Ophthalmologist Ashish Sanon was born in India and trained in Canada, of which he is a naturalized citizen. For the past sixteen years, Dr. Sanon has resided in the United States and operated an ophthalmological practice out of Florida. As it turns out, his practice here has been quite successful, billing $5 million over the past five years—enough to maintain homes both on Clearwater Beach and at the Black Diamond Ranch golf course.
It sounds like the American dream: a foreign national moves to the States, and with hard work and perseverance, matures his small business into a profitable venture, achieving upward socioeconomic mobility in the process. Only here, there’s a snag—and it’s a doozy.
Sanon has remained in the United States by recurrently renewing temporary visas available to certain professionals under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—a lawful practice. Also known as a TN visa, it permits eligible Canadian and Mexican nationals to come to the U.S. and work in prescribed fields. Sanon, who is licensed by the Florida Board of Medicine, was authorized to work in the field of ophthalmology, provided he limited his activities to those that were pedagogical or research-related. He, thus, exceeded the scope of his work authorization granted by USCIS by operating a ophthalmological practice, servicing upwards of 40 patients a day. This is an example of how violating the terms of your employment authorization can land you before an Immigration Judge.
Now, Dr. Sanon is facing criminal charges of visa fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, which may be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Moreover, Sanon could be required to forfeit some of the proceeds that flowed from the operation of the technically unlawful medical practice. Those familiar with immigration law will recognize that this may well be but the first step of what could turn into a challenging legal battle to simply maintain status quo: Sanon will be at the mercy of ICE’s discretion in deciding whether or not to place him in deportation proceedings. For someone whose wife, children, parents, and source of livelihood are all located in Florida, the byproduct of Sanon exceeding the scope of his work authorization could be devastating.