ICE Announces Another 1,000 I-9 Worksite Audits; USCIS to conduct 25,000 site visits

Not an easy time to a US employer these days. Between ICE raids and USCIS H1B site visits, the stress level is on the rise. Here is the latest update – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the issuance of Notice of Inspections (NOIs) to 1,000 employers across the country associated with critical infrastructure. This follows an earlier initiative on July 1, 2009 when ICE issued 652 NOIs to businesses nationwide. The notices alert business owners that ICE will be inspecting their hiring records to determine whether or not they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations. Inspections are one of the most powerful tools the federal government has to enforce employment and immigration laws. This is part of a new initiative illustrating ICE’s increased focus on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and efforts to ensure a legal workforce.

“ICE is focused on finding and penalizing employers who believe they can unfairly get ahead by cultivating illegal workplaces,” said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton. “We are increasing criminal and civil enforcement of immigration-related employment laws and imposing smart, tough employer sanctions to even the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”
Audits involve a comprehensive review of Form I-9s, which employers are required to complete and retain for each individual hired in the United States. Employers are required to complete and retain a Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States. This form requires employers to review and record the individual’s identity document(s) and determine whether the document(s) reasonably appear to be genuine and related to the individual.

Protecting employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce and targeting employers who knowingly employ an illegal workforce are major ICE priorities, for which ICE employs all available civil and administrative tools, including audits. Audits may result in civil penalties and lay the groundwork for criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly violate the law.

At the same time USCIS continues with enforcement efforts. As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s stepped-up enforcement efforts that include increased audits of businesses to detect immigration and labor law violations, employers are reporting random, unannounced visits by the Fraud Detection and National Security Division (FDNS) of USCIS. The FDNS division has engaged outside contractors and private investigators to conduct approximately 25,000 site visits to petitioners. In addition to verifying the validity of information contained in H-1B petitions, FDNS investigators are apparently using information collected during worksite visits to assist USCIS with developing a fraud detection database. FDNS investigators collect information to develop profiles of the types of organizations that have records of good faith use of immigration programs and records of immigration compliance, and also to identify factors that could be a sign of fraud. Many of these random, unannounced site visits are expected to occur after approval of the H-1B petition or extension. In fact, employers in all industries have reported such worksite visits in recent weeks.

How to prepare? Employers must develop and implement strong compliance policies, audit their I-9s and H-1B public access files regularly, and plan in advance how to respond when immigration agents visit the company. HR personnel must be prepared and know what to say and what not to say when USCIS agents visit. Contact your experienced Immigration Attorney immediately.