The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is out to put a stop to the phenomenon of Israelis working in American malls.
Many young Israelis try to "make a quick buck" in the United States by working as salespeople in malls , especially around Christmas time, which is the height of the holiday shopping season in the US.
They are often hired by employers who use a loophole in the H-B2 temporary work visa criteria: The H-B2 visa was created to facilitate non-agricultural employers, such as hotels, that needed a legal way to hire non-professional, temporary personnel.
In order to meet USCIS criteria, an employer had to claim either a one-time need or a seasonal one. The provisional nature of employment meant that the type of work was of no real significance – hence the loophole.
The mall industry quickly took advantage of the obscure nature of the visa to temporarily hire Israelis, despite the fact that it is a year-round industry. The USCIS finally wised up and decided to toughen H-B2 criteria.
Until now, anyone seeking the H-B2 visa needed to apply for it up to six months prior to the job start date. The New USCIS guidelines state that applications can now be submitted only 120 days prior to the job start date.
The new ordinance leaves employers rather in the dark: Since an application can be either denied or only partially granted, employers have no real way of knowing how many employees they will have until the very last minute, leaving them very little leeway.
Moreover, applications which have been granted are scrutinized thoroughly and all potential employees must undergo personal interviews by the consulate and produce notarized documentation.
The USCIS usually grants 65,000 H-B2 visas a year and should the number of applicants exceed that, a raffle is set. The number of applicants six months ago reached 45,000 worldwide – the six-month visa quota is 32,500.
In addition, the US government issued new guidelines for employing foreign workers as part of the fight against unemployment in the United States.
Tougher criteria, scrutinyAccording to the new guidelines, employers must prove that they could not find American workers qualified to do the job in question, making it harder to hire Israelis.
The USCIS also requires employees to advertise the position they wish to hire Israelis for in every relevant county, save all applications and provide detailed reasons for turning down any American application, making bypassing the process harder still.
An employer who is granted the coveted authorization will be able to offer his employees the temporary work visa – a five-to-eight month visa in malls' cases. In some cases, the H-B2 visa can be extended to last up to three years.
The new USCIS guidelines are another step in enforcing immigration laws: USCIS officials speaking in the last American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) convention called the use of H-B2 visa by malls "an abuse of power."
As part of the enforcement efforts, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which is a subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security, has increased its efforts to detain and deport illegal workers.
The new USCIS guidelines also state that information pertaining to anyone caught working illegally in US can be found on all federal databases, making it hard for such a person to enter the US, or any country it has a reciprocity agreement with, in the future.
Attorney Tsvi Kan-Tor is the founding partner of Kan-Tor & Acco global corporate relocation