While driving to his office one morning, Gus M. Shihab, an H-1B visa attorney whose firm covers four cities in the US, Gus focuses on his tasks for the day. He and his longtime partner and brother, attorney Sam Shihab, travel to all four of their firms’ offices in Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, Southfield Michigan, and Washington, D.C. to meet with clients. On this particular morning, Gus is thinking to himself: “as promised, today I must file 10 H-1B visas.”
Gus’ offices are located in the prestigious central business districts of their respective cities, and the one in Columbus, Ohio, is no exception. Located in the Capitol Square Office Tower, overlooking the bustling location of the State Capital Building, and connected to the Hyatt Regency, Gus’ office is located on the 15th floor. Gus walks into his firm and proceeds to his office, greeting his assistant Teri on the way. Gus changes his voicemail greeting daily. He has religiously done so for the last 10 years.
“First things come first,” he whispers to himself. He walks over to the break room to get a cup of dark roast coffee. On the way, he sees Zachary and Kristen, two competent paralegals in the hallway. Gus says “guys, in my office in 5 minutes.” Zachary and Kristen look to each other and nod with great attention. They know when Gus has something important on his mind. They also know the type of lawyer he is: though he enjoys his work, he takes it very seriously.
Exactly five minutes later, a meeting is convened in Gus’ office. He looks at Kristen and Zachary and says “we have the task of filing 10 H-1B visas today for Sunrise Central, Inc. and for Zoozoo X Limited, LLC.”
“I received all the forms back today from the clients. I am ready to file these cases on behalf of Sunrise Central, Inc.” Zacchary proclaims. Kristen says “All are ready except for the equivalency evaluations on Zoozoo X Limited, LLC.” Gus exalts “You two both have done a good job.”
“Let me make sure that you know what our main mission is,” he adds. Zachary and Kristen look at each other in exclamation as Gus sips his dark roast and looks at them intensely.
Kristen starts “we are an immigration law firm” and Zachary finishes “we do immigration filing on behalf of our clients.”
But Gus says “not exactly.” A moment passes. Then Gus inquires “run me through the activities that make up an H-1B visa case.”
Kristen says “O.K. We must collect data from the employer and employee.” Gus nods and Kristen continues. “Then we must review the proposed position description and make sure that it fits into the regulatory standards as a Specialty Occupation worthy of an H-1B visa.”
“We must make sure that the employee’s credentials are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or better from an accredited US University, we research prevailing wages, and complete a Labor Condition Application. We then send the employer an internal notice to be posted at the ‘worksite,'” Zachary continues. Gus proceeds “…we fill the rest of the forms, put together public access file, etc., etc.”
Gus smiles big and says “but as a law firm, when have we truly done our job?” Zachary and Kristen look at each puzzled and look back at Gus as he continues. “Our job is not complete until we have represented our client.” At this point, Zachary and Kristen know that Gus is on to something. Gus says “we represent our client as a law firm when we show them how to avoid pitfalls in the H-1B visa program.”
Zachary immediately says “I remember that Zoozoo X Limited, LLC was the subject of an intense USDOL investigation which almost brought the entire company down. Prior to coming to Shihab & Associates, Co, LPA they were represented by a bargain lawyer who did not prepare an LCA public access file for them.”
Gus instantly says, “not only that, if you recall, Zoozoo X Limited, LLC had been growing by leaps and bounds, and it neglected to keep or even know that the public access files were an integral part of the H-1B visa program. They had many other violations and did not even know it because they had not received any legal representation. They only got immigration filing.”
“The assessed penalties and back wages by the USDOL were almost $250,000,” Zachary added.
“Unfortunately, some employers view the H-1B visa attorney’s job as only completing the ‘immigration filing,'” Gus said. “But the lawyer does more than just that. Effective legal representation comes when the lawyer assumes the role of the ‘guardian’ for the employer, helping it along to assure that it continues to meet its business goals and not miss any regulatory obligations or restrictions.”
“I am starting to see where you are going with this. I recall you said there are always legal ways to do the same thing,” Zachary said.
“Precisely,” Gus said. “Take, for example, the fact that some employers have their H-1B visa employees sign an agreement with ‘early termination penalty clauses’ to assure that they do not jump ship shortly after their hire. An agreement like this which has been signed by the H-1B visa employee as a condition precedent to employment may not be enforceable and violates the H-1B visa rules,” Gus signified. “But having the employee sign an employment agreement that has a ‘liquidated damage’ clause in it is enforceable and does not violate the law,” Gus added.
“So the lesson to be learned today is that we must represent our clients not be a cookie cutter immigration filing firm,” Kristen said noddingly.
“About these H-1B visas, why don’t you both meet me in the large conference room later today so that I can review all of them and get them ready for filing.” With that, Gus finished their early morning pep talk and began another busy day in the life of an immigration attorney.