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ag gag laws

Who Qualifies for an H-1B Visa?

If you're interested in filing paperwork for an H-1B visa -- a temporary work permit the U.S. government issues to highly skilled foreign workers -- make sure to submit your paperwork sooner rather than later. The application season begins April 1. But before all else, you need to get familiar with the process and find out whether you qualify for an H-1B visa. Here are five basic requirements to apply for an H-1B visa: You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning employer. In general, a valid employer-employee relationship is determined by the extent to which the U.S. employer has control over the H-1B worker -- namely, whether the U.S. employer can hire, pay, fire, supervise, or otherwise control the work of the H-1B worker. You have a "specialty occupation." H-1B visas are granted to foreign nationals who will work in the United States in a "specialty occupation." On a very general and basic level, you must meet two requirements. First, the job must require a specific bachelor's degree -- such as accounting or engineering -- or the equivalent in combined education and experience. Second, you (the foreign national employee) must have a relevant degree or the equivalent. Though it sounds straightforward, it can actually become pretty complicated. Specific wage payments. Employers must pay H-1B employees a certain wage. Your employer will need to file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor to certify that you will pay the sponsored H-1B employee the higher of the "actual wage" at your workplace or the "prevailing wage" in the industry, whichever is higher. You must have an H-1B visa number. H-1B visas are capped at 65,000 visas each fiscal year, and they go quickly. You must have an H-1B visa number available at the time of filing the petition, unless the petition is exempt from the visa cap. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of workers with a U.S. master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap. Those employed by an institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization, or a government research organization are also exempt from the cap. You must apply for a visa/admission. Once your employer's Form I-129 petition has been approved, you must apply with the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad for an H-1B visa (if a visa is required). You must then apply to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for admission to the United States in H-1B classification. For additional guidance on the H-1B visa process, you might want to consult an experienced immigration attorney near you. Related Resources: U.S. Visa Overview (FindLaw) Employment Based Visas (FindLaw) H-1B Visa Application Window Opening in April (FindLaw's Free Enterprise) 1st Green Card for Gay Spouse Approved (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Legal How-To: Getting a Tax Filing Extension

For most individuals filing taxes, April 15 is the deadline. However, if you're a procrastinor -- or if you were unable to file your taxes by the deadline for other reasons -- the IRS may give you an extension. If you're running late, here's how to get a tax filing extension, along with a few words of caution: File Form 4868 To receive an extension on filing your federal income tax, you must fill out and file Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return) by April 15. By filing the form, you'll get an automatic six-month extension to file your taxes. However, the form gives you an extension on filing, not an extension on paying owed taxes. So you must pay any taxes you owe by the April 15 deadline even if you don't file your taxes by that date. Taxpayers Living Outside of the United States U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad can get an automatic two-month extension to file their tax returns. To get that extension, you must attach a statement to your return that explains why you qualify for the extended time. In general, those who qualify are: Individuals living outside of the states and Puerto Rico because their main place of business or post of duty is outside of the country; Active duty naval and military personnel outside of the states and Puerto Rico. Taxpayers living abroad can also get a six-month extension to file their returns by filling out Form 4868 (discussed above). Individuals Serving in a Combat Zone Special extensions and allowances apply to individuals serving in a combat zone. For those individuals, the deadline for filing and paying owed taxes is automatically extended for at least 180 days from the last day they're in a combat zone, or the last day they were hospitalized for an injury from service in the combat zone. A Final Reminder... With the exception of those serving in a combat zone, individuals who receive a tax filing extension still must pay their owed taxes by April 15. The IRS will charge you interest on any amounts of underpayment or non-payment owed by the due date. So estimate how much you owe before the deadline. If you overpay, the IRS will credit you. If you run into trouble, never fear -- an experienced tax lawyer is just a click or phone call away. Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo. Related Resources: Seven Things about Getting More Time to File your Tax Return (IRS) 3 Tricks Identity Thieves Use During Tax Season (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Who Doesn't Have to File Income Taxes? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Sign Up for Our Free Legal Planning Newsletter (FindLaw's Legal Heads-Up)
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What Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? It's at the center of two Obamacare-related U.S. Supreme Court cases scheduled for oral argument Tuesday. While the First Amendment guarantees persons the free exercise of religion, there are other legal protections for religious rights -- including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been the subject of recent court cases. So what exactly is the RFRA? Passed to Protect Religious Liberty Congress passed the RFRA in 1993 in response to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Employment Division v. Smith. The Smith case involved a Native American church in Oregon that was denied unemployment benefits for because of members' use of peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, as part of a religious ceremony. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that despite the protections of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Oregon could legally deny those church members unemployment benefits because of their peyote use. This worried lawmakers about the future of religious freedom in the workplace. The RFRA applies when a law "substantially burdens" an individual or religious group's free exercise of religion. For the burdensome law to apply to the person or group, the government must show it has a "compelling interest" in applying the law, and that the law uses the "least restrictive means" to achieve that interest. (This standard was used in religious exercise cases prior to Smith; RFRA's purpose was to continue to apply this standard -- even for laws which apply generally to all persons.) Laws like the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, are now being tested by claims under RFRA. But while the RFRA applies to individuals and religious groups, does it also apply to corporations? Can Corporations Sue Under the RFRA? Two corporations that object to Obamacare's contraceptive mandate have made claims under the RFRA, alleging Obamacare violates a corporation's right to free exercise of religion. On Tuesday, craft-store chain Hobby Lobby plans to argue before the High Court that its religious freedom is burdened by the requirements of Obamacare, and that the company has a right to judicial remedy under the RFRA. Lawyers for Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a kitchen-cabinet manufacturer, are expected to make similar arguments. Federal courts have disagreed about whether corporations are "people" intended to be protected by the RFRA -- a question the U.S. Supreme Court is now poised to consider. The Court has previously affirmed that corporations have free speech rights (see Citizens United), but can a corporation really have religious freedom rights? Justice are being asked to determine whether the RFRA applies to corporations, small closely-held companies, or merely to a company's individual executives and employees. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision may change how we view religious freedom and the RFRA for years to come. Related Resources: 5 questions about the Supreme Court cases on requiring contraceptive coverage (Pew Research Center) Top 5 Obamacare Court Rulings (FindLaw's Decided) Corp. Can't Assert Free Exercise in Mandate Claim, But People Can: D.C. Cir. (FindLaw's D.C. Circuit Blog) Birth Control Mandate Cases Reaching Critical Mass; Possible Outcomes (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
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What Are ‘Ag Gag’ Laws?

