Employment Verification Compliance (including I-9s, E-Verify, and Enforcement)

Asplundh Tree Expert Co., one of the largest privately owned corporations in the country, with 30,000 employees and 3.5 billion in annual sales, according to Forbes, has been ordered to pay $95 million in the largest fine against a company for hiring thousands of immigrants who did not have permission to work in the U.S., according to federal officials. Asplundh, a 90-year-old, family-owned company that employs 30,000 workers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, clears brush and vegetation from electric and gas lines and holds many municipal, state, and federal contacts.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia, Asplundh employed thousands of undocumented workers between the years of 2010 and 2014 with its top management remaining “willfully blind” while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States,” the office said. In addition to having to forfeit $80 million, Asplundh will pay a $15 million civil penalty for not complying with immigration law. Asplundh employed thousands of undocumented workers between 2010 and 2014 with its top management remaining “willfully blind” while lower-level supervisors hired people they knew were in the country illegally to maximize profit.

Homeland Security Investigations began auditing Asplundh Tree Experts on Nov. 19, 2009 to make sure the company complied with federal laws regarding the hiring of immigrants. After being given a list of names, Asplundh fired hundreds of its employees who were ineligible to work in the U.S. Others quit before they could be terminated. After acting like it was complying with HSI demands, Asplundh instead doubled down on its illegal practices, according to federal authorities. Many of the some employees Asplundh had just let go were re-hired under different names using fake or illegally obtained documents. One of its regional managers, Larry Gauger, even went so far as to tell supervisors who worked under him that they had “plausible deniability” because their illegally obtained social security numbers would be positive matches in the E-verify database, court papers state. Gauger has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

“This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit,” prosecutors said in a statement. “With a motivated workforce, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather-related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market.”

ICE issued a statement on 9/28/2017, “Today marks the end of a lengthy investigation by ICE Homeland Security Investigations into hiring violations committed by the highest levels of Asplundh’s organization,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan. “Today’s judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable. Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet.”

In a statement on its website, Asplundh said company officials “accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred.” Asplundh went on to say that is reviewing the identification of every employee and is adding a photo ID card system which includes the same facial recognition software used by ICE. The company is also adding a compliance specialist trained in ID examination in each region it does business.

Employers should remain alert and vigilant in their I-9 compliance practices. The Asplundh investigation is a lesson in compliance, demonstrating that liability exists not only in the evidence apparent in the paperwork, but also in an employer’s procedures, policies, and practices. An ICE investigation can be triggered from any number of sources, from an enforcement initiative within Homeland Security Investigations to a tip from an individual to the exchange of data between government agencies (SSA, IRS, DOL, etc.). An ICE investigation can result in more than just financial losses due to monetary penalties. These types of investigations, which can often carry on for years, result in the loss of workers and damage to company reputations and image, affecting relationships with customers and the public in general. Our recommendation on best practices is for employers to be prepared by performing private internal audits before ICE comes knocking.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

On May 1, 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began issuing redesigned versions of the Permanent Resident Card (aka a “Green Card”) and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project.

The redesigned cards use enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant security features to create cards that are highly secure and more tamper-resistant than the ones currently in use.

USCIS states that the new card designs are part of an ongoing effort between USCIS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enhance document security and deter counterfeiting and f raud and demonstrate USCIS’ commitment to continue taking a proactive approach against the threat of document tampering and fraud.

The new Permanent Resident and EAD Cards will:

  • Display the individual’s photos on both sides;
  • Show a unique graphic image and color palette:
  • Have embedded holographic images; and
  • No longer display the individual’s signature.
  • EAD cards will have an image of a bald eagle and a predominately red palette;
  • Permanent Resident Cards will have an image of the Statue of Liberty and a predominately green palette;
  • Permanent Resident Cards will no longer have an optical stripe on the back.

Some Permanent Resident Cards and EADs issued after May 1, 2017, may still display the existing design format as USCIS will continue using existing card stock until current supplies are depleted. Both the existing and the new Permanent Resident Cards and EADs will remain valid until the expiration date shown on the card. Additionally, older Permanent Resident Cards without an expiration date also remain valid. USCIS continues to encourage individuals who have Permanent Resident Cards without an expiration date to consider applying for a replacement card bearing an expiration date in order to reduce the likelihood of fraud or tampering if the card is ever lost or stolen, but have not mandated that they must do so.

