Foreign Workers Guide to Avoiding Disaster during a Corporate Merger

United States Immigration Series Post No. 12

 Francisco A. Laguna & Rolanzo White

Picture this: you are a skilled Mexican citizen who is working for a United States company. For the holiday season, you and your family go to Mexico City, to spend time with your parents and upon return to the US, you are denied access because your H-1B visa has been invalidated because the employer that originally sponsored your visa is no longer in existence due to a merger. You work for the new, merged company, but the company that sponsored you is no longer your employer.

By Gulbenk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23445038

By Gulbenk – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23445038

This denial of entry results from the fact that most work visas are employer-specific.  Therefore, changes in a company’s structure could affect the validity of a foreign national employee’s nonimmigrant visa status or a pending green card application. Determining whether a corporate restructuring affects the employer that filed the visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or Department of State (DOS) is essential. The consequences of a merger or acquisition depend upon the type of nonimmigrant visa the company’s employees hold. In this post, we focus on the H-1B visa because it is the most common temporary work visa and the rules applicable to H-1Bs are echoed by many of the other forms of visas. For the sake of comprehensiveness, non-immigrant workers normally fall within the H-1B, L, E and TN visa categories as well as on training tied to J-1 and F-1 visas.

H-1B Visa

The problem arises because an employee must have a valid H-1B visa annotated with the petitioning employer’s name.  In the event a company is absorbed by another entity during a merger, the petitioning employer, essentially, no longer exists.

By United States Department of Labor (DOL) - http://www.loeser.us/flags/, Public Domain

By United States Department of Labor (DOL) – http://www.loeser.us/flags/, Public Domain

H-1B visas are the most common temporary visa for U.S. companies that hire foreign national workers for specialty jobs. Workers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and they must work in a specific geographic location in a specific position for a specific salary. When a company hires an H-1B worker, it is required to make an attestation to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) they will comply with the H-1B requirements. This attestation is made as part of a Labor Condition Application (LCA).

The USCIS requires an amended H-1B visa petition to be filed if there are any “material changes” in the terms and conditions of an H-1B worker’s employment or eligibility. However, USCIS does not automatically require the filing of a new LCA and amended H-1B petition where a new corporate entity keeps the employee on in the same position and accepts the LCA and H-1B requirements and obligations, in other words, becomes a “successor-in-interest.” Here, the successor-in-interest, must make available for public inspection a sworn statement that it accepts all the obligations and liabilities of the LCAs filed by the predecessor entity, a list of affected LCAs, their dates of certification by DOL, a description of the new entity’s actual wage system and the federal employer identification number (EIN).

By AgnosticPreachersKid - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

By AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The filing of the new LCA and must be done before the H-1B workers can work for the new company, or, in our example, return to the country legally. When there is a material change, like location change, then a new LCA or amended H-1B petition must be filed with DOL prior to the relocation of the employee in order to avoid filing an amended H-1B visa petition. Similar rules apply for L-1 (executives, managers and specialized knowledge employees), E-1 (treaty traders) and E-2 (investor) visas.

There are now expensive consequences for non-compliance with the requirement to notify USCIS of material changes, including:

  • At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security is aggressively targeting employers for I-9 and work visa compliance audits; failed audits can result in significant fines and even jail time.
  • At the state level, new laws in dozens of states allow authorities to fine employers, revoke business licenses and eliminate access to state contracts for immigration law violations.
  • Employees on work visas are suing companies for negligence when employees fall out of legal status, have problems pursuing permanent residency, and face bars on coming back to the United States as a result of the companies’ actions.
  • Major companies now include strong immigration compliance provisions in their vendor contracts, violations of which can result in the termination of the contract in question.
  • Bad press that can impact the company’s economic performance and stock price.

These matters are often complicated, and there are strong laws protecting employees, even foreign workers. Call TransLegal with your questions concerning immigration filing requirements in the event of corporate mergers and acquisitions.

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