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.
The Pretrial Litigation and Trial Phases
This phase of the H-1B visa audit process takes on a litigation stage. Only immigration lawyers with extensive litigation experience should take on such an assignment. The immigration lawyer must be fully aware of the precedence and the decisions issued by prior administrative law judges and the Appeals Review Board on the topic of LCA and H-1B visa audits in order to competently defend the employer. Some of the litigation tactics include requests for admissions, interrogatories and request for production of documents, depositions of prior employees and the investigator to discredit their allegations, motions for summary judgment, motions in limine offered to eliminate the USDOL from introducing certain evidence against the employer at trial, and many more.
Only when the immigration lawyer exhibits a strong and overwhelming litigation stance will the USDOL attorneys evaluate their case and consider settlement opportunities. Attorney Gus Shihab enjoys a reputation of strong litigation advocacy. He has been recognized as a top lawyer and was awarded honors for being an effective litigator. Contact attorney Gus Shihab if your company has been the subject of an H-1B visa audit or LCA investigation.
The employer wishing to go through a trial in an H-1B visa audit case must be certain that he is not “rolling the dice.” If the administrative law judge finds one infraction, he must debar the employer from participating from the H-1B visa program. Hence, the employer must have a very strong position walking into the courtroom. That is why the pretrial litigation phase is extremely important to assess the risks involved by weighing its position before trial.