The new era of immigration enforcement appears to be here to stay, and the most recent development is an official announcement that worksite visits and inspections are going to increase. On October 17, 2017, the director of ICE stated that worksite visits will quadruple, in order to verify the I-9 Form which contains the work authorization status for all citizens and foreign nationals employed in the US.
This is in addition to the recently increased worksite visits by USCIS, with the stated purpose of verifying compliance for workers holding H1B, L-1, O-1 and R-1 visas. Clearly, non-compliance with immigration and work visa rules will no longer be overlooked by federal agencies with this new emphasis on post-employment law enforcement.
ICE Worksite Visits
In addition to having a valid work visa, all H1B workers must also have a verified I-9 Form on file with their employer at their worksite. This form is primarily used to ensure that all workers have supporting identification and immigration status documents, and to prevent employing illegal aliens in the US.
Industries usually targeted by ICE include:
- Food Services
However, all types of businesses that employ many foreign nationals (such as the IT sector) should be prepared for an ICE visit. There are significant new penalties for Form I-9 violations, and even inadvertent mistakes carry the same level of fines as intentional violations. For example, one company was fined over $600,000 for simply not having multiple I-9 forms signed at the time they were filled out.
USCIS Worksite Visits
While the stepped-up enforcement by ICE is new, the USCIS has already been increasing worksite visits to verify that H1B workers have supporting documentation for their visa, are actually working at the stated job location in the petition and have not overstayed their work authorization period.
Because the H1B visa has been such a focus of reforming immigration policy, the USCIS has been charged with enforcing the existing rules and requirements more strictly than in the past. This has been the Trump administration’s approach, to tighten administrative rules and scrutiny without having to pass new legislation for H1B changes.
What Does This Mean for Employers and H1B Visa Workers?
Any US employer/sponsor of H1B visas for non-immigrant workers needs to be prepared for and ICE or USCIS visit. Conducting an internal audit is a good idea, to make sure that all the paperwork is in order for foreign nationals on the payroll. It is no longer a valid strategy to hope that immigration authorities are too understaffed to enforce the laws, as many new immigration officers have been hired recently for the express purpose of rooting out immigration fraud, abuse and non-compliance.
New Rule for Filing I-129 Forms
In another related rule change, the I-129 Form which is required for all H1B petitions will have a new filing location. Previously, the form was filed at the regional location of the principal office or training site of the sponsor, but now must be filed in the region where the H1B visa holder will in reality be employed and working. This is yet another measure to “pierce the veil” of job assignments that occur away from the stated job location on the petition.
If you have questions about H1B visas, sponsors and how to navigate all of these requirements, please contact us at any time.
- December 27th, 2017