The New and Improved I-9 Form

On March 8, 2013, USCIS published a new Form I-9 for employers to use for new hires, which is for immediate use. USCIS received over 6,000 comments on the form and has tried to incorporate some of the suggestions. To ensure that the correct form is being used, look for the form’s date in the lower right-hand corner of the form.

When Should Employers Use the New I-9

The new form is to be used for all new hires. The 3 day rule remains, which is to fill Section 1 within 3 days of starting work. The form can also be filled in advance, as long as an offer of employment has been made and accepted. If the old form was used and the employee has not started work, a new form should be used in lieu of the old form.

The new form should be used for both US citizens and non-citizens, if they are working within the geographical boundaries of the United States of America. If a new office or an employee is hired in Mexico or Canada, there is no obligation to maintain a Form I-9 for the new hire. Employers should use the new Forms I-9 from 8 March, 2013 onwards. Older forms dated 02/02/2009 and 08/07/2009 can be used until May 7th, 2013.

The Spanish version can be filled out by new hires only in Puerto Rico. On the mainland, the Spanish version can be utilized as a translation tool for Spanish speaking new hires, but only an English language version Form I-9 can be filled out by both the employer and employee and retained by the employer.

The New Form

The new form is 7 pages of instruction and two pages of form to be filled. Section 1 occupies its own page, with expanded areas for the employee to fill personal identifying information. The expanded area allows work-authorized non-citizens to complete their information.

Page 2 of the form is divided between Section 2 and 3. Section 2 is renamed to include authorized representative review and Section 3 is now called “Reverification and Rehires”, instead of “Updating and Reverification”. Section 3 is to be used for employees who return to work after an absence of time. Once the initial I-9 is filled out by the employee, the employer cannot ask legal permanent residents or US citizens to present new documents to complete reverification for work authorization.

The Takeaway

The form is more detailed and thus, may have more pitfalls. Print the new form on both sides of the paper to keep both pages together. The 67 page book of “Instructions” is now called “Guidance”. The important step is to start using the new form and to cease using the old form. Section 1 cannot be populated by electronic programs used to ‘onboard’ new hires. Employer liability, audits and monetary fines remain the same under the old and new forms.

We are available to discuss the new form or needs for training and assistance.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Celebrating My 100th Blog Post

Read the Original NewsletterScreen shot 2013-03-05 at 2.46.06 PM

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Mandatory E-Verify Bill

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has proposed a new bill to the Senate, The Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2013, that would obligate US employers to utilize E-Verify within 12 months of the bill’s passing. Sen. Grassley is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which supervises the Senate’s immigration policy, and is also a member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. Grassley’s bill was cosponsored by 10 other Republican Senators.

Details of the Proposed Bill

In addition to requiring E-Verify for all American employers, Sen. Grassley’s legislation would:

  • Increases penalties for employers who don’t use the system or illegally hire undocumented workers;
  • Reduces the liability that employers face if they participate in E-Verify when it involves the wrongful termination of an individual;
  • Allows employers to use E-Verify before a person is hired, if the applicant consents;
  • Requires employers to check the status of existing employees within 3 years;
  • Requires employers to re-verify a person’s status if their employment authorization is due to expire;
  • Requires employers to terminate the employment of those found unauthorized to work due to a check through E-Verify; and
  • Helps ensure that the Social Security Administration catches multiple use of Social Security numbers by requiring them to develop algorithms to detect anomalies.

For Employers

In addition to the various labor and employment laws mandated by the States and the Federal Government, mandatory E-verify would impose a larger burden on companies. Perhaps we should address what causes employers to use workers who are not authorized to work, and why these undocumented individuals exist in the workforce despite efforts to root them out!

