Employment eligibility and verification

UPDATE:  In a landmark decision on February 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the Executive Order travel ban imposed on persons from predominantly-Muslim countries.  The Court upheld the temporary restraining order from Judge James Robart’s February 3, 2017, ruling in the lawsuit Washington v. Trump.  As a result, the travel ban is not in force. 

However, some heightened scrutiny still exists in the interest of security.  Persons with concerns about departing from or returning to the U.S. still may want to contact an immigration lawyer prior to travel.  However, citizens and nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, or with Muslim backgrounds, no longer should be subjected to unduly excessive questioning during visa processing or upon entry to the United States.   

Following is the history of the Executive Order and continuing implications. 

On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Orders barring admission into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries, suspending all refugee admissions, and barring entry by Syrian refugees. Though no countries are listed on the Order, the intent was the ban on entry into the U.S. by nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen by any persons “from” those countries with nonimmigrant or immigrant visas or status or as refugees.

Multiple lawsuits challenged the Order.  On January 28, 2017 federal courts in several districts issued stays limiting the Order, but the Department of Homeland Security through Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is not fully complying with the stays at all airports and ports of entry.

However, on January 29, 2017, Homeland Security issued a statement, indicating that allowing lawful permanent residents to return to the U.S. is in the national interest, so long as there is no serious derogatory information, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, CBP and visa officers applied an extremely heightened level of discretion for foreign citizens from Muslim countries (beyond the seven listed), but persons who are allowed to board flights by an large have been allowed to enter the U.S.

Here is a summary of the impact:

Impact on U.S. Citizens

  • The Order does not specifically apply to U.S. born citizens or naturalized US citizens.
  • However, dual U.S. citizens from the 7 countries reported that CBP notified them that their Global Entry trusted traveler authorization is being revoked.

Departing the United States

  • To minimize the impact of the Order, it is advisable to avoid unnecessary travel outside the United States.
  • On January 31, 2017, the Department of State began the provisionally revoking valid visas previously issued to any affected nationals from the 7 countries.  A provisional revocation of a visa does not require the person to depart the U.S., and anyone who receives notification should contact an immigration attorney to discuss implications.  UPDATE: The State Department has started to reinstate the revoked visas.

Returning to the U.S. by Air

  • For persons currently outside the U.S., anticipate enhanced questioning on return, related to activities inside and outside the U.S. and related to family and friends.
  • In some countries, airlines were asking travelers from the 7 countries to sign agreements that if Homeland Security refused to allow them to enter the U.S., the person would agree to pay the return airfare (under existing agreements, the airlines – not the U.S. government or individuals – are liable to cover the cost).

Returning to the U.S. at a Land Border Crossing

  • Entry at land border crossings almost involves more questioning than flying into the U.S. The reason is that some screening occurs through the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) before boarding a flight, but the traveler must wait for the immigration officer at the land border crossing to conduct the screening.

Canadians

  • National Security Advisor Flynn advised that dual nationals of Canada are not prohibited from entering the United States and usually should be allowed to enter.

Green card holders returning to the U.S.

  • Green card holders from countries other than the 7 listed report little difference in the admission process from before the Order.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries who are dual citizens of other countries (such as Canada and the UK) may be subjected to minimal additional screening.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries are being subjected to additional screening, which may involve a few additional questions by the immigration officer in primary inspection at the entry booth, or the person may be sent to secondary inspection for more extensive questioning ranging from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Some immigration officers and airline representatives have asked green card holders to sign a form (I-407) to abandon permanent resident status and be allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor.  Permanent residents should not sign a form or relinquish the green card without speaking to a lawyer.
  • UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.

Temporary, nonimmigrant visa travelers

  • Temporary visas holders (such as with H-1B, O-1, L-1, F-1 students, business visitors, tourists, and Canadians and Mexicans with TN status) from the 7 countries may be subjected to enhanced primary or secondary screening.  UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.
  • Those returning to work generally have less questioning that those entering for the first time.

