ashleymendoza1alfredoMy colleagues, Ashley Mendoza and Alfredo Fernandez, return today for a guest post today that shows that employment law issues can sometimes present themselves in different formats.  My thanks to the both of them in presenting a fairly advanced topic in a form that will hopefully be of interest to a few of you out there.

Imagine your company has employed a research scientist to support your technology programs.  The scientist is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China and holds an H-1B visa, but is not authorized to view certain export-controlled technical data.  Unclear of the restrictions in place, other company employees provide the foreign scientist with technical data related to a military program in the course of his job duties.  This real life scenario recently resulted in a $100,000 settlement penalty with the U.S. State Department this summer.

It appears that a company policy to screen out foreign candidates for job openings of this sensitive nature would have prevented this violation and penalty, but a company also faces the challenge of avoiding discrimination in its hiring practices.  Is this a lose-lose scenario?  Not quite, but companies must pay close attention to recent guidance and regulatory revisions to understand their compliance obligations.

The Tricky Intersection of Legal Obligations

On March 31, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (the “OSC”) released its most recent guidance to employers to aid them in navigating the murky waters where export regulations meet immigration antidiscrimination regulations.

These two regulated areas may contradict each other when it comes to the hiring practices of U.S. companies soliciting candidates for a position where the job duties impose compliance with export control laws. Unfortunately, the limited governmental guidance confounds some employers when it comes to complying with both sets of regulations in certain scenarios.   The OSC’s recent guidance and upcoming definitional changes within the export control laws do provide some general direction for employers; however several ambiguous issues remain unresolved.

IMG_7083What We Know About the Export Regulations in this Context

Exports are commonly associated with the shipment of a tangible item to a foreign country, but the U.S. export regulations have a much broader application.  An export also includes the transfer of controlled technical data or technology to foreign persons, even when the transfer takes place within the geographic territory of the United States.  Such a transfer is “deemed” to be an export to the country of the foreign person and is referred to as a “deemed export.”

Although not the only federal agencies administering export control laws, the U.S. State and Commerce Departments manage the two broadest export control systems.  The U.S. State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls administers the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”), found at 22 C.F.R. §§ 120-130, which control defense articles and services.  The U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) administers the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”), found at 15 C.F.R. §§ 730-774, which control commercial and dual-use items,  as well as limited low-sensitivity military items.  Generally speaking, all articles controlled under the ITAR and many articles controlled under the EAR require an export license before the export, including a deemed export, occurs.

Each set of regulations accounts for deemed exports but have slightly different definitions of key terms.  In fact, new and revised definitions under both regulations become effective September 1, 2016.  One primary intention of the definitional changes is to better harmonize the analogous definitions in both systems. Under both regulations, the deemed export rule applies only to foreign persons and, by definition, does not apply to U.S. citizens, persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (e.g., green card holders) or to persons who are protected individuals under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”)(e.g., certain refugees and asylees).

The below table showcases a few of the new definitions, including the improved harmonization for key terms such as export and release.
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ashleymendoza1eckertToday, I’m delighted to bring you what I hope will be the first of several updates for employers from the immigration law perspective.  One of my newest colleagues, Ashley Mendoza, along with my law partner Brenda Eckert, have been tracking some of the newest rules for employers coming out of the Department of Homeland Security.  These rules will have a particular impact to employers who recruit from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas.  For employers that rely on foreign workers to help supplement their ranks, this is crucial to understand.

But a cautionary note: It’s a bit technical. There’s really no way around that. Immigration laws are just filled with technical requirements. Indeed, that’s one reason why a qualified immigration lawyer is often needed to help employers navigate these rules. Brenda and Ashley are leading the way here at my firm and I thank them for this detailed update.

Yesterday (May 10, 2016), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) implemented major modifications to Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) extensions for students on F-1 visas enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) degree programs.

IMG_7083The new regulations, published at 8 CFR Parts 214.2(f) and 274a, authorize a 24-month STEM OPT extension period, replacing the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension period.

While at first glance, the new STEM OPT extension regulations may seem a cause for celebration, there are a number of added requirements and oversight provisions and, for some U.S. employers, the benefits may not outweigh the burdens.

What is OPT?

OPT is a form of temporary employment available to students holding F-1 visas that directly relates to a student’s program of study. The employment is often paid, and may take place during and/or after completion of the degree program.

The overarching idea is that OPT will afford eligible international students and new graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on practical experience to supplement what they learned during their degree program. Students may be authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time OPT at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate).

The application process is relatively straight forward. The student must first request approval from his or her designated school official (“DSO”), who will then make a recommendation to the electronic Student and Exchange Visitor and Information System (“SEVIS”) by endorsing a Form I-20.

Thereafter, the student must file the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, supporting documentation, and a filing fee of $380.00 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).

The extension & the changes to it

Since 2008, eligible students who graduate with a qualified STEM degree and are presently engaged in a period of approved post-completion OPT may have the option to extend their OPT for a period of 17 months.

This is the existing STEM OPT extension, and this is what the new regulations modify. These changes will affect all parties involved in the STEM OPT extension process. This includes the students and the U.S. employers with whom the students will train during the course of the approved period of STEM OPT.

Not to be forgotten, however, are the DSO’s who perform pivotal work with students behind-the-scenes to recommend them for OPT and extensions and maintain student records in SEVIS.

So, what’s new?

The better question, really, is what isn’t new.

The new regulations provide a comprehensive overhaul to the STEM OPT program.


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It’s FINALLY a nice spring day outside in Connecticut (see the picture of the Connecticut River taken this morning) so no need to spend a minute more than necessary to catch up on some other employment law-related items you might have missed during the week:View of Hartford, CT

  • A topic near and dear to my heart, background checks, had