The Takeaway

Let us emulate Canada, which imports low skilled workers every year — who return to their home countries every winter season. The US needs to increase the number of work visas for both the low skilled, agricultural, hospitality and construction workers. Most of them would like to work legally (less stress) and return. This will reduce ‘coyote’ activity at the border: why would a person risk crossing illegally when they can enter through the border, and return to their homes without the fear of being caught and living in the shadows.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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USCIS Enters the Digital Age

In an effort to modernize and systemize immigration policy, USCIS recently launched the USCIS Policy Manual Page. The Policy Manual page will be split into three phases: the first phase is information on USCIS Citizenship and Naturalization policies — following phases will encompass further updates to different areas of immigration law.

USCIS’s new Policy Manual will, at some point, take the place of the current Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM). The rejuvenated Policy Manual will digitally streamline most aspects of immigration policy, including policy updates, immigration forms, updated and extended table of contents, and URLs to INA and CFR sections. USCIS will also supply dates for when updates have occurred on the Policy Manual page, which can be found here.

USCIS is making progress towards e-filing and digitizing its data and adjudications. Last May, USCIS introduced its Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) program. The system was created to enable immigration benefit seekers and legal representatives to create an account to file for benefits, and extend visas, online. The program is now moving towards welcoming other visa processes.

Today, immigration law is like a piece of Swiss cheese: if the body of the cheese represents the law, the larger holes are filled in with regulations and the small holes with memos from USCIS Directors. This still leaves some situations unaddressed or ripe for litigation and denials.

The Takeaway

Currently, all the resources for naturalization, laws, regulations, memos and AFM, have been consolidated in the policy manual. We hope highly complex areas, such as H1B visa and L visa filings and adjudications can be consolidated in the policy manual, offering the filer the assurance that all the legal resources related to the filing have been exhausted. This will lend transparency to adjudications and certainty to the law. Dare I dream?

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Why Comprehensive Immigration Reform Has a Chance to Pass This Year

Since President Obama was inaugurated for his second term, he has made Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) a key policy initiative for his administration. Interest groups from the left and right, and even some Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are also in support of a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws.

Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Henry Cisneros (former Housing and Urban Development Secretary) and Haley Barbour (former Mississippi Governor) are three of 4 leaders spearheading a high profile group by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. The group’s aim is to act as a sounding board, and to assist and shepherd the initiative into law by the summer of 2013.

Bipartisan support continues, as Senators from both parties have also offered Obama a framework of principles that they hope will be included in CIR. This bipartisan group consists of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

A Round Up of Ideas Offered by Proponents

The draft of the Senators’ proposed bill, entitled the “Immigration Innovation Act”, increases available H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 visas every year. It will create a market-based H1B escalator, which will allow for additional visas if the cap is hit early during the filing season, with a ceiling of 300,000 visas. The visas will be adjusted based on market demands.

The 20,000 H1B visa cap for US Masters and PhD students will also be abolished, allowing the US employer to employ foreign students of US universities with advanced degrees without limit.

This bill will provide the ‘plug and play’ workers needed by all sectors of industry, whether it be healthcare or hospitality; workers who are ready to hit the ground running, and keep services for the American consumer consistently available.

In addition, there is a proposal to allow dependents of H1B visas to work on their H4 visas.  Of course, there will be an increase in the filing fee, dedicated to worker re-training at the state level in technical fields.

The senators’ framework stipulates that, before illegal US immigrants can attain “probationary legal status”, they must pass a background check, as well as pay fines and back taxes. Illegal immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds will not be eligible for legal status. Additionally, the framework states that illegal immigrants will not be granted work authorization until the government increases enforcement, such as expanded border surveillance, to protect and secure the nation’s borders.

The President’s Plan Is Not So Differrent

Obama’s proposal for immigration reform comes in four parts:

  1. Strengthen our borders;
  2. crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers;
  3. hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; and
  4. streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.

Earned Citizenship

Almost 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the US. Obama proposes to give undocumented immigrants the legal means necessary to earn citizenship, which will also persuade them to come out from hiding and pay their taxes and adhere to the rules. Illegal immigrants will be held accountable: before they can obtain citizenship, they must pass national security and criminal background checks, pay back taxes and penalties, learn English, and go to the back of the line. Young people will also have the chance to gain citizenship faster if they seek higher education or serve in the military.