Visa processing overseas

  • Some U.S. embassies and consulates abroad had allowed returning visa applicants to forego an interview under visa interview-waiver programs, i.e., the drop-box for visa renewals. This option no longer exists. Now, all visa applicants must attend an interview.  UPDATE:  Drop-box visa processing has resumed.
  • Persons from other countries attending visa appointments may end up stuck outside the U.S. for some time and be unable to return while waiting for the visa stamp, though this now is less likely to occur.
  • All U.S. embassies and consular posts were instructed to immediately suspend the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Visa interviews for affected individuals are being canceled. The Department of State issued an urgent notice to citizens these countries, “please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please do not attend. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate.”  UPDATE:  Visa processing has resumed.

Questions on entry

  • CBP immigration officers at the Ports of Entry may ask travelers to provide social media access, such as contact for Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, etc. Such requests should be declined, as the information is not required.
  • For some travelers, a delay will result from a request to Headquarters in Washington, DC, to clear the person.
  • The Order was not directed to nationals of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, & UAE, nor to nationals of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey or other Muslim-majority countries. But some citizens of those countries report being subjected to enhanced secondary screening.
  • The highest scrutiny is being applied to citizens of one of the 7 countries, using a passport issued by one of the 7 countries, and travelling to the U.S. from one of the 7 countries.

Impact on USCIS petition and application processing

  • USCIS reportedly has ceased processing of all immigration petitions and applications for beneficiaries of the 7 countries, for forms that begin with an “I,” (I-130, I-765, etc.), but are processing forms that begin with “N” (such as N-400 naturalization applications).  UPDATE:  Processing has resumed.

Removal or questioning of persons in the U.S.

  • Persons with valid status in the United States are not subject to removal under the Executive Order.
  • Immigration officers who ask to enter the workplace or a home to ask for information about immigration in most cases may be refused if they lack a warrant.

Access to Counsel

  • A person who would like legal representation should ask for a “G-28” while in secondary at a Port of Entry, and even without a G-28, should state that they would like legal representation and to be able to speak to a lawyer and should not be dissuaded by an immigration officer saying the person is not entitled to counsel.

On February 25, 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a Final Rule confirming that certain H-4 spouses will be eligible to apply for U.S. work authorization.  Following is an outline of this new Final Rule and how new H-4 work regulations will be implemented in the near future.

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ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS IN H-4 STATUS NOW AUTHORIZED TO WORK IN THE UNITED STATES?

No.  Only certain individuals in H-4 status are eligible to apply for U.S. work authorization, based on their spousal relationship to an H-1B worker who has reached certain thresholds in his or her permanent, employment-based sponsorship by a U.S. employer.  The criteria for H-4 work authorization eligibility are narrow and specific.  Considerably less than 50% of H-4 spouses will be eligible to apply for work authorization.

Also, eligibility is limited to H-4 spouses only.  Dependent H-4 children are not eligible to apply for work authorization under the new rule.

WHICH H-4 SPOUSES ARE NOW ELIGIBLE FOR WORK AUTHORIZATION?

According to the final rule and new DHS regulations, all of the following criteria must be met to qualify for H-4 work authorization:

  • The H-4 applicant must be married to an H-1B specialty occupation worker;
  • The H-1B worker must be either:
    • a) the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition
      OR
    • b) the beneficiary of an approved H-1B extension petition beyond the H-1B six-year limit based on AC21 s. 106(a) or (b) (due to having a PERM application or I-140 petition filed and pending for over 365 days, being the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition, or having an I-485 application filed and pending);
  • The H-1B worker must currently hold valid H-1B status; and
  • The H-4 spouse must currently hold valid H-4 status.

I MEET THE CRITERIA FOR H-4 WORK AUTHORIZATION.  CAN I APPLY FOR U.S. JOBS IMMEDIATELY?

While you could apply for a job, a U.S. employer would not be able to hire you until you have received an official Employment Authorization Document.  Even H-4 spouses who meet all the eligibility criteria are not automatically authorized to work in the United States.  To officially obtain work authorization, you must file an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an Employment Authorization Document (aka “EAD” or “work permit”).  All U.S. employers are required to examine documents which prove your U.S. work authorization shortly after your hire.  If your only work authorization eligibility comes from your H-4 status and you do not have an EAD, no U.S. employer will be able to legally offer you work.

OK, I UNDERSTAND I NEED AN H-4 EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION DOCUMENT (EAD) TO BEGIN WORK.  CAN I APPLY FOR MY EAD IMMEDIATELY?

