General Immigration News and Updates

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend USCIS Regulations relating to cap-subject H-1B petitions filed under both the regular cap and advanced degree exemption. Comments from the public may be submitted to the agency within the next 30 days.  This does not affect cap-exempt H-1B petitions.

 While the proposed changes are subject to possible modification, be aware that the upcoming H-1B cap season will likely be dramatically different from past years.  Highlights of the proposed changes include:

Pre-Registration

Electronic Registration/Pre-Registration
There is a proposed requirement that all cap-subject H-1B employers first register each intended petition electronically with USCIS during a designated period rather than directly filing complete H-1B petition packets with USCIS.  Basic information relating to the petitioner and beneficiary would be required in order to register. An employer would be limited to one registration per beneficiary within the same fiscal year.  USCIS does not plan to impose a registration fee at this time.  Only those employers whose registrations are selected (selected registrants) would be eligible to file cap-subject H-1B petitions during the particular filing period. 

Initial Registration/Random Selection 
An initial, time-limited registration period would be created with a start date at least 14 days prior to April 1st, which is the first date when cap-subject petitions may be filed each year. During the initial registration period USCIS would determine whether sufficient employer registrations were received to reach the regular cap for the new fiscal year.

  • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.

    • On a rolling basis, USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the regular H-1B cap is met, checking registration numbers at the end of each day to determine when there are enough to meet the cap.
    • A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and randomly select enough registrants to meet the regular cap.
  • USCIS would notify the selected registrants of the applicable H-1B petition filing period and where to file their H-1B cap-subject petitions.
  • After the selection process is completed for the regular cap, USCIS would determine whether there are enough remaining eligible registrants to meet the 20,000 advanced degree exemption.
    • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.
    • USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the advanced degree exemption is met. A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and use a computer-generated random selection process to meet the advanced degree exemption.

Petition Filing for Selected Registrants Only
USCIS would notify the selected registrants when and where they may file their H-1B petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries.  Only the selected registrants would be permitted to file cap-subject H-1B petitions.

  • An employer that registers to file multiple petitions (each on behalf of a different beneficiary) may be selected to file some of its petitions and not selected for others.

Unselected Registrations
Unselected registrations would remain on reserve for the fiscal year so that if USCIS determined that it must increase the number of registrations to meet the regular cap or advanced degree exemption (presumably in case some of the selected registrants fail to file or their H-1B petitions are denied), then USCIS would select from among the reserve registrants and if needed re-open the registration until the regular and advance degree exemptions are met. 

  • If the registration period is re-opened, USCIS would announce the re-opened registration period start date on its website and accept additional registrations sufficient to meet the new projected amount of registrations needed to meet the regular cap and/or advanced degree exemption. 

 Selection Process

Regular Cap Exhausted First
With the goal of maximizing approvals for the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries, the proposed regulations would change the sequence for considering petitions filed for beneficiaries counted against the regular cap or beneficiaries counted under the advanced degree exemption.

  • USCIS would select registrants toward the regular cap first until that cap is reached.  This would include all registrants (that is, those seeking to employ beneficiaries with only bachelor degrees or equivalent as well as those with advanced degrees from US education institutions).
  • Only when the projected number of registrations needed to meet the regular cap is reached would USCIS select registrants who are eligible for the advanced degree exemption.

The proposed rule states that by changing the selection order, USCIS believes that the total number of petitions selected under the regular cap for H-1B beneficiaries possessing a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education will increase overall each fiscal year.


If you wish to discuss your plans for the upcoming H-1B cap season or the proposed rule, please contact your Fox Rothschild attorney or any of the firm’s Immigration Practice Group co-chairs.

Employers large and small need to understand how immigration policy updates and enforcement affect their workplace compliance status. In a time of ramped-up government inspections, lack of preparation or information can leave businesses facing penalties. In fact, common structural changes like mergers, reorganizations, downsizing, relocations and layoffs require employers to reassess documentation for visa-holding employees and potentially notify government agencies. Knowing what to do is half the battle.

