On August 3, 2016, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that only employers are to be provided notice and receive information on decisions on visa petitions issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and reversed in part a lower court ruling that had stopped short of requiring notice to the successor employer. This case has important implications for employers that file employment-based immigration petitions. Musunuru v. Lynch, No. 15-1577 (August 3, 2016).
Srinivasa Musunuru, an Indian national, was employed by Vision Systems Group (VSG) as a programmer analyst in H-1B status. VSG started a green card petition for Musunuru, in which he was assigned a priority date of February 17, 2004, under the employment-based third preference category (the EB-3 category). A priority date controls when an applicant can file an I-485 Adjustment of Status application, the last step in the green card process. Musunuru was eventually able to file his I-485 application in 2007. He subsequently changed employers and was hired by Crescent Solutions in a similar position, which allowed him to “port” or transfer his green card process to his second employer without affecting his original priority date of February 17, 2004, or his pending I-485 application.
Crescent filed another labor certification application and I-140 petition for Musunuru, both of which were approved in the EB-2 category (the employment-based second preference category). USCIS eventually issued an amended I-140 approval notice, reflecting a later priority date of January 28, 2011 (i.e., the date Crescent filed its labor certification application on behalf of Musunuru). This new priority date impacted the ability of his pending green card application to be adjudicated immediately and added several more years of wait time.
Unknown to Musunuru, USCIS had revoked the I-140 petition that VSG had filed on his behalf (and which had established his original priority date of February 2004). USCIS took this action because VSG’s owners pled guilty to fraud in connection with a separate and unrelated H-1B nonimmigrant petition that the company had also filed. As a result, USCIS presumed all visas that VSG filed were fraudulent, including Musunuru’s I-140 petition. USCIS sent notice of its intent to revoke this petition to VSG only. It did not send notice to Musunuru. However, VSG had gone out of business and did not respond to the notice, and Musunuru had already been employed at Crescent for some time so he did not become aware of the revocation.
Both Musunuru and Crescent learned that the underlying VSG I-140 had been revoked only after USCIS sent Crescent a notice of intent to revoke Crescent’s I-140 petition filed on behalf of Musunuru. The notice explained that because of VSG’s fraud charges, Musunuru’s work experience at VSG was not considered legitimate and therefore the approval of Crescent’s I-140 petition, which relied on that work experience, should also be revoked. Crescent and Musunuru, however, were able to overcome these assertions in their response to USCIS, which did not revoke Crescent’s I-140 petition but maintained the January 28, 2011 priority date.
Musunuru filed a lawsuit in district court arguing that USCIS should have sent him the notice about the revocation of VSG’s I-140 petition and an opportunity to respond to that notice. The district court, however, found that Musunuru was not required to receive notice based on existing “porting” regulations, noting that it is the “petitioner” or employer that must receive notice and that, as the employee, Musunuru would not be given an opportunity to challenge the revocation (but the employer is).
In contrast, the circuit court found that that the new employer was the “de facto petitioner” and that Congress, through the port provisions, intended for the successor employer to adopt the ported I-140 petition filed by the beneficiary’s previous employer. Therefore, the court stated USCIS should have given Crescent notice of intent to revoke the approval of the prior employer’s I-140 petition, and Crescent should have been given the opportunity to respond to the change in the priority date. The court, however, agreed with USCIS and the lower court regarding Musunuru’s rights, stating that the employee did not have a right to receive any notice.
The Seventh Circuit recently indicated that it would not rehear its decision (issued in August of 2016) and that Musunuru’s new employer should be given an opportunity to respond to the change in priority dates.