NEW YORK: President Donald Trump has nominated Lee Francis Cissna, a fierce critic of the H-1B visa used by Indian tech outsourcing firms to displace American workers, and Employment Authorization Document (EAD) work permits for H-4 visa holders, to oversee the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Cissna, whose nomination is subject to confirmation, was chosen to serve as the next director of USCIS, according to a statement from the White House. He is presently a head of immigration policy in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy, the administration said.
“In this capacity, he develops and coordinates departmental policy, with particular emphasis on temporary worker, immigrant and other immigration benefits programs,” the White House noted.
The USCIS is responsible for administering immigration benefits, including temporary and permanent employment-based visas. If confirmed, Cissna would be responsible for carrying out the president’s agenda in this area.
Previously, Cissna worked in the Office of the Chief Counsel at USCIS, and has also worked in private practice. According to the White House, he was a lawyer for the immigration group of Kaufman & Canoles in Richmond, Virginia.
Cissna has also served as a foreign service officer in Haiti and Sweden, and was previously an attorney for the international trade wings of both Steptoe & Johnson LLP and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, according to the announcement.
Although USCIS hasn’t played a dominant role in the discussion over the Trump administration’s hardline immigration moves, Cissna’s nomination does come as USCIS starts to take a more “targeted approach” in performing site visits to H-1B visa petitioners. The administration issued a deluge of notices about skilled worker H-1B visas recently, putting information technology firms in the crosshairs of targeted site visits by the government, reported Law360.com.
The latest immigration-related nomination also comes not long after Trump nominated acting Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan to serve as commissioner of the agency. McAleenan has served as the deputy commissioner of CBP since 2014 and also functions as the agency’s chief operating officer and is a senior career official, the White House said in a press release.
Meanwhile, Trump has appointed Thomas Homan, who oversaw more than 900,000 deportations under President Barack Obama, to be the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while Ron Vitiello was named chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The Bureau of National Affairs reported Cissna seems to have focused on one particular area of interest to the Trump administration: displacement of U.S. workers by foreign workers on H-1B visas.
The temporary visas for skilled workers are supposed to help companies that can’t find domestic labor to fill “specialty occupations.” But the H-1B program has come under scrutiny recently with reports of companies laying off their U.S. information technology workers and contracting with IT consulting companies to provide the service using H-1B workers.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration, held a panel discussion on the topic in November 2015. Cissna, who was detailed to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office, spoke from the audience and called the displacement situation a “nightmare,” according to a transcript.
Cissna also spoke favorably at the event about the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, legislation introduced in multiple sessions of Congress by Grassley and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The more recent version of the bill added “provisions that address the replacement of U.S. workers,” Cissna said.
“We address numerous other elements of monkey business and shenanigans in this program that we think ought to stop,” he said. “The primary reform of the bill is it requires the employers to hire an American first if there is an American who’s available and eligible to do the job. That is the starting point of the whole legislation,” he said.
Aside from policing the H-1B program, Cissna is likely to undo many of the Obama administration’s policies and regulations, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the CIS, told Bloomberg BNA April 10.
Cissna is “very knowledgeable about the immigration system” and knows “all of the wrinkles of this stuff,” Krikorian said.
A lot of what President Barack Obama did is “likely to be undone by Cissna,” he said.
That includes a regulation providing work permits to the spouses of H-1B workers on H-4 visas, seeking permanent residence, Krikorian said.
The DHS recently told a federal appeals court that it’s taking a second look at the regulations, a feature of Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration. If confirmed as USCIS director, Cissna would oversee any efforts to amend or revoke the regulations.
Cissna’s “a law and order guy,” Krikorian said.
“Anyone who’s ever worked as a foreign service officer on visas is disabused of any romantic or sentimental notions about visa programs,” he said. It’s clear in that position how vulnerable the visa programs are to fraud and how those in power “simply ignore that fraud,” Krikorian said.
Cissna has a “reputation of being pretty tough” on immigration, attorney Greg Siskind of Siskind Susser told Bloomberg BNA April 10.
Siskind said he worked with Cissna while Cissna was detailed to Grassley’s office. But although he was no “pushover,” Cissna did draft immigration legislation that gained the approval of Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Siskind said.
The legislation related to a program that supplies foreign physicians to rural and medically underserved areas.
Cissna doesn’t appear to be an “ideologue” or “unreasonable” in his immigration policy views, Siskind said.
However, Cissna “hasn’t really been in a position where he’s had to state his own views,” so “things may become more apparent” during his confirmation hearings, he said.