Mandatory E-verify

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced a mandatory E-Verify bill, which will require all employers to verify the authorized work status of their US workers. Today, the E-Verify system is voluntary; however, Sen. Grassley’s bill requires all employers to comply within 1 year of enactment. The bill will reduce employer’s liability for wrongful termination, and use E-verify to screen an applicant with his/her consent. The bill also imposes a mandate on the Social Security Administration to develop algorithms to detect multiple users of single Social Security numbers.

How will CIR help our economy?

Our economy demands legal immigration that is simple and adept, so that it encourages the best and the brightest to remain in the USA. A shorter wait for permanent resident status for the highly educated immigrants will boost the economy — if it is easier for STEM graduates to stay in the US, they will bolster and create industries, therefore creating jobs.

University education in the US will get a boost from the revenues generated by foreign students and their families; estimates put the revenue generated by foreign students at about $20 to $40 billion dollars every year. Often, American universities spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars educating these students, only to lose them to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe, or the students’ home countries. A chance for these students to remain in the US and pursue their academic and entrepreneurial dreams will add to the economy.

The taxes collected from the highly educated will help ensure that our Social Security and Medicare budgets are met. This revenue stream will be enhanced by offering a chance for a legalized workforce to pay employment-based taxes. These taxes will reduce the strain on American social systems, such as hospitals and schools. A legal workforce will be paid the mandated prevailing wage. Without a Social Security Number, a worker cannot open a bank account, buy car insurance, obtain a driver’s license, or attend school or college. Hence, a legalized workforce will provide a boost to the insurance, banking and finance industries, and increase wages for all, as employers will now pay the legal minimum wage.

The proposals all call for supplemental visas so that foreign entrepreneurs wanting to begin startups, and foreign graduate students with STEM degrees, will either come to the US to work or remain in the US post-graduation. We want, and need, the best and brightest minds for the US to flourish.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Negotiating I-9 Fines

In my previous blog, I wrote about OCAHO negotiating I-9 fines. To negotiate fines either with ICE or OCAHO, the employer must be willing to file a brief with OCAHO to request a hearing, and then ICE may be willing to ‘come to the table’.

Prior to the hearing, the employer and counsel must analyse each count against the company, either to accept or refute and prepare a brief accordingly. Both ICE and OCAHO consider the 5 factor test before negotiating a fine:

  1. The size of the employer’s business,
  2. The employer’s good faith,
  3. The severity of the violation(s),
  4. Whether individuals involved were unauthorized aliens, and
  5. A history of former violations by the employer.

Employers must be careful to tender only Forms I-9, which are for current employees, and refrain from tendering purged documents.

Methodical analysis of the NIF (Notice of Intent to Fine), counts and legal basis is a must in order to be ready to negotiate with ICE and, if necessary, to request a hearing from OCAHO.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Recent I-9 Fines Reduced by OCAHO

Recently, the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) has shown a trend of leniency towards companies that are found to be noncompliant with ICE‘s Form I-9 rules and regulations. ICE, on the other hand, isn’t always as forgiving as OCAHO, which can be expressly seen in ICE’s cases against March Construction, Inc., Forsch Polymer Corp., BKR Restaurants (DBA Burger King) and Barnett Taylor (DBA Burger King).

In order to determine a baseline fine for companies, ICE surveys five factors:

  1. The size of the employer‘s business,
  2. The employer’s good faith,
  3. The severity of the violation(s),
  4. Whether individuals involved were unauthorized aliens, and
  5. A history of former violations by the employer.

March Construction, Inc.

The construction company, March Construction, was found liable for a total of 103 violations after assessments made by both ICE and OCAHO. For March Construction, ICE determined a baseline fine of $770, but increased the baseline by 15% due to March Construction’s supposed lack of good faith, severity of violations and employment of undocumented workers. ICE requested $885.50 per violation for a total of $86,933.

OCAHO agreed with ICE on the severity of the violations, however found that ICE had no evidence that March Construction was actually employing undocumented workers. Also, the company’s ability to pay the fines is a major factor. OCAHO ultimately asked for a reduced sum of $17,120.