The M-274 Handbook for Employers for Completing Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification Form) was updated in July 2017 to depict the design of the new cards and those several still valid versions.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

In our continuing series of reports, Charles (“Charlie”) Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State, shares his most recent analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories with AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association).

Below are highlights from the most recent “check-in with Charlie” (August 11, 2017), reflecting his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories.

As the September Visa Bulletin sets forth the final action dates for the last month of Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, this month Charlie provides his predictions on final action date movement in October and during FY 2018.         

Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim: June 13, 2017

EB-1 China and EB-1 India. The final action date of January 1, 2012, which was imposed in June 2017, will remain the same for EB-1 China and EB-1 India, as predicted. Based on current information, these categories will likely return to Current in October. However, Charlie will continue to monitor demand carefully between now and early September. A final action date will definitely be imposed again for EB-1 China and EB-1 India at some point during the summer of 2018.

EB-2 Worldwide. The final action date for EB-2 Worldwide advances nine months in September, from April 1, 2015, to January 1, 2016. This category will become current again on October 1, 2017, and it should remain current for the foreseeable future.

EB-2 India. Smaller than anticipated EB-3 to EB-2 upgrade demand allows EB-2 India to advance one month to August 22, 2008, for September. Members should expect additional, slow movement of a few weeks at a time starting in October. It is hoped that the final action date for EB-2 India will be advanced to a date in December 2008 at some point between January and April 2018, depending on the level of EB-3 upgrade demand. Charlie is also hopeful that the final action date for EB-2 India could advance to a date in 2009 at some point during the second half of FY 2018.

EB-2 and EB-3 China. In September, the final action date for EB-2 China will advance slightly to May 15, 2013, and the final action date for EB-3 China will hold steady at January 1, 2012. Members should expect to see a full recovery of EB-3 China in October, putting it once again ahead of the final action date for EB-2 China, creating conditions for EB-3 downgrades. EB-2 China should advance more swiftly than EB-2 India in the coming fiscal year, at a pace of three to six weeks per month.

EB-3 Worldwide. The EB-3 Worldwide final action date, which became current in August, is likely to remain current in October, absent significant demand materializing within the next few weeks. Demand for EB-3 Worldwide will have a significant impact on the ability of the EB-3 India final action date to advance significantly at the end of FY 2018, based on the availability of “otherwise unused” numbers.

EB-3 India. The final action date for EB-3 India advances three months in September to October 15, 2006, consistent with Charlie’s predictions. This category is expected to continue to advance at a pace of several weeks at a time as we enter the new fiscal year.

EB-3 Philippines. The final action date for EB-3 Philippines advances another five months to November 1, 2015, in September. Charlie speculates that demand in this category may materialize abruptly, but he does not expect that to occur until after the first of the year.

EB-5 China. The final action date for EB-5 China holds at June 15, 2014, in September. This category will sunset at the end of September if the program is not reauthorized by Congress. As in the past, the October Visa Bulletin will likely address the final action date that will apply to this category if it is reauthorized.

FB-1 and FB-4. As noted in the Visa Bulletin, high demand necessitated a temporary retrogression of the final action dates in the FB-1 and FB-4 Worldwide, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, India and Honduras categories for September. A full recovery of the final action dates for these categories will occur in October.

Special Immigrants. In September, the final action date for EB-4 India, Mexico, and El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras advances more than one month to October 22, 2015. EB-4 India will become current in October and will remain so until spring or summer 2018. Additionally, in October, it is possible that EB-4 Mexico will have a later final action date than the one imposed for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. If that should happen, it may only be temporary.

You may access the August 2017 Visa Bulletin here and the September 2017 Visa Bulletin here.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

Businesswomen filling paperwork for agreement
Copyright: bignai / 123RF Stock Photo

USCIS released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17. Employers can use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 N through Sept. 17, 2017. On Sept. 18, 2017 and thereafter employers must use this revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17 N.  It is not necessary to complete new I-9 forms for current employees.  Use the new edition of the form for new hires and reverifications.

Revisions to the Form I-9 instructions:

  • USCIS changed the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.
  • USCIS removed “the end of” from the phrase “the first day of employment.”

