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Trump’s Tweet and COVID-19 Effects on Immigration

President Trump tweeted late Monday night (4/20/2020) he plans to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. What does this mean?

We won’t have specific details until the Executive Order (EO) is released, which should be sometime this week. Rumors are circulating that this may be for a 120 day period. This announcement is troubling but not surprising given Trump’s attempts and successes in limiting immigration already, and he can attribute the necessity of this EO to the pandemic. We will post updates on this EO as they become available.

Can nonimmigrants be eligible to receive a stimulus check under the CARES Act?

To receive the payment, the recipient must have a valid Social Security number and qualify as a resident alien as defined by the Internal Revenue Service. To qualify as a “resident alien,” one must either meet the green card test or the substantial presence test. To pass the “green card” test, one must be a lawful permanent resident, i.e., green card holder, at any time during the calendar year. The “substantial presence” test is also based on the calendar year. One must have been physically present in the U.S. during the calendar year for a specific minimum period of time per IRS rules. Some nonimmigrants are exempt from the physical presence calculation such as F-1 students. Most work authorized nonimmigrants (H-1B, L-1, O-1, and TN) are not exempt. More information on the substantial presence test can be found here: https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/substantial-presence-test. Please consult a Certified Public Accountant with any IRS-related questions.

Please note: Individuals who do not have a valid Social Security number and used an ITIN to file their taxes are not eligible for a stimulus check. In fact, the CARES Act denies the rebate to an eligible individual with a Social Security number if that individual filed a joint return with a spouse who has an ITIN, or filed a return with a qualifying child who has an ITIN. (Limited exceptions apply in adoption or military situations.)

As a nonimmigrant, if I receive a stimulus check, is there a risk in accepting and cashing it?

A new Public Charge rule went into effect on February 24, 2020. This rule is the basis for concern over receiving a stimulus check and whether that will lead to a public charge determination. The recovery rebates are considered tax credits. Tax credits are specifically excluded from public benefits in the Public Charge rule and are not taken into account in making a public charge determination.

How can I renew my driver license (DL) with Department of Public Safety offices closed?

DLs are extended for 60 days per order of the Governor of Texas.

In accordance with section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, the Office of the Governor approved the Department’s request to suspend provisions of the Texas Transportation Code to the extent necessary to delay the expiration date of Driver Licenses (DL), Commercial Driver Licenses (CDL), Personal Identification Cards (ID), and Election Certificates (EIC).

If your Texas DL, ID, CLP, CDL card or EIC expires on or after March 13, 2020, you are granted a waiver for the expiration date for 60 days after the Department provides further public notice that normal operations have resumed. You may download a copy of the Verification of Driver License Expiration Extension (PDF) notice. All local and state law enforcement officials have been notified of this expiration waiver. When the Department resumes normal operations, you will be able to renew without any penalty.

A close reading of the DPS notice reveals it is not consistent in how it defines the extension of DLs. The most favorable interpretation is the following:

(1) The expiration date on the DL is on or after March 13, 2020; and

(2) DLs remain valid for the duration of the governor’s declaration of State of Disaster for the State of Texas AND for 60 days after DPS provides further public notice that normal DPS operations have resumed.

So, for now, there is no definitive end date for the validity of DLs because the State of Texas is still under a State of Disaster.

I am an H-1B temporary worker and as a result of COVID-19, my worksite has changed. What do I need to do?

If the change in work location remains within the same metropolitan statistical area as the work location listed on the existing and valid Labor Condition Application (LCA), and this new work location is not listed on the original LCA, a new LCA posting must be done. The “same metropolitan statistical area” typically means within normal commuting distance. Currently, most employees are having to work remotely from home, and very likely, their home is within normal commuting distance of their office.

Consequently, employers must post LCA Notices at the new worksite location that is within normal commuting distance of the certified LCA worksite location no later than 30 days after the H-1B or E-3 worker begins work at this new location. This additional posting can be either via a hard copy posting (e.g. on the refrigerator at the worker’s home) or electronic.

If the change in work location is outside of the metropolitan statistical area stated on the LCA, a new LCA and amended H-1B petition are required unless short-term placement rules can be utilized.

Consult with an attorney for detailed advice and instructions concerning your specific situation.

I’m in H-1B status and my employer wants to reduce my hours from full-time to part-time. Is that okay? Also, can my pay be reduced because of lack of work during the pandemic?

A reduction in hours is a material change in the job offer. Consequently, a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) and amended H-1B petition must be filed prior to the employer reducing the hours of work.

Regarding wages, the H-1B employer is required to pay the higher of the prevailing wage or actual wage as specified on the LCA and in the H-1B petition throughout the validity period of the H-1B.

An H-1B employee may not be put in non-productive status without pay, due to the decision of the employer or for the employer’s benefit. This includes furloughing the employee for lack of work or “benching” that employee.

In the case of company-wide salary cuts in response to an economic crisis, an employer should ensure any adjustments to an H-1B employee’s salary keep the salary at or above the prevailing wage rate. The wages paid to the H-1B must still be at least the higher of the adjusted actual wage or prevailing wage for that occupational classification and in the area of intended employment. The employer must place a memo in each applicable Public Access File documenting this adjustment in wages.

On the other hand, if the employee voluntarily requests leave for a personal reason, such as maternity leave or to care for a family member, then the employer is not required to pay the H-1B worker during that leave for personal reasons. Keep in mind, though, that the employer may still be obligated to pay the required wage if subject to payment under the employer’s benefit plan, or acts such as Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Can nonimmigrant workers in H-1B, L-1, E-3 or TN status receive unemployment insurance?

To maintain valid nonimmigrant status in those classifications, the nonimmigrant must remain employed by the petitioning employer. If they are terminated or quit working for that employer, barring a 60-day grace period within which to file a new petition or depart the U.S., the nonimmigrant is out of status. Filing for unemployment insurance is an indication the person is not working and hence, out of status. Further, to be eligible for unemployment benefits, the person must be available and ready for full-time work. Persons in the nonimmigrant categories mentioned above are not immediately available or ready for work due to the immigration process that must be conducted first.

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