Forsch Polymer, Corp.

In June 2010, ICE issued a Notice of Inspection (NOI) to Forsch Polymer, asking for Forms 1-9 for all employees from the past year. The company sent ICE only 12 completed I-9s, and was consequently charged with 11 violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), among the violations were failing to properly complete an entire Form I-9 and certain sections of Form I-9. ICE requested a fine of $11,827.75.

However, OCAHO found ICE in error: OCAHO discovered that three of Forsch’s employees did not complete an I-9 within three days of being hired. OCAHO determined that this was the fault of ICE — ICE should have issued a notice and provided ample time for Forsch Polymer to correct these mistakes. OCAHO dismissed the allegations of the company’s failure to complete Forms I-9, but found ICE correct in finding fault with the employer for backdating several Forms I-9.

ICE sought a baseline fine of $935 per violation, aggravating the baseline penalties 5-15% for each violation due to the severity of violations, lack of good faith and employment of four unauthorized aliens. OCAHO ultimately asked for a reduced sum of $4,600.

Burger King

BKR Restaurants and Barnett Taylor both do business as Burger King restaurants, and were both issued NOIs on the same day in December 2007. BKR Restaurants was found liable for a total of 87 violations of IRCA for not having Forms I-9 ready for 22 employees, and improperly completing Forms I-9 for 65 employees. Barnett Taylor was issued similar charges for not having Forms I-9 ready for 74 employees, and improperly completing Forms I-9 for nine employees.

Both BKR Restaurants and Barnett Taylor gave reasons for their failure in properly completing and retaining Forms I-9 for their employees; however, neither restaurant had convincing evidence bolstering their claims. Although OCAHO has supported a trend of reducing penalty amounts, OCAHO still requires companies to provide adequate evidence  against ICE’s allegations. None of the companies’ explanations created a defense of impossibility, which can only be established if the Forms I-9 has been completed but then lost or destroyed in a burglary or fire.

No final penalties were brought upon either restaurant; instead, OCAHO gave both restaurants 30 days to make additional filings — allowing the companies to right their wrongs.

Lesson Learnt

Initiating, processing, maintaining and auditing procedures for companies and employers are absolutely vital to the health of a company. Such procedures will assist in minimizing and quantifying employer liability, and more importantly will assist and enable the counsel for the employer to craft a defense in the event of audit.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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USCIS Develops Tools to Help Foreign Entrepreneurs in the US

In late November, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas revealed a new addition to the Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiative, an online resource center called Entrepreneur Pathways. The digital resource center will aid entrepreneurs, who are looking to start a business in the US, in maneuvering through the immigration process.

The EIR initiative

The USCIS EIR initiative was instituted in early 2012, and works to bolster USCIS policies and economic growth using industry expertise. The EIR Team is comprised of USCIS immigration and business experts who work together to standardize the process for obtaining various nonimmigrant visa categories that are often utilized by entrepreneurs.

Additionally, the EIR team has also:

  • Developed and deployed a training workshop for USCIS employment-based immigration officers that focuses on startup businesses and the environment for early-stage innovations;
  • Trained a team of specialized immigration officers to handle entrepreneur and startup cases;
  • Modified Request for Evidence templates for certain nonimmigrant visa categories to incorporate new types of relevant evidence into the adjudicative process; and
  • Developed a plan for quarterly engagements with the entrepreneurial community to ensure that USCIS stays current with industry practices.

One of the team’s main goals is to find a way for foreign entrepreneurs to establish a business in the US within the scope of immigration law. In order to continue to build momentum, the EIR team will remain in effect until April 2013.

What We Need Now

A great first step has been taken by USCIS using the present framework to answer a need for self-sponsorship by entrepreneurs; but the same processing-bottlenecks remain in place, such as long waits for filing adjustment of status to complete the ‘green card’ process due to backlogged priority dates. We may be better served instead if there were more treaty countries added to the E-Treaty Trader and Treaty Investor Visas, or if there was a separate category of E-Investor Visa at the $250,000 investment level with a requirement for four full-time jobs created.