Revisions related to the List of Acceptable Documents on Form I-9:

  • USCIS added the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) to List C.  Employers completing Form I-9 on a computer will be able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C of Section 2 and Section 3.  E-Verify users will also be able to select Form FS-240 when creating a case for an employee who has presented this document for Form I-9.
  • USCIS combined all the certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350 and Form FS-240) into selection C#2 in List C.
  • USCIS renumbered all List C documents except the Social Security card. For example, the employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security on List C will change from List C #8 to List C #7.

These changes are also available in the revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274), which is also now available.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

Businesswoman filing paperwork
Copyright: bignai / 123RF Stock Photo

On July 12, 2017 USCIS announced that it will release a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17, 2017. This new edition of the form, which will bear a revision date of 07/17/17 N, will become mandatory on September 18, 2017 and will replace all prior editions of the form as of that date. Employers may either use the current edition (with a revision date of 11/14/16 N) or the new edition, once released, through September 17, 2017. As of September 18, 2017, however, only the new edition will be acceptable for new hires or reverifications.

The new edition of the Form I-9 is expected to include the following changes:

 Revisions to the Form I-9 instructions:

  • The name of the “Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices” will be changed to its new name, “Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.”
  • “The end of” will be removed from the phrase “the first day of employment.”

Revisions related to the List of Acceptable Documents on Form I-9:

  • The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) will be added to List C.
    • Employers completing Form I-9 on a computer will be able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C of Section 2 and Section 3. E-Verify users will also be able to select Form FS-240 when creating a case for an employee who has presented this document for Form I-9.
  • All of the certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350 and Form FS-240) will be combined into selection Item 2 under List C.
  • All List C documents, except the Social Security card, will be renumbered.
    • For example, the employment authorization document issued by the Department of Homeland Security on List C will change from Item 8 under List C to Item 7 under List C.

All changes will be incorporated into a revised edition of the M-274 Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9, which is also being revised to make it easier for users to navigate.

All U.S. employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for every employee hired in order to verify that the individual is authorized for employment in the United States under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Beginning September 18, 2017, employers must use the new version of the Form for all new hires and for re-verifying current employees with expiring employment authorization documentation. [Employers should not complete new Forms for existing employees who do not require re-verification.] A best practice would be for employers to begin using the new edition of the form immediately upon its release.

You may view the Office of Management and Budget Conclusion here and the final Federal register Notice effectuating these changes here.

Once released you may obtain the new edition of the Form I-9 (in English and Spanish), as well as the new M-274 Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 here.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

On April 17, 2017,  USCIS alerted stakeholders concerning a glitch on the Form I-9.  The glitch specifically relates to any Form I-9 downloaded between November 14, 2016 and November 17, 2016 and the employee’s Social Security number.  Employers who downloaded Form I-9 during this brief period should ensure the employee’s Social Security Number appears correctly in Section 1.  As explained by USCIS, numbers inserted in Section 1- Social Security number field were transposed when the Form I-9 was completed and printed.   Forms completed after November 17, 2016 are not of concern as USCIS repaired the technical error and reposted Form I-9 on November 17, 2016.

Employers who detect a mistake in their employee’s Social Security numbers as written in Section 1 should request the employee draw a strike through the transposed Social Security number, write the correct Social Security number, and write their initials/date in the margin next to the change in Section 1.  It is also recommended that employers attach a written explanation to affected Form I-9s as to the reason for the correction as a safeguard in the event of an audit.

USCIS published the updated M-274, Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9. The Handbook for Employers provides employers with detailed guidance for completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. This version, published on Jan. 22, 2017, replaces the previous version which was published on April 30, 2013. It reflects revisions to Form I-9, which was revised on Nov. 14, 2016. You can review highlights of the changes in the Table of Changes for Revised M-274.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a new revised version of Form I-9 on Monday, November 14, 2016.  The previous editions of the Form (with “03/08/13” in the lower left corner) will remain valid until January 21, 2017. After this date, only the new Form (with “11/14/16” in the lower left corner) is acceptable. Both the English and Spanish (available for use only in Puerto Rico) have been revised.

All U.S. employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for every employee hired in order to verify that the individual is authorized for employment in the United States under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).  IRCA prohibits employers from hiring people, including U.S. citizens, for employment in the United States without verifying their identity and employment authorization on Form I-9.