Immigration Practice Co-Chairs Alka Bahal, Ali Brodie and Catherine Wadhwani offer a free webinar on November 13, Immigration Compliance: What Employers Need To Know, that focuses on key issues facing employers who hire personnel from all corners of the globe.

 •   The immigration landscape in 2018 under the Trump administration

•   Current Form I-9 requirements – avoiding potential pitfalls

•   Organizational tips and best practices

•   Proactive steps to improve your compliance program

•   Audits and inspections by ICE and Department of Homeland Security

The event is open for registration through November 11.

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced the upcoming publication of a proposed rule designed to redefine a status known as “public charge” — a category used to determine whether someone seeking permanent resident status is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” for those seeking to immigrate to the United States. This rule was signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on September 21, 2018 and will open for comment on the date of the official version’s publication in the Federal Register. As per past practices, the comment period should last for 60 days from the date of publication.

The 400 page rule expands greatly on how the government proposes to enforce a determination that a foreign national who is seeking a U.S. immigration benefit is or is likely to become a “Public Charge”, which means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Specifically, under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to that of an individual lawfully admitted for permanent residence (green card) is inadmissible if the individual, “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.” Public charge does not apply in naturalization proceedings. If an individual is inadmissible, admission to the United States or adjustment of status is not granted. (Note that there are many exceptions in which a public charge finding would not apply, including but not limited to: Refugees and Asylees, those who are victims of violence (VAWA), Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ), Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applicants, Amerasians, Afghan/Iraqi interpreters or U.S. Government employees, Cuban Adjustment Act applicants, NACARA applicants, etc.)

Currently, there is no formal definition of a public charge, but DHS states that “A number of factors must be considered when making a determination that a person is likely to become a public charge”. The proposed new rule would define a public charge as “an alien who receives one or more public benefits.” In the past, people have been at risk of being defined a “public charge” if they took cash welfare — known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Supplemental Security Income — or federal help paying for long-term care. (Immigrants must be in the country legally for five years before being eligible for TANF or SSI.) The new rule would expand the list to include some health insurance, food and housing programs. Specifically, it would penalize green-card applicants for using Medicaid under certain conditions, using food stamps, Section 8 rental assistance, federal housing vouchers and even enrollment in a Medicare Part D program subsidy.

Specifically, pages 95-96 of the proposed Rule lists the following that would be considered Public Benefits:
· Monetizable benefits: – Any Federal, State, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, including: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Federal, State or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” in the State context, but which may exist under other names);
– Benefits that can be monetized in accordance with proposed 8 CFR 212.24:
· Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or formerly called “Food Stamps”),
· Public housing defined as Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program;
· Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation); and
· Non-cash benefits that cannot be monetized:
– Many Benefits paid for by Medicaid;
– Premium and Cost Sharing Subsidies for Medicare Part D; Benefits provided for institutionalization for long-term care at government expense;
– Subsidized Housing under the Housing Act of 1937.

While public charge is an old idea dating back to the 1990s, the proposed changes are unprecedented. Including programs like Medicaid and food stamps, which are much wider in scope, is a significant change.

In the past, DHS has been forgiving regarding the issuance of immigration benefits if someone had obtained government benefits in the past, so long the individual can prove that he or she is not likely to become a public charge in the future. Under the proposed rule as currently envisioned, it is clear that DHS will not be forgiving now looking at multiple factors including age, health, and past employment history, and, most importantly, receipt of past public benefits.

If implemented as contemplated, DHS will look back within a 36 month period of receipt of government benefits in making their decision on admissibility. Immigrants are encouraged to reexamine any currently public benefits that he/she is currently receiving to determine whether in the upcoming months it will be necessary to drop-out of these public benefit programs once the new public charge rule formally goes into effect.

DHS estimates that 2.5 percent of eligible immigrants would drop out of public benefits programs because of this change — which would tally about $1.5 billion worth of federal money per year, but others expect a much larger impact, including a chilling effect on the use of routine health benefits, particularly for children. In the proposed rule, DHS itself notes that the changes could result in “worse health outcomes,” “increased use of emergency rooms,” “increased prevalence of communicable diseases,” “increased rates of poverty” and other concerns.

