Rudyard Kipling famously noted, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Many employers may feel that this quote aptly describes the relationship between immigration law and wage & hour law — certainly, it is not often that these two areas are discussed in the same article, let alone the same sentence. However, a recent U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) policy memorandum illustrates a circumstance in which the government will take wage & hour considerations into account when addressing a visa petition.

The April 12, 2017 policy memorandum binds all USCIS personnel to follow the reasoning of the agency’s earlier Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision. In that AAO decision, the agency establishes policy guidance which clarifies that USCIS cannot approve an employment-based visa petition that is based on an illegal or otherwise invalid employment agreement. Specifically, before approving an employment-based visa petition, it must be established that the employment visa beneficiary will not be paid less than the state or federal hourly minimum wage. (Whichever has the highest minimum wage is the minimum to follow.)

The AAO decision involved a U.S. semiconductor manufacturing company’s petition, in which it sought to temporarily employ a “Failure Analysis Engineer” in Oregon under the L-1B nonimmigrant specialized knowledge classification for intracompany transferee employees. USCIS California Service Center had denied this petition, concluding that the evidence did not show that the beneficiary had specialized knowledge or would be employed in a capacity requiring specialized knowledge. However, the AAO decision identified an overreaching issue that it determined had to be dealt with prior to addressing the issue of specialized knowledge. Namely, the U.S. employer intended to pay the beneficiary less than the minimum hourly wage. The AAO decision made clear the agency’s position that under no circumstances is a U.S. employer allowed to pay an employment visa beneficiary below the highest applicable minimum state or federal hourly wage.

Through this AAO decision, USCIS employment visa adjudicators have been instructed to prevent a conflict with the Fair Labor Standards Act by ensuring that any prospective employment agreement between a U.S. employer and a foreign national worker allows for compensation that cannot be less than the higher government-required hourly wage, whether it be the state or federal minimum — only if that highest minimum hourly wage is met can USCIS approve a U.S. employer’s employment visa petition. As we have frequently discussed in these updates, there are many reasons that it is critical for employers to comply with wage and hour requirements. Employers now have another reason to ensure compliance with the FLSA and state minimum wage laws: the risk of jeopardizing employee visa status.