Per USCIS, the changes in the Form are designed to reduce errors and enhance form completion using a computer. The new Form I-9 has been enhanced for easier completion on a computer with drop-down lists, popup calendars for entering dates, on-screen instructions for each field, easy access to the full instructions, and an option to clear the form and start over. When the employer prints the completed form, a quick response (QR) code is automatically generated, which can be read by most QR readers.

Among the changes in the new version, Section 1 asks for “other last names used” rather than “other names used,” and streamlines certification for certain foreign nationals.

Other changes include:

  • The addition of prompts to ensure information is entered correctly.
  • The ability to enter multiple preparers and translators.
  • A dedicated area for including additional information rather than having to add it in the margins.
  • The preparer/translator information is now on a separate/supplemental page.

The instructions have been separated from the form, in line with other USCIS forms, and include specific instructions for completing each field.

Note that the new form does not require that it be completed on a computer; it only makes it easier if Employers choose to do so. For those who will complete the form manually, there are little to no changes, other than some visual and formatting differences from the prior edition.

As a best practice, employers should begin using the new edition of the form immediately for all new hires and for reverifications of current employees, although the previous editions of the form will remain valid until January 21, 2017. Employers should not execute new Forms for existing employees or prepare new forms to replace existing forms. Employers should use the new version of the form to reverify existing employees.

The new Form I-9 and List of Acceptable Documents, in English and in Spanish, the separate Instructions for Form I-9, and Form I-9 Supplement, Section 1, Preparer and Translator are available on USCIS’ web site. The Spanish version of the Form may only be executed by employers in Puerto Rico. Employers in the 50 states, Washington, DC, and other U.S. territories may use the Spanish version of the Form only as a translation guide and must complete the English version of the Form.

IRCA compliance can be a complicated process, and although employers can select from a variety of service providers to meet their I-9 training needs, legal professionals with experience with immigration, employment and labor law are best equipped to handle IRCA compliance issues.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

The Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) has approved the latest revisions to the current Form I-9, which expired on March 31, 2016 but remains valid until the new edition is released.  The new form will replace the 2013 version and will be valid until August 31, 2019.

The OMB notice indicates that USCIS “may accept the prior version of Form I-9, for 150 days,” however, USCIS has yet to issue any statements or any intended plans on when it will release the new Form I-9 yet.

Although several changes are expected in the new Form I-9, including the application of bar coding technology, there have been no official disclosures of those changes, nor any previews of the new version. Accordingly, all Employers can do at this time is to watch and wait.

Continue using the 2013 version of the Form until the new Form is released. It is anticipated that USCIS will provide some lead time before the new Form is mandatory, as in years past. We’ll keep you apprised as information becomes available, and advise on our schedule of training seminars, once the form is out. Stay tuned.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced significant increases in fines for immigration-related paperwork violations, in an interim final rule slated to take effect this fall. Harsher financial penalties come as part of the federal government’s recently-expanded efforts to ensure that employers comply with strict verification, recordkeeping, and document retention requirements, with regard to the Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification).

Fines for employers who commit procedural or substantive errors when completing I-9s will now be set at a maximum of $2,156 per violation, nearly doubling the current maximum penalty of $1,100 per I-9. Additionally, companies found to employ undocumented workers can now expect to pay fines of up to $4,313 for an initial offense and up to $21,563 for each individual violation thereafter. The increased financial penalties will be assessed after August 1, 2016, for employers whose associated I-9 violations occurred after November 2, 2015.

All employers are required by law to review any employee’s original proof of identity and employment eligibility and complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 within three days from the first date of employment. Though a seemingly simple form to complete, the complex requirements of federal immigration laws, intense government scrutiny, and simple human error often lead to considerable financial liability.

Even law-abiding employers who strive to comply with Employment Eligibility Verification rules and do not deliberately hire undocumented workers are subject to government scrutiny and could face steep fines if inspected. Beyond paperwork errors, employers may be fined for failing to retain their I-9s within the mandatory retention period.

Employers are subject to investigation by any number of agencies and investigatory units within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, as well as the Justice Department.

Employers can, however, prevent steep financial liability by having counsel conduct internal audits, and by correcting mistakes on forms, where possible. Employers are also wise to establish a standardized I-9 training program and implement best practices for verification, recordkeeping, and retention, thereby greatly reducing the risk—and the prospective expense—of any future liability.


Scott E. Bettridge, a partner in the firm’s Immigration Practice in Miami, co-authored this post.