No.  Changes to U.S. immigration rules and procedures typically require time to be implemented by U.S. government agencies, and this will hold true for the new Final Rule on H-4 spousal work authorization.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced it will begin accepting H-4 EAD applications on May 26, 2015.  Applications filed prior to this date may be rejected or denied.

WHEN THE APPLICATION WINDOW OPENS, WHAT FORM SHOULD I FILE, AND WHAT DOCUMENTS/EVIDENCE WILL I NEED TO SUBMIT ALONG WITH MY APPLICATION?

USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, is the application form which will be used for H-4 EAD applications.  Applications must be accompanied by a filing fee of $380.

Although USCIS has not yet modified its filing instructions for Form I-765 to include specific guidance for H-4 EAD applicants, it would be prudent to prepare evidence addressing all eligibility criteria, i.e.:

  • Marriage Certificate: The H-4 applicant must be married to an H-1B specialty occupation worker;
  • The H-1B worker must be either:
    • I-140 Approval Notice: a) the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition
      OR
    • H-1B Extension (I-129) Approval Notice, along with Receipt Notice/Proof of Filing dated over 365 days ago for ETA Form 9089 or Form I-140; or I-140 Approval Notice; or I-485 Receipt Notice: b) the beneficiary of an approved H-1B extension petition beyond the H-1B six-year limit based on AC21 s. 106(a) or (b) (due to having a PERM application or I-140 petition filed and pending for over 365 days, being the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition, or having an I-485 application filed and pending);
  • Current I-94 Record evidencing valid H-1B status, along with recent paystubs from H-1B employer: The H-1B worker must currently hold valid H-1B status; and
  • Current I-94 Record evidencing valid H-4 status: The H-4 spouse must currently hold valid H-4 status.

Before the application filing window opens on May 26, USCIS may issue further guidance as to required supporting documentation, including but not limited to these items.  Be sure to check USCIS’s website at: http://www.uscis.gov/i-765 for full instructions prior to filing.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM THE USCIS APPLICATION PROCESS AND HOW SHOULD I PLAN AHEAD FOR FILING?

Average processing times for EADs, as of the time of this blog publication, are 2-3 months.  The H-4 Final Rule corroborates that USCIS should adjudicate the application within 90 days of receipt.

There are a few collateral considerations you should also keep in mind when preparing to file your H-4 EAD application, including:

  • When does my H-4 status and my spouse’s H-1B status expire?
  • Will the period of validity on my H-4 EAD be limited or foreshortened due to my upcoming H-4 status expiration?
  • Am I eligible to apply to extend my H-4 status right now?  (If so, consider filing your EAD application concurrently with your I-539 extension of status application.)
  • Is my spouse eligible to apply to extend his or her H-1B status right now?  (If so, consider filing your EAD application and your I-539 extension of status application concurrently with your spouse’s I-129 petition.  If the I-129 petition is filed under USCIS’s Premium Processing program, this might be a strategy which would yield faster processing of your applications.)

Note: as of the date of publishing this blog, USCIS has not yet released details regarding the prospective validity period of H-4 EADs, or the prospective processing of concurrently filed applications.

I DON’T PLAN ON WORKING IN THE UNITED STATES.  IS THERE ANY REASON TO APPLY FOR AN H-4 EAD ANYWAY?

Even if you do not plan to work in the United States, receiving U.S. work authorization allows you to apply for and be issued a U.S. Social Security Number.  Some individuals find having a U.S. Social Security Number desirable or useful.

IS THERE ANY REASON I MIGHT NOT APPLY FOR AN H-4 EAD IF I AM ELIGIBLE TO DO SO?

Any applicant who has more than one option for employment authorization should assess which one is the most favorable.  Practically speaking, H-4 EADs will be most useful for individuals which are subject to backlogs in employment-based immigrant visa categories.  These include spouses of H-1B workers from all countries whose employment-based sponsorship is in the EB-3 (third-preference) category, or spouses of H-1B workers from China or India whose employment-based sponsorship is in the EB-2 or EB-3 category.

Other prospective H-4 EAD applicants (i.e. spouses of EB-1 beneficiaries, or non-China/India spouses of EB-2 beneficiaries) may be eligible to immediately apply to USCIS for adjustment of status, and may be eligible for EADs on this basis, without needing to maintain H-4 status.