Fear of being deemed a public charge and being unable to attain lawful permanent residency, and ultimately U.S. Citizenship will necessarily result in a detriment to low-income immigrant populations and eventually, the separation of families.

This is an early step in the complex federal rule-making process and many things could still change. Once the proposed rule appears in the Federal Register, it opens a 60-day public comment period allowing members of the public to provide input. As such, a final rule is unlikely to take effect before 2019.

We recommend that any immigrant, regardless of immigration status, who has previously received a public assistance benefit in the past for themselves, or immediate family members, should contact an immigration attorney for evaluation of their case.

Fox Rothschild immigration attorney, Kristen Schneck will be speaking on this topic as a panelist on Oct 24th, at the DHS Advisory Committee meeting to be held in Pittsburgh hosted by the Allegheny Dept. of Human Services.

Fox Rothschild will continue to monitor and report on activity regarding these rule making efforts. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts with more details and updated regarding the Public Charge proposed rule. As always, please refer to ImmigrationView for the latest information on topics of importance in the immigration law practice.
For questions or more information about this alert, please contact Mark Harley at (412) 391-2418 or mharley@foxrothschild.com, Alka Bahal at (973) 994-7800 or abahal@foxrothschild.com or any member of the firm’s Immigration Practice

 

 

President Trump signed a bill today, H.R. 6157, with a short-term continuing resolution (CR) preventing a government shutdown and extending certain programs, including the EB-5 Regional Center Program, through December 7, 2018.  Without the CR, the EB-5 Regional Center Program would have expired on September 30, 2018.  The CR extends the EB-5 Regional Center Program without any changes.  The spending bill includes funding for the departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor.  We continue to closely follow activity on Capitol Hill as efforts towards EB-5 reform continue.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the filing fee for premium processing will increase from $1,225 to $1,410, beginning on October 1, 2018.  According to USCIS, this 15% increase in price is in step with inflation since DHS last adjusted premium processing rates in 2010 and will allow USCIS to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain service to petitioners.  The new rule was published in the Federal Register on August 31, 2018.

Premium processing is an optional expediting service that is currently authorized for certain employment-based petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140.  The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.  Under premium processing, USCIS has 15 days to process these specific types of employment-based immigration benefit requests.  Without premium processing, adjudication can take upwards of 4 months.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits.  Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore.  “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is available for certain employment based nonimmigrant visas, including H-1Bs, L-1s, O-1s and Ps, as well as some employment base permanent residency categories.  Earlier this year, USCIS suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions subject to the annual quota on H-1 visas (i.e. “cap cases”).  This suspension was initially slated to end on September 10, 2018, but USCIS has now pushed that date back to February 19, 2019.  Additionally, USCIS also announced that, as of September 11, 2018, it will expand the suspension to include H-1B petitions seeking to amend existing H-1B status, to request a change of employer, or to change status.  Only H-1B petitions seeking an extension of status (with no change in circumstances or employer) or H-1B petitions filed under the H-1B Cap Exemption will be able to file under premium processing beginning September 10, 2018.  In the absence of premium processing, USCIS may take four to six months (or longer) to complete the processing of an H-1B petition.

Employers and employees alike will have to take into consideration the impact of processing times and increased fees when planning to file nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions.  The unavailability of premium processing can impact the timing of employment and prolong restrictions on international travel.

___________________________

Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance.  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 21, 2018, I posted a blog regarding the then Proposed USCIS Policy Change for F, J, and M Nonimmigrants and Unlawful Presence implications.  On August 9, 2018, USCIS issued a revised final policy memorandum, effective that day.  USCIS made changes to its proposed policy after considering feedback the agency received during the public comment period mentioned in the prior blog post.

Effective August 9, 2018 (last Thursday), F and M nonimmigrants who timely file for reinstatement of status with USCIS after falling out of status will have the accrual of unlawful presence suspended while their application for reinstatement is pending.  The reinstatement application is considered timely if filed within a five month window of the student falling out of status. If the reinstatement is ultimately denied, unlawful presence will start accruing on the day after the denial.

