Imagine arriving in the United States from India or China, prepared to start a new job as an I.T. consultant. You have your H-1 work visa in hand, so you expect smooth sailing through customs. Suddenly, you are pulled aside, questioned, and put on a flight back home. To make matters worse, you're hit with a five-year ban on entering the United States.
This scenario is playing out with increasing frequency around the United States, as Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have taken on a larger role in reviewing decisions made by Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department in granting work visas. In particular, CBP has been looking closely at whether individuals working outside their sponsors' offices will be under their sponsors' control or working as independent contractors.
The aim is to weed out fraud. But critics say CBP agents lack expertise in adjudicating such claims, and they are not bound by the other agencies' guidelines. Prospective employees from other countries must perfectly parrot what appears on their paperwork—one more hoop to jump through in an already arduous and expensive process for highly skilled foreign workers who want to come to the United States. "We are competing for talent in a global market," says immigration attorney David Grunblatt, "and one of our most important weapons, the H-1 visa, has become nearly dysfunctional."