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The full text of DHS’s Final Rule, including public comments and specific amendments to 8 CFR 214.2(h) and 274a, can be found in the Federal Register at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/02/25/2015-04042/employment-authorization-for-certain-h-4-dependent-spouses.  An official press release from DHS/USCIS regarding the EAD application process can be found at: http://www.uscis.gov/news/dhs-extends-eligibility-employment-authorization-certain-h-4-dependent-spouses-h-1b-nonimmigrants-seeking-employment-based-lawful-permanent-residence.

 

In a bold move, on November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his Immigration Accountability Executive Actions to address flaws in the current immigration system.  The plan contains three parts:

  1. Enhanced border enforcement and employer crackdowns for ongoing immigration violations;
  2. Administrative relief from deportation to allow certain undocumented immigrants to apply to remain in the United States; and
  3. Business-friendly policies to enhance U.S. competitiveness and attract foreign investment and talent.

While the focus has been on the administrative relief, the rest of the plan offers potential improvements for some employment-focused immigration categories:

  •  L-1B specialized knowledge workers:
    • Clarifying the rules to bring greater coherence and integrity, to “enhance companies’ confidence in the program”
  • H-4 spouses of H-1B workers:
    • Providing work authorization to spouses once the H-1B worker’s green card process is well underway
  • Foreign nationals caught in a backlog while seeking permanent resident status:
    • For foreign workers in line for a green card, removing unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression without being tied to one job
    • For their spouse and children, providing work authorization at an earlier stage through a registration process
    • Allowing spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to apply for waivers of unlawful presence without leaving the U.S.
  • For F-1 foreign students eligible to work after graduation from a U.S. college or university:
    • Expanding the degree programs eligible for extended periods of work beyond 12 months
  • For foreign inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises:
    • Making the “national interest waiver” category available for permanent resident status
    • Offering temporary parole in the U.S. under the “significant public benefit” standard
  • Employers using the PERM process prior to sponsoring foreign workers for green cards:
    • Modernizing the process, including the possibility of expedited, premium processing
    • Identifying demonstrated shortages and surplusages

Building on the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, through which young adults brought to the U.S. as children and lack status, the administrative relief plan has the following provisions.

  • Deferred Action for Parents (DAP).
    • Requirements for the parent
      • Have a U.S. citizen child (of any age); or
      • Have a lawful permanent resident child (of any age);
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks;
      • Pay taxes (though evidence of payment of back taxes is not required).
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The process should be available by Spring 2015.

 

  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
    • Requirements for the applicant
      • Arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old;
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks.
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period, and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The plan is to have applications available by January 2015.

The administrative relief plan, a step in the right direction toward fixing our country’s broken immigration system, has the following limitations:

  • Neither DACA or DAP gives any immigration status.
  • Only temporary reprieve from deportation is available.
  • The programs do not grant green cards or citizenship.
  • They do not provide for any path to green cards or citizenship.
  • They are not available immediately.
  • Many undocumented persons will not be eligible.
  • The plan relies on the President’s prosecutorial discretion authority, recognizing that immigration enforcement is necessarily selective and that Congress funds capacity for about 400,000 deportations each year.

Nevertheless, the plan could expand the legal workforce by about four million.

Employers and businesses should be alert for opportunities to take advantage of the components of the plan.

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.

This week, both President Obama and the Senate announced frameworks for comprehensive immigration reform.  The following is a comparison of key elements in each of the plans.

Path to Citizenship

Similarities:  Neither plan permits a direct route to citizenship.  A foreign national must first become a permanent resident with a “green card,” and then wait, usually for three to five years more, before being eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. 

Differences:  The Senate would create a commission of lawmakers and border-state leaders to assess when border-security measures have become effective.  Until then, the path would be closed.  However, before then, undocumented immigrants could remain in the United States lawfully by registering, passing background checks, being able to speak English, and paying back taxes and fines for their probationary legal status.

The Obama plan does not establish any border-assessment commission.  It offers provisional legal status and a green card under similar terms as the Senate:  registration, background checks, speaking English, and payment of fees and penalties.  Immigrants on provisional legal status would not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits.  They would need to get in line for permanent residency and earned citizenship behind others already in the system.

