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Immigration Law Guide for Employers

Playing By the Rules: A Guide for U.S. Employers

The current immigration debate isn’t just about undocumented persons in the United States, it’s also about U.S. employers hiring foreign workers. In many situations, companies hire foreign nationals who are already in the United States or who are interested in coming to this country to work. If you would like more information about hiring immigrants, please contact the immigration lawyers for advice.

The following are guidelines that all employers should keep in mind:

1. Carefully audit the company’s I-9 compliance, take corrective action, and be prepared for sudden employer-sanctions enforcement.

Every employer is required to have an I-9 form completed for each employee hired since Nov. 6, 1986, and potentially faces up to $1,000 fines per worker (alien or not) for failure to file the technical requirements. In the last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has filed criminal charges against employers who commonly employ undocumented workers.

Ensure that employees present original documents to establish their identity and employment eligibility within three business days of the date employment begins. (If they cannot produce the required documents by then, employees must produce receipts showing they have applied for the documents; they then must present the document within 90 days of hire.)

2. Maintain all I-9s and take stock of your I-9 compliance.

It’s a good practice to have all new hires complete and sign Section 1 of the I-9 on their first day of work, but never before you extend a job offer to the applicant. Make sure you carefully review each employee’s documents to make sure they are on the I-9 list of acceptable documents. Review the documents to see if they appear to be genuine.

Employers should always remember the following practices when obtaining employee information for I-9s:

  • Don’t ask for any particular documents or for more documents than the I-9 requires.
  • Don’t consider the expiration date of any of the I-9 documents.
  • Do keep I-9s and copies of document for three years after the employee’s date of hire or one year after the date of termination, whichever comes later.
  • Do keep I-9 documentation separate from the employee’s personnel file to protect yourself from a discrimination claim.

3. Keep all workers in legal status.

All employers should make sure that aliens are in valid immigration status or have a valid, unexpired employment authorization document. If a worker requires an extension of status, make sure to apply for one several months in advance. The short “overstay” results in automatic cancellation of the alien’s visa, which can only be replaced at a U.S. consulate in the alien’s home country. Technical violations of U.S. immigration status that persist for more than 180 days might lead to a three-year or ten-year bar of the worker from the United States.

4. A U.S. employer cannot engage in discrimination on the basis of citizenship status.

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against persons in hiring, discharging, and recruiting and referring for a fee because of their citizenship status. Permanent and temporary residents, refugees, asylees, and U.S. citizens are all protected. Fines are up to $1,000 per person for violations where the employer requests more or different documents than are required, or refuses to honor documents that reasonably appear to be genuine. Other types of discrimination carry fines of up to $2,000 per person for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense, and $10,000 for the third and subsequent offenses. In addition to fines, employers can be ordered to pay lost wages for applicants not hired or employees discharged in violation of discrimination provisions. Employers can be ordered to hire applicants or reinstate discharged employees if discrimination is found.

5. Immigration law is complex and rapidly changing.

Immigration law is complex and is derived from federal statutes, federal court cases, and federal rules. It involves the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. A tremendous backlog of cases and processing delays has resulted from the involvement of several different agencies in the immigration process.

The status of employees in the U.S. is something that should be in the forefront of every employer’s mind. An employer should attempt to stay informed of all developments in this important area of the law. An attorney who is experienced in immigration law can help you with all of your questions today.

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