J nonimmigrant reinstatement requests are administered by the Department of State (DOS) and if the J-1 reinstatement applicant’s request is approved, unlawful presence will not accrue.  Likewise, Unlawful Presence would start to accrue in the instance of a denial, although DOS has not weighed in at this time as to when it will begin to accrue.

USCIS will host a stakeholder meeting on August 23rd.  Please refer back to this blog as more information becomes available.

 

On August 3, 2018, the US District Judge for District of Columbia, John D. Bates, ruled that the Trump administration must fully restore the DACA program. In the decision, the court stated, “The Court therefore reaffirms its conclusion that DACA’s rescission was unlawful and must be set aside.” In addition, the court also denied the government’s motion to reconsider, stating that “The Court has already once given DHS the opportunity to remedy these deficiencies—either by providing a coherent explanation of its legal opinion or by reissuing its decision for bona fide policy reasons that would preclude judicial review—so it will not do so again.” However, the judge delayed the order until August 23, 2018 to allow the government to determine whether it will appeal the court’s decision.

The August 3rd decision will not make any new changes to the DACA program. It is still being implemented on the terms of the prior court rulings. USCIS is still accepting and processing DACA Renewal applications who have previously been approved for DACA as a result of the two nationwide injunctions issued in California and New York earlier this year. USCIS is still not accepting the new or initial applications for the first time.

Considering the pending litigation, the American Immigration Lawyer Association recommends the eligible DACA recipients who would like to renew their DACA to consult with an attorney and submit their DACA renewal application as soon as possible.

ICE workplace audits are on the rise.  And if you didn’t know, the federal government and California are not harmonious in their views on immigration issues. That means that ICE raids on California employers are likely to continue, especially in target industries such as hospitality, construction, agriculture, tech, and manufacturing. And if you want to minimize your company’s exposure to massive fines and possible criminal prosecution, this issue should be on your radar.

One of the biggest traps of late seems to be the I-9 form.  Under federal law, all employers in the US are required to complete the I-9 in order to verify the identity and employment eligibility of new hires. Employers are required to have a completed I-9 on file for every employee. The employee must complete Section 1 of the I-9 at the time of hire (and absolutely not before acceptance of a job offer). The employer must complete Section 2 of the I-9 within three business days of the hire date. I-9s must be retained for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.  Failure to abide by these rules can lead to very severe penalties and fines.

When ICE wants to examine your workforce, it provides a Notice of Inspection that gives you just three days to get your I-9s and payroll records ready for review. Once that happens, it is very hard to fix any problems you may have. There just isn’t time and ICE has discretion to disregard any remediation efforts after the service of the NOI.

What can be wrong with an I-9, you ask?  Well if our audits of I-9s are indicative, close to 50% if not more usually have problems, including:

Hand with pen fills in a paper form us immigration visa
  • Incomplete, with information, signatures, and dates missing.
  • Incorrect information, such as a document for List B or C in the List A column.
  • Signatures that don’t match the names on the documents.
  • Blank Section 2 with the List A or B and C documents simply attached.
  • Documents that don’t match the names on the form.
  • Older or incorrect versions of the I-9 used.
  • And on and on and on….

The I-9 may look like a simple form, but it is not and can cost the employer significant cash in fines … and possible criminal prosecution!  So if the person completing your new hire paperwork isn’t skilled or trained on how to complete this form, chances are your I-9s are imperfect.  It is not uncommon when we perform I-9 audits to see the same mistake(s) repeated over the course of thousands of I-9s!  That means risk, and these days, big risk.

The other problem is that you can’t just ask specific employees to re-verify their status, for example if there is a rumor that the employee may be undocumented, because that can lead to claims of discrimination. Remember national origin and citizenship status are protected categories. So the only way to fix the I-9s is to audit all of them, fix all of the mistakes that you can, and do it before any audit or notice of inspection from a government agency.

Oh, and please do not audit without the attorney-client privilege protection. The last thing you want are emails indicating that your I-9s are wrong, or your employees are illegal, and you knew about it and didn’t fix it. Knowingly employing, hiring, or continuing to employ undocumented workers is a crime. Employers are subject to criminal prosecution—yes, that means possible jail time.