So-called "ag gag" laws have allowed some states to muzzle animal rights activists, barring them from taking pictures or videos at livestock facilities. But many of these laws are being challenged in court. In the latest challenge, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting back against Idaho's "ag gag" law, citing illegal constraints on First Amendment rights, Reuters reports. So what are "ag gag" laws? Agriculture Anti-Whistleblower Laws The term "ag gag" is short for two things: agriculture and gag order. A gag order makes it illegal to speak or report about a certain topic. They're often issued by courts in order to ensure that criminal defendants receive a fair and unbiased trial. In this case, the "gag" part of "ag gag" laws refers to a category of anti-whistleblower laws that relate to animal abuse in the agriculture industry. According to the Humane Society of the United States, these laws have the effect of blocking advocates "from exposing animal cruelty, food-safety issues, [and] poor working conditions" in factory farms. These "ag gag" laws can take many forms, but they tend to criminalize: Taking photos or video of agricultural facilities without permission, Applying for an agriculture job under false pretenses, and Failing to report animal abuses to law enforcement. It may seem perfectly reasonable for states to punish those who silently assent to animal abuse at factory farms. But opponents note that these laws have more often been used to target and prosecute undercover investigators -- those seeking to end animal abuse. Current 'Ag Gag' Suits Idaho passed an "ag gag" law last month, making it a misdemeanor to interfere with agricultural production. This includes recording or photographing factory farms without permission as well as obtaining a job for the purpose of doing economic damage to an agriculture business. A complaint filed by the ACLU on behalf of various animal rights groups complains that the statute violates the First Amendment by unconstitutionally hampering free speech. A similar lawsuit was filed by law professors who believe Utah's "ag gag" law is unconstitutional, reports Food Safety News. There are currently seven states with "ag gag" laws, and all seem to be potentially vulnerable to free speech challenges that the laws are overbroad. Laws which effectively burden speech without a compelling government interest may be struck down as invalid under the First Amendment, which is what "ag gag" opponents are hoping for. Currently, however, there is no binding precedent for striking down an "ag gag" law. Related Resources: Idaho's ag-gag law challenged in federal court (The Idaho Statesman) Horn Honking Restrictions Violate Free Speech, Washington Court Rules (FindLaw's Decided) Begging Ban is Unconstitutional Restriction on Free Speech (FindLaw's U.S. Sixth Circuit Blog) Court Upholds Students' Free Speech Rights in Sleepover Pics Case (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
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