On 12/9/11 I assisted a good friend David Nachman present a program at Fairleigh Dickenson University. It was held in the beautiful Mansion on the campus. The title was "Current trends in Business Immigration Law: Transformation, E-Verify and Image. The panel consisted of the Newark & Mount Laurel Chief of Staff, Russell Owen; Newark USCIS Community Relations Officer, Kelly Ayala; Management & Program Analyst and Outreach Coordinator for Transformation, Ms. Abigail Sanford; E-Verify Chief of Outreach, Ms. Yvette LaGonterie and ICE Officer in the Worksite Enforcement Section Mr. Drew Tropey.
The audience was mostly business leaders and a few attorneys. The program started with an explanation of the function of the USCIS District office and its current processing trends. Ms Kelly Ayala discussed the function of outreach in the community and the current program to educate the public about Notary fraud in light of the recent seminar about the unauthorized practice of immigration law that I was a panelist on last week.
This meeting was a primer for business people about the importance of maintaining I-9's for all employees. I-9's are forms that are required to be completed for all employees that verify their work eligibility. Part of the I-9 process is document examination. The fines for ignoring the I-9's are large and can devastate a business. I-9's are required of all employers regardless of the size of the business. There were about 4000 I-9 audits conducted last year nationwide and about 300 in NJ. The NJ Worksite Enforcement team is down to two auditors but they expect to grow shortly increasing the risk of an audit. Recently the government has shifted their focus from illegal employees to the employers who hire them. Are you willing to gamble? If not we urge you to complete your I-9's and safeguard them in the event of audit.
USCIS is encouraging all employers to run their new hires through E-Verify. E-Verify is an online system that checks the employment status of your employees. It's for new hires only and cannot be used to check your current workforce due to discrimination issues. E-Verify isn't mandatory in the US yet but there are ongoing efforts to make it so. E-Verify links to Social Security and in some states DMV but it has lots of issues with mismatches and error and many groups along with Immigration lawyers are against this program. If E-Verify says the individual is not in the system it could lead to a layoff. Stay tuned to the current immigration debate to see if this computer system becomes mandatory. However, I-9 paper forms are mandatory.
USCIS is also promoting another program called IMAGE. Image is similar to E-Verify as it seeks to restore integrity in the workforce. Image takes E-Verify to another level. The company is required to sign an agreement with USCIS that they will use E-Verify in the future, develop training and arrange for annual I-9 audits. If a company signs up for the Image program they will be visited by a USCIS-ICE officer who will assist them review their I-9's in a preliminary audit. If they find more than 50% of the I-9's to be lacking they will fine the organization but the fines will be smaller that they would be in the event of a full blown audit. Image is like a self check, once your enrolled however, you're guaranteed not to be audited for two years and your business will have the tools it needs to prevent unauthorized employment in the future.
My feeling after hearing the program was that many employers at completing their I-9's but making mistakes. Some are intentional others are not. If you're not reviewing your I-9's I suggest you do so asap. Don't ignore this requirement just because the odds of an audit are extremely low. An unscheduled ICE audit could be a very cold day.
If you would like more information or would like to speak with a New Jersey immigration lawyer then please contact our firm by calling 800-909-8129 today.