What can employers do proactively to mitigate civil penalties and exposure to criminal prosecution?

  • #1!  Work with counsel to conduct a proactive internal audit.  Doing so before ICE arrives with a NOI is the most effective way of mitigating fines.
  • Ensure your HR representative(s) responsible for completing I-9s with new hires is well trained and savvy as to what they legally can and cannot say to the employee during the verification process.  Simply asking the employee to present a specific document in the course of completing the I-9 is unlawful.
  • Conduct regular training for HR personnel and team leaders/managers who interact with employees as to the do’s and don’t’s of communicating with employees.
  • Establish immigration compliance I-9 and/or E-Verify standard operating procedures—also used to show good faith compliance and a factor for mitigating fines.
  • If storing I-9s electronically, check with counsel to ensure you are storing them properly and in a way that is not further exposing the company to additional violations.
  • Streamline your company I-9 process so as to minimize room for error in delinquent completion of the I-9 or mistakes on dates of hire.
  • Establish a ‘tickler’ calendar reminder system to handle reverification for those employee’s with work authorization documents containing an expiration date.  Remember- the burden is on the employer to ensure their employees are work authorized during the entire period of employment.
  • Act sensibly:  employers should not be overzealous in their employment verification practices as this too may lead to claims of discrimination and/or retaliation.

This is budget planning season for many employers.  Our advice is to add an I-9 audit to your budget for 2019.

USCIS announced yesterday that it has returned all FY2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions that were not selected in the “lottery”.

 You may recall that between April 2-6, USCIS received 190,098 FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions.  In May, USCIS completed its computer-generated random selection process for 20,000 US advanced degree petitions as well as the 65,000 remaining FY2019 spots. Many of these petitions were subject to requests for more evidence (RFEs).  Simple division indicates that for FY 2019, ~45% of the H-1B petitions were selected for processing, leaving ~55% (or 105,098 petitions) to be returned.

 After August 13, 2018, petitioners who timely filed their FY2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions but did not receive an I-797 Notice of Action acknowledging receipt nor their returned petition (with unused filing fees), may contact USCIS.

 To discuss this, or how to be prepared for the FY2020 cap season, please feel free to email or call Ms. Wadhwani or your Fox Rothschild contact.


Catherine Wadhwani is a partner and co-chair of the Immigration Practice Group at Fox Rothschild LLP. She may be reached at cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com.

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

More than 5,200 businesses around the country have been served with I-9 inspection notices since January in a two-phase nationwide operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in what appears to be the largest I-9 inspection action ICE has undertaken to date.

This latest round of workplace audits on employers clearly indicates that the I-9 inspection is now a top priority in U.S. immigration enforcement policy that targets employers rather than employees via the workplace raids of the past.

This alert outlines the current processes in place for I-9 inspections and includes practical advice on how to respond to an audit as well as steps to take now to ensure that your business is in compliance.

Notice of Inspection – NOI

The inspection process begins with HSI serving a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on an employer, which informs them that HSI will perform a comprehensive review of (i.e. audit) their hiring records (specifically Form I-9s and associated documents) to determine compliance with employment eligibility verification laws.  Upon receiving an NOI, an employer is required to produce the company’s I-9s within three business days, after which ICE will conduct an inspection for compliance.

In Phase I of the current operation, between Jan. 29 and March 30, 2018, HSI served 2,540 NOIs and made 61 arrests.  During Phase II, between July 16 and 20, HSI served 2,738 NOIs and made 32 arrests.

ICE is the federal agency responsible for upholding the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), a law designed to protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.

Under IRCA, employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all individuals they hire, and to document that information using the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. ICE/HSI uses the I-9 inspection program to promote compliance with the law, part of a comprehensive strategy to address and deter illegal employment. Inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government uses to ensure that businesses are complying with U.S. employment laws.

A ‘Culture of Compliance’

Derek N. Benner, Acting Executive Associate Director for HIS, stated: “Employers need to understand that the integrity of their employment records is just as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files and banking records.  All industries, regardless of size, location and type are expected to comply with the law.”

