Massive Workforce Compliance Inspections Coming

Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ordered the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit to “quadruple to quintuple” the current number of routine workplace investigations of U.S. employers in the coming year.  While the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement efforts have thus far mostly focused on undocumented individuals, the goal of ICE’s new strategy is to target employers.  In particular, these workplace investigations will focus on audits of employers Employment Eligibility Verification, Forms I-9 and other employment records to determine whether employees (be they U.S. citizens or foreign nationals) are lawfully work authorized.  

ICE’s plan to ramp up worksite investigations increases the risk of significant civil penalties and possible criminal prosecution for employers who fail to comply with U.S. employment laws.  Additionally, business owners, executives, and Human Resources staff may personally face increased risk for simple Form I-9 “paperwork” errors.  

All U.S. employers must complete a Form I-9 for all of their employees in order to verify their identity and work authorization.  An employer who fails to properly complete and retain a Form I-9 for each and every employee, faces fines and penalties ranging from $539 to $2,156 for each paperwork violation.  Therefore, employers should take this opportunity to evaluate their current I-9 policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the latest I-9 and E-Verify rules. In particular, employers should:

  • Review current I-9 policies and practices with qualified counsel.  This includes careful analysis of all workforce compliance practices to mitigate errors and mistakes on the form;
  • Develop formal I-9 and E-Verify protocols for detecting, preventing, and improving against I-9 violations.  For example, store an employee’s Form I-9 separate from other personnel records and separate current from terminated employees;
  • Mitigate historical I-9s with qualified counsel to help avoid against fines and penalties for certain technical or procedural errors on the forms.  Only certain I-9 deficiencies can be mitigated, but must be done accurately so as not to make deficiency worse;
  • Develop, implement, and maintain compliance policies for worksite raids and for managing CE Fraud Detection & National Security (FDNS) visits for nonimmigrant visa employees.

For any questions on employment eligibility or workforce compliance issues, please feel free to contact us.

The Future for U.S. Work & Student Visa Programs Under Trump’s Next Executive Order

In follow up to last week’s Executive Orders, President Trump may be gearing up for his next round of Executive Orders which look to tighten U.S. work visa programs (including the H-1B visa), impose stricter limitations on foreign students, eliminate the International Entrepreneur Rule, and enact measures that will severely curtail the options for U.S. employers (especially in the tech sector) to attract the smartest and most innovative minds to our country. These proposed rules do not appear to suspend or terminate any foreign national’s current work authorization or visa status, but it does direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review all immigration regulations that allow foreign nationals to wok in the United States. Let’s look at what this could mean for visa holders, employers, and all foreign travelers to the U.S. in the future:

How will this impact the H-1B work visa?

The Executive Order does not propose immediate changes to the upcoming (April 3, 2017) H-1B visa program, but it does indicate the administration’s intent to revise the H-1B work visa lottery system in the future to prioritize applications for those who are paid higher wages and/or have advanced education. 

How will this impact the F-1 OPT student programs?

The Executive Order directs DHS to “reform practical training programs for foreign students to prevent the disadvantaging of U.S. students in the workforce, better protect U.S. and foreign workers affected by such programs, … and improve monitoring of foreign students.” While this would seem to indicate that steps will be taken to curtail current Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) programs available to F-1 students, it is not clear how DHS will modify the regulations.

How will this impact current visa-case processing and/or Green Card priority dates?

The Executive Order directs DHS to “restore the integrity of employment based visa programs to better protect U.S. and foreign workers” affected by those programs. While this guidance is vague, this could signal an increase in Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny in immigration cases, as immigration officers may begin to apply stricter adjudication standards. This may also mean the introduction of new employer obligations as it pertains to recruiting and/or prevailing wages. Any changes to the Visa Bulletin system could result in a retrogression in Visa Bulletin priority dates.

How will this impact the International Entrepreneur Rule?

While the proposed Executive Order does not single out the recently published International Entrepreneur Rule (set to go in to effect this summer), it does call for the elimination of any use of parole that “circumvents statutory immigration policy,” which essentially would end the rule.

How will this impact L-1 intra-company transferee visa holders?

The Executive Order directs DHS to conduct site visits to all places where L-1 visa holders (international executive and managers) work, including third-party worksites. It also directs DHS to begin conducting site visits for all visa categories within two years.

How will this impact business / tourist (B-1/B-2 visa) visitors?

The Executive Order directs DHS to clarify the types of activities that are and are not permissible for B-1/B-2 visa visitors. Individuals entering the U.S. on B-1/B-2 visitor visas, should anticipate more comprehensive scrutiny at all ports-of-entry.

 

These Executive Orders also direct the Department of Labor to investigate more abuses of work visa categories, and require more employers seeking to sponsor foreign workers to participate in the E-Verify employment authorization program.

Businesses, foreign workers, and international students considering filing for an H-1B work visa this year should begin preparing their H-1B visa petitions NOW. Demand for H-1B visas on behalf of foreign employees is expected to reach record levels this year. Due to lengthy prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS on April 3rd, employers should begin preparing their petitions NOW to ensure they are ready on time.

Employers, foreign nationals, and international students who may be impacted by changes to any of these proposed regulations should contact an Attorney immediately to begin evaluating legal strategies.  If you have any other questions, please contact me.

Possible Expansion of Program to Hire Foreign Students

The number of international students in the U.S. hit a record high in 2014, with more than 880,000 students.  The stakes are therefore high for international college students who are concerned about choosing their majors and finding jobs for after graduation.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aware of this issue and has proposed a new regulation which would allow F-1 nonimmigrant student visa holders science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities to extend their initial 12 month optional practical training (OPT) period by 24 months.  The proposed rule would increase the current STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months (for a total of up to 36 months).

Like the current STEM OPT extension regulation, the proposed rule would only allow STEM OPT extensions for students employed by employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Under the proposed rule, “cap-gap” relief will still be available so as to allow students to automatically extend their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1st, if they timely file an H-1B petition.  Additionally, the proposed regulations seeks to clarify the STEM field to studies in mathematics, natural sciences (including physical sciences and biological/agriculture sciences), engineering or engineering technologies, and computer/information sciences and related fields, in order to address current STEM needs in the U.S. economy while balancing the potential for future changes.

There will be a 30-day comment period, which will end on November 18th, at which point DHS will be required to review and consider all comments prior to implementing the final regulation.  If approved, this new regulation would allow certain students already working under the STEM extension to request the additional time that would be allowed under the new rule.   U.S. employers and foreign STEM graduates should continue to monitor this situation as it continues to evolve.

Texas State Hires Must Now Be E-Verified to Prove Employment Eligibility

As of September 1, 2015, all potential hires for any state agency or public college in Texas must have their employment eligibility information run through the E-Verify employment verification system managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but employees of businesses contracting with the state will no longer be required to use E-Verify.  E-Verify compares information applicants submit on their Form I-9 to Social Security and Homeland Security records to help determine the employment eligibility of an applicant.  The Texas Workforce Commission will be charged with enforcing this new rule.

Texas is one of 22 states with that uses some version of the E-Verify system, however, other states like Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah require all employers use E-Verify.  Though this new rule only applies to state agencies and public universities, tens of thousands of private businesses in Texas have been using E-Verify for several years. The USCIS has a database of all the companies that use the system. It shows whether the business has a contract with the federal government, where it is located and its size.