Investors and Highly Skilled Immigrants

Similarities:  Both plans would award green cards to immigrants who obtain advance degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) from U.S. universities.

Differences:  The Obama plan would create a new category for highly skilled foreign workers in federal science and technology labs.  The Obama plan would create a start-up visa category for job-creating entrepreneurs, and it would expand visa opportunities for those who invest in the United States.

Agricultural Workers

Similarities:  Both plans would permit farm workers in the country without proper documentation to have a path to citizenship. 

Differences:  The Senate plan also would create an agricultural worker program and allow employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate that American workers aren’t available.

Same-Sex Couples

Differences:  The Obama plan would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a same-sex partner for permanent resident status and temporary visas. 

Employment Verification

Similarities:  Both plans would mandate tha employers use electronic employment verification, such as E-Verify, for prospective workers – U.S. and foreign citizens alike – to demonstrate legal status and identity.

Differences:  The Obama plan would have exemptions for some small businesses.  It also would create a fraud-resistant social security card and non-forgeable documents for those without social security cards.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canadians with certain specified occupations may work in the United States under the Trade NAFTA (TN) classification.  Previously, all first-time, initial TN applications had to be submitted to Customs & Border Protection (CBP) immigration officers at the U.S.-Canada border or certain airports in Canada.  This resulted in unpredictability as to whether Canadian professionals would be granted TN status or turned away for legitimate or subjective reasons.  Advance adjudication was not an option.  Now, as of October 1, 2012, a new option adds predictability to the process.  U.S. employers seeking to hire Canadian professionals under NAFTA may mail the petitions in advance to a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) processing center in the United States for a decision.  CBP has indicated they will accept the USCIS TN approval notices without challenge, except in the case of fraud or changed circumstances.  This pre-adjudication option is not available for Canadian entities sending a Canadian employee to work at a U.S. entity which does not hire the Canadian directly.  Under such circumstances, the Canadian still must present himself or herself at the port of entry for CBP immigration officer adjudication.  This development is part of the Beyond the Border Action Plan under a joint U.S.-Canada initiative.

In the current climate of high immigration worksite enforcement, most U.S. employers carefully check workers’ eligibility for employment, using the required I-9 form.  But some employers are paying a price for checking their workers in a manner that does not comply with federal law.  These employers fail to realize that the Federal government not only targets its workplace enforcement efforts against employers who fail to check work eligibility documents; the government also targets employers who discriminate against lawful workers by asking for specific documents, or by asking for too many documents

On May 16, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Maricopa County Community College in Arizona had agreed to pay $45,760 in civil penalties and $22,123 in back pay to settle a lawsuit filed after foreign workers were asked for too much documentation when they were hired by the College.  On December 28, 2011, DOJ announced that defense contractor BAE Systems Ship Repair Inc. had agreed to pay $53,900 because its Alabama subsidiary had been requiring all newly hired lawful permanent residents to present permanent resident cards, commonly known as “green cards,” as a condition of employment.   According to federal worksite verification regulations, employers cannot demand that lawful permanent residents present “green cards;” it is up to the employees to decide which documents they will present to verify their eligibility to work.  A green card holder may present a driver’s license and Social Security card, among other documents, to satisfy the federal requirements.

The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) at the Department of Justice is responsible for protecting work-authorized individuals against discrimination.  OSC will assist workers and file suit when it discovers that employers have not been complying with employment eligibility verification laws, which require employers to be careful when asking for documents to verify work eligibility.  In OSC’s view, asking for too much documentation can be just as bad as not asking for documentation at all.

OSC recognizes four types of “document abuse” that can result in fines:

1. Improperly requesting that employees produce more documents than are required by Form I-9 to establish the employee’s identity and employment authorization;

2. Improperly requesting that employees present a particular document, such as a “green card,” to establish identity and/or employment authorization;

3. Improperly rejecting documents that reasonably appear to be genuine and to relate to the employee presenting them; and

4. Improperly treating groups of applicants differently when completing Form I-9, such as requiring certain groups of employees who look or sound “foreign” to present particular documents the employer does not require other employees to present.

OSC operates a worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688, and an employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155.  People who have questions about documentation requirements can also email osccrt@usdoj.gov or visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc.