Effective October 1, 2013, U.S. federal government operations are experiencing a lapse in appropriations due to the inability of Congress to pass a funding bill.  Following are implications on immigration-related government services that may impact employers:

Department of State:  Visa processing.  As of October 1, 2013, visa issuance and full operations are to continue as usual.  However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, that facility may become unsupported. 

Department of Labor:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended.

No processing of Labor Condition Applications (LCA) for H-1B or other cases, prevailing wage requests of PERM applications. 

If a PERM application is ready to be filed, has a deadline, and cannot be efiled, mailing the application may be an option, but at the risk of potential processing delays. 

Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS):  As of October 1, 2013, USCIS reports that “all offices are open worldwide,” including the following:

  • Regional Service Centers and processing centers for applications and petitions
  • Local USCIS offices

USCIS has not reported whether it will accept cases for processing, in particular, H-1B petitions with an LCA not yet certified by the DOL.

Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman office:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended. 

Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Port of Entry Operations, including CBP Cargo Security and Revenue Collections, as well as Border Security programs, including Border Patrol and CBP Air and Marine Operations:  Continued operations, because they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property.

E-Verify:  Unavailable; operations suspended.  E-Verify, the free, internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, will be inaccessible during the shutdown. 

Employers must continue to complete I-9 forms in compliance with the law and when E-Verify becomes available, create cases in the E-Verify system.

While E-Verify is unavailable, according to the E-Verify website, employers will not be able to access the E-Verify account, and as a result, will be unable to do the following:

  • Enroll any company in E-Verify
  • Verify employment eligibility
  • View or take action on any case
  • Add, delete or edit any User ID
  • Reset passwords
  • Edit your company information
  • Terminate an account
  • Run reports
  • View ‘Essential Resources.’ Please note that all essential resources may be found by visiting www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

In addition, E-Verify Customer Support and related services are closed.  As a result: 

  • Employees will be unable to resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs).
  • Telephone and e-mail support will be unavailable.  E-Verify will respond to e-mails sent, when the suspension is lifted.
  • E-Verify webinars and training sessions are cancelled
  • E-Verify Self Check will not be available

The following temporary policies have been implemented:

  • The ‘three-day rule’ for E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the shutdown. This does NOT affect the Form I-9 requirement—employers still must complete the Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay.
  • The time period during which employees may resolve TNCs will be extended.  Days the federal government is closed will not count towards the eight federal government workdays the employee has to go to SSA or contact Homeland Security.
  • For federal contractors complying with the federal contractor rule, please contact your contracting officer to inquire about extending deadlines.
  • Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of an E-Verify interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status due to a federal government shutdown (consult the E-Verify User Manual for more information on interim case statuses).

Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ has indicated that its trial attorneys and immigration judges will conduct removal (deportation proceedings) only for individuals in federal custody. All other cases are suspended during the shutdown.

Employers must begin using the new version of Form I-9 on May 7, 2013.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced publication of the revised Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification on March 8, 2013.  Employers are required to use the Form I-9 to verify the identity and employment authorization eligibility of employees. 

Changes to the Form

Employers should familiarize themselves with the Form.  It contains several changes, including the following:

The form now has two pages to complete; page one is for the employee to complete, while fields for information about documents reviewed and for the employer certification are on page two.   A warning on the bottom of page 1 — “STOP.  Employer Completes Next Page” – is designed to ensure that the employer does not overlook the second page.

  • Fields for additional data have been added:
    • “Other Names Used” (The “maiden name” field is gone.)
    • Boxes to fill for the Social Security number, instead of an open text field. (The instructions clarify that providing a Social Security Number is optional, unless the employer uses E-Verify, in which case the number must be added to the I-9.)
    • Employee e-mail address and telephone number (The instructions clarify that this information is optional, but that if it is provided, DHS may contact the employee in the event of a mismatch with Social Security records.)
    • “USCIS Number” (Though listed as an alternative to the “Alien Registration Number,” it is the same number.)
    • “Form I-94 Admission Number,” issued by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on entry to the U.S. – required only if it appears on a work authorization document
    • Foreign passport information
    • On page 2, a field for employee name from Section 1
    • A third set of fields for “List A” identity and employment authorization document information
    • In the “Certification” section, specification that the employee representative is attesting to the following:
      • I have examined the document(s) presented by the above-named employee;
      • The above-listed document(s) appear [sic] to be genuine and to relate to the employee named, an
      • To the best of my knowledge the employee is authorized to work in the United States.
    • Boxes for 3-D Barcode – the purpose of these fields are not described.

The revised form clarifies the timeframe for completion, indicating that “Employees must complete and sign Section 1 of Form I-9 no later than the first day of employment, but not before accepting a job offer.” 

Applicability

As indicated on the instructions, the Form is required for newly hired employees.  When rehiring an employee within three years of the date Form I-9 was originally completed, employers have the option to complete a new Form I-9 or complete Section 3 of the previously completed form. 

Document Retention

Regarding document retention, the form instructions indicate that employers may, but are not required to, photocopy documents employees present for completion of the Form I-9, but that photocopies must be retained and presented with Form I-9 in case of an inspection by DHS or other federal government agency.

The I-9 is available on the USCIS website.

Following are some highlights for the comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate on April 17, 2013.

H-1B Cap Raised, but New Restrictions on Temporary H-1B Workers.  In an effort promote market-based limits, the annual H-1B cap would be raised from 65,000 to 110,000, and would be adjustable upwards to as high as 180,000 per year if employer requests for H-1B workers rises.  The 20,000 additional H-1B slots currently available for U.S. Master’s degree graduates would be increased to 25,000, but would be limited to U.S. Master’s graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields only. 

However, the bill would also impose onerous new obligations and restrictions on U.S. employers hiring H-1B workers, reportedly including the following:

  • Higher wage obligations
  • Mandatory recruitment of U.S. workers and online posting for H-1B positions
  • Increased filing fees and limits on H-1B hiring for “ H-1B dependent employers” (more than 30 % of a company’s workforce are H-1B or L-1 employees)

Entrepreneur Start-up Visa.  The proposal offers up to 10,000 new temporary visas to entrepreneurs who create at least three jobs, raise at least $100,000 from angel investors, venture capitalists or other investment groups, and generate at least $200,000 in revenue.

Retirees and Snowbirds.  There is a “retiree visa” for purchasers for residences with $500,000 cash or more and also a provision for Canadian snowbird homeowners and renters. 

New Employment Eligibility Verification Obligations for U.S. Employers.  Within five years after the bill’s passage, all U.S. employers would be required to enroll in the E-Verify system.  Large employers would be required to enroll sooner, and mandatory enrollment would be phased in later for small businesses and certain industries (e.g. agriculture).  The bill would also incorporate “photo matching” into E-Verify screening for new hires, requiring employers to certify that the photograph on the identity document presented by the new hire exactly matches an identical photograph in the E-Verify system.

Merit-Based Point System.  A new merit-based option would make green cards available based on education, employment, length of residence, and other considerations.

Re-Allocation of Immigrant Visa Quotas to Clear Backlog.  The bill proposes various reforms to the current employment- and family-based immigrant visa quota system designed to reduce and eliminate visa processing backlogs.  Significant changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Derivative spouses and children of principal immigrants in both employment- and family-based categories would be classified as “immediate relatives,” and no longer be counted toward numerical limits.
  • Many employment-based immigrants would no longer be counted toward annual numerical limits, including all EB-1 categories (extraordinary ability, outstanding professors/researchers, and multinational executives/managers), doctoral degree holders in any field, and some physicians.
  • EB-2 classification would be expanded to include a new sub-category for foreign nationals who earned U.S. Master’s or higher degrees in STEM fields during the past five years, and have an offer of employment in a STEM field.
  • Per-year numerical limits on EB-2 and EB-3 visas would be increased.

W Visa for Lower-Skilled Workers.  The bill proposes a new nonimmigrant, temporary worker category, a W visa for workers to perform services or labor.  It will require registration and certification:

  • The employer must register.
  • The position must be registered.
  • The worker must request and receive certification for W status. 

Employers will need to recruit for U.S. workers for 30 days.  20,000 W visas would be available starting in 2015, with the number increasing to 75,000 in 2019.

 “Blue Card” for Agricultural Workers.  Agricultural workers would be eligible for a new type of legal status work authorization card: a blue card.  Ag workers would not be tied to a single employer.  Wages would be set by the Department of Agriculture, instead of the Department of Labor.  The ag workers must have done the following:

  • Worked in the U.S. ag industry for at least 100 days in the two years prior to December 31, 2012
  • Pay a $400 fee
  • Paid their taxes
  • Have no criminal record

The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.  Blue card holders could be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years.

Registered Prospective Immigrant (RPI).  Current undocumented noncitizens could apply for “registered prospective immigrant” (RPI) status with valid work authorization under the following circumstances:

  • Presence in the U.S. since December 31, 2011
  • Passing a background check
  • Paying a $500 penalty fee
  • Paying taxes

RPI status would be available for six years and could be renewed for another $500.  Permanent resident status would be available after payment of an additional $1,000 fee and the following:

  • The border is sufficiently secure.
  • All individuals who are waiting for green cards when the bill is enacted have been processed, that is, those in the country without authorization to the “back of the line.”
  • The RPI possessed the status for 10 years.
  • Tax payments are up-to-date.
  • The RPI demonstrates knowledge of US civics and English.

Path to Residency or Citizenship

The bill does not provide a direct route to U.S. citizenship for those adjusting from unlawful status, but it does not prohibit applying for citizenship.

Employers must begin using the new version of Form I-9.  On March 7, 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced publication of a revised Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification, effective March 8, 2013.  Employers are required to use the Form I-9 to verify the identity and employment authorization eligibility of employees. 

Changes to the Form

There now are six pages of instructions, and one page with acceptable “List A, B, and C” type documents that the employee may present.  The Form contains several changes, including the following:

The form now has two pages to complete; page one is for the employee to complete, while fields for information about documents reviewed and for the employer certification are on page two.   A warning on the bottom of page 1 — “STOP.  Employer Completes Next Page” – is designed to ensure that the employer does not overlook the second page.

  • Fields for additional data have been added:
    • “Other Names Used” (The “maiden name” field is gone.)
    • Boxes to fill for the Social Security number, instead of an open text field. (The instructions clarify that providing a Social Security Number is optional, unless the employer uses E-Verify, in which case the number must be added to the I-9.)
    • Employee e-mail address and telephone number (The instructions clarify that this information is optional, but that if it is provided, DHS may contact the employee in the event of a mismatch with Social Security records.)
    • “USCIS Number” (Though listed as an alternative to the “Alien Registration Number,” it is the same number.)
    • “Form I-94 Admission Number,” issued by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on entry to the U.S. – required only if it appears on a work authorization document
    • Foreign passport information
    • On page 2, a field for employee name from Section 1
    • A third set of fields for “List A” identity and employment authorization document information
    • In the “Certification” section, specification that the employee representative is attesting to the following:
      • I have examined the document(s) presented by the above-named employee;
      • The above-listed document(s) appear [sic] to be genuine and to relate to the employee named, an
      • To the best of my knowledge the employee is authorized to work in the United States.
    • Boxes for 3-D Barcode – the purpose of these fields are not described.

The revised form clarifies the timeframe for completion, indicating that “Employees must complete and sign Section 1 of Form I-9 no later than the first day of employment, but not before accepting a job offer.” 

60-Day Grace Period

Employers are instructed to use the revised Form I-9 beginning March 8, 2013, as indicated by the designation on the bottom, “Form I-9 03/08/13 N.”  Prior versions of the form (Rev. 08/07/09) and (Rev. 02/02/2009) no longer are available on the USCIS website.  However, within the 60-day period after March 8, that is, to May 7, 2013, employers who use the prior version of the Form are not subject to penalties under the Immigration and Nationality Act, § 274A.

Applicability

As indicated on the instructions, the Form is required for newly hired employees.  When rehiring an employee within three years of the date Form I-9 was originally completed, employers have the option to complete a new Form I-9 or complete Section 3 of the previously completed form. 

Document Retention

Regarding document retention, the form instructions indicate that employers may, but are not required to, photocopy documents employees present for completion of the Form I-9, but that photocopies must be retained and presented with Form I-9 in case of an inspection by DHS or other federal government agency.