Subscribe to read my blog regularly. Your comments are welcomed.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Planning For the New Year: Form I-9 and E-Verify

With the new year approaching, employers can make some changes and improvements to processing and maintaining Form I-9s. There are Form I-9 best practices that employers should follow to avoid being fined by ICE in an audit. The following are methods to ensure that you, as an employer, are complying with Form I-9 guidelines that have been implemented by USCIS and enforced by ICE. Please also see my Form I-9 series.
  1. Train your team in-house on how to complete I-9 forms and use E-verify successfully.
  2. Don’t be creative while completing forms. If, for instance, the HR specialist forgot to date the form, or the employee did not fill in Section 1 fully — don’t attempt to back-date the form and ask to the employee to complete Section 1. There is always someone who knows the situation and is watching. You could be threatened with punishment, or other employees could rat you out.
  3. The days of the wild, wild west are gone. Today requires a culture of compliance with the rules and laws. It is too expensive for employers and companies to do otherwise.
  4. Hire outside counsel to conduct a year-end audit of all the new forms created since the beginning of the year. At a recent immigration conference, I heard that more than 85% of I-9 forms are filled incorrectly, which means that self-audit is probably not a good idea. Having another employee conduct an audit can be a tricky situation because he/she may not want to point out a superior’s mistakes. The best way is to engage outside counsel to perform the audit; this audit can be part of a wage and hour audit.
  5. Brainstorm about your on-boarding policies and your “exit” interviews. Review policies for document examination; and recording and re-verification of documents for various visa-based and non-visa-based employees. Aim for consistent employee procedures — this means creating a handbook for procedures. Ensure your employees review the handbook before they attempt to examine and record documents on the I-9.
  6. Beware of audits by other federal agencies — they share information and are looking to collect fines. A wage and hour audit can turn into an I-9 and E-verify audit nightmare.
  7. Audits take time and are an unproductive task: they cost company money and employee time, and lead to lost profits. Take the time to understand the I-9 process.
  8. Audits ruin company reputations — names of companies that are audited are made public on federal websites. ICE, OSC and DOL publish announcements of audits.   Sushi Zushi, a San Antonio restaurant, lost workers and shut down after an announcement of an ICE audit. Employees left in droves; without employees, the restaurant had to shut down 8 locations.
  9. The new I-9 will create new challenges. Allocate a budget for training and compliance.
  10. Reduce liability by purging old I-9s.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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The Struggle Over STEM Immigration

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are foreign-born students who have obtained graduate degrees from American universities in one of these four fields. Many of these students are vying for a green card to stay in the US; but the demand for green cards far outstripped supply. The result is that the best and the brightest are leaving the US for greener immigration pastures: either going back home, or to other more ‘immigrant’ friendly countries, like Canada.

In a previous blog post, I discussed how STEM graduates will help the US come out of its recession. We are currently experiencing a brain drain; and in order to remain a global force, we must reform our immigration policies. Multiple bills suggesting an increase in green cards for STEM graduates have been proposed to Congress, but none have yet to pass.

STEM Jobs Act

On Friday, November 30, the House passed the STEM Jobs Act, which reallocates 55,000 green cards per year to students with STEM degrees; the new act also seeks to remove the lottery green card program. Green cards are first made available to STEM graduates with PhDs — remaining green cards are then given to STEM graduates with Masters.

Dueling Bills

We must applaud both political parties for their sensitivity to the issue of STEM jobs, but there is a very obvious political divide. While the Republican initiative moves to abolish the 55,000 diversity visas, the Democrats want to preserve these visas for persons from under-represented countries.

This uncertainty is keeping employers from hiring qualified candidates, and keeping qualified US graduates from the US. Keep in mind, by most accounts, the education industry is a $27 billion industry with a multiplier effect on local economies.

What can we do?

Employers must lobby their Senate and House Representatives about the issue. The inaction is holding our economy hostage.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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