities of today's marketplace requirements.
Weakening the USDOL's Case
Hence, with such a high number of employer infractions and increasing H-1B visa audits, my job as an immigration lawyer is to preserve the employer's business from possible extinction and damage management. In my H-1B visa audit defense work, I am seeing back wages and penalties in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have found the best strategy for H-1B visa audit defense is to slowly and surely chip away at the government's case by engaging in a deliberate process of evidence elimination using advanced litigation strategies and tactics. The competent immigration lawyer must examine all pieces of evidence available to the USDOL and seek all possible ways to discredit or eliminate each such evidence entirely, thereby forcing the USDOL to return to the negotiating table. When the USDOL is faced with a weaker case, they will have a great incentive to settle the H-1B visa audit case with a much smaller dollar amount. It is only with such aggressive and vigorous litigation advocacy will the employer survive an H-1B visa audit case without having to close its doors for business, as often happens.
The Initial Investigation Stage
The H-1B visa audit process normally undergoes three main stages, namely, the LCA investigation process, the pretrial WH litigation process, and the trial before an Administrative Law Judge. At various steps in these stages, the employer is confronted with a myriad of allegations and legal issues that require careful handling. Mismanaging the employer's case from the outset of the process could increase the employer's liability. For instance, giving the WH investigator more evidence than requested by the initial investigation letter could increase the employer's liability.
Obviously, the best possible scenario for the employer is to survive the first stage in the H-1B visa audit process, namely the WH investigation process, without having to resort to a hearing. The initial LCA investigation process could be as short as a few months or as long as a couple of years. Often times, the investigation process ends up with the issuance of a "determination letter" signed by the WH Administrator setting forth the back-wages and penalties levied against the employer. The employer must remember that the WH investigator has little authority to settle the case at that point and has an absolute 15 calendar days to request a de novo review of the WH Administrator's determination before an Administrative Law Judge.
Continue reading "H-1B Audit Defense Requires Immigration Lawyer to be Litigation Savvy " »