Benner contends that worksite enforcement “protects jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminates unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen public safety and national security.”

HSI increased the number of I-9 audits, Benner said, to “create a culture of compliance among employers.”

All employers in the United States are required to have a Form I-9 on file for all employees to verify their identity and authorization to work in the United States. The law requires that employers execute this process upon hire of an employee, review and record the individual’s original, valid identity documents and determine whether those documents reasonably appear to be genuine and related to the individual.

HSI follows a detailed process when conducting a Form I-9 inspection.  Guidance on that process and the associated civil fine structure can be found here.  This guidance outlines ICE’s process for a Form I-9 inspection, the penalties for various related violations, and the factors ICE considers during the course of the inspection and in determining a fine, including mitigating or enhancing factors involved.

Civil Fines and Potential Prosecution

Employers determined not to be in compliance with the law face the likelihood of civil fines and could ultimately face criminal prosecution if it is determined that they were knowingly violating the law. All workers encountered during these investigations who are unauthorized to remain in the United States are subject to administrative arrest and removal from the country.

Failure to follow the law can result in criminal and civil penalties.  In FY17, businesses were ordered to pay $97.6 million in judicial forfeitures, fines, and restitution, and $7.8 million in civil fines, including one company whose financial penalties represented the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.  (See our earlier post on this topic.)

Monetary penalties for substantive and uncorrected technical violations, errors that the layperson often view as ‘paperwork errors’ range from $220 to $2,200 per violation and penalties for knowingly hiring and continuing to employ violations range from $3,548 to $19,242 per violation. In determining penalty amounts, ICE imposes a higher fine rate on employers with a higher percentage of I-9s with violations and then considers five factors to either enhance or mitigate fine amounts: the size of the business, good faith effort to comply, seriousness of violation, whether the violation involved unauthorized workers and history of previous violations.

What To Do if the Government Wants to Inspect Your I-9s:

  • Call your immigration attorney immediately. The time period for responding to ICE is short and it is critical that documents submitted in response to the notice be well-organized and presented in the best light possible.
  • DO NOT submit any documents to ICE without seeking the advice of counsel.
  • DO NOT consent to an immediate inspection if agents show up without warning. You have up to three days to respond/submit documents.
  • DO NOT submit more than what is asked for (such as expired I-9s for former employees, payroll records listing employees not subject to the inspection, etc.)
  • DO NOT let agents take original records without permitting you to take copies
  • DO NOT allow officers to talk with any employees or company officers before you call your attorney.
  • If Department of Labor agents show up for an inspection without notice, decline the inspection. They will notify USCIS/ICE.
  • DO NOT panic and try to correct or otherwise repair your records without the assistance of qualified immigration counsel. Corrections made or new I-9s prepared after the issuance of an NOI are not accepted by ICE, and may create the appearance of bad faith.

The Tools of Protection

Employers that have not yet received an NOI should take immediate steps to protect against possible future violations.

Two key tools in ensuring IRCA compliance are private internal audits and specialized training. Employers should conduct private internal audits with the assistance of a qualified immigration professional to review I-9 documents and correct any errors in advance of an inspection. This type of periodic audit can not only uncover problems in time to be corrected before the imposition of sanctions, but can also demonstrate the employer’s good faith efforts to comply with IRCA’s verification requirements, a mitigating factor in ICE’s penalty determination process. Because private I-9 audits can be performed over time nd at the employer’s convenience, it is less arduous for a company than the three-day audit period forced by an inspection notice.

Many problems with I-9s stem from simple misunderstandings of the procedures and requirements. This can easily be rectified by having a qualified attorney train your personnel about proper procedures. Because the work environment and employee culture changes with some frequency, along with periodic legal changes impacting the I-9 process, refresher training courses for already “expert” personnel are also recommended.

Although employers can select from a variety of service providers to meet their I-9 audit and training needs, legal professionals with experience with immigration, employment and labor law are better equipped to handle IRCA compliance issues, including audits, training and formal inspections. Fox Rothschild provides companies of all sizes with IRCA compliance training seminars and confidential, internal I-9 audits.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance.  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.