IMMIGRATION-RELATED AUDITS: What Employers Need to Know.

There are three potential “hot spots” for audits and investigations for the government related to the immigration and nationality laws. The first has to do with the documentation that the employer is required to maintain in connection with the H-1B nonimmigrant professional and specialty and occupation worker visa. The second area of potential audit concerns the employer’s obligations under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”) [Pub. L. No. 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359] (known to HR Professionals as the “I-9 Process”). The third, and one more recent, area of audit surrounds the new Labor Certification Application Program called “Permanent Electronic Review Management” (“PERM”). Each of the foregoing government programs anticipates compliance through “audit”. Even a rudimentary understanding of the complex documentary requirements for each of these programs can help and employer to avoid potential liability.

First, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) regulations that govern the maintenance of professional and specialty foreign national worker require an organization to develop and produce certain documents concerning the wages and the working conditions of an H-1B nonimmigrant. These documents are referred to as the Public Access File (“PAF”). The PAF documents are required to be maintained at the H-1B worksite immediately after the employer files the Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) with the DOL. The employer is well-situated to ensure they maintain PAF documents and be sure that they continue to pay the H-1B nonimmigrant the specified wage on the LCA. Under the American Competitiveness and Workplace Improvement Act (“ACWIA”), an H-1B nonimmigrant must be offered the same company benefits as those offered to “similarly situated” non-H-1B employees in the organization.

DOL audits can arise as a result of a complaint by a disgruntled employee or as a result of a randomly conducted investigation. Upon a DOL audit (normally undertaken by the Wage and Hour Division) an employer may be found not to be in compliance with (1) paying the H-1B nonimmigrant the specified wage (which pursuant to the H-1B Reform Act of 2004 became effective on March 8, 2005 must be 100% of the federally mandated prevailing wage); and/or (2) maintaining PAF documents; and/or (3) providing the H-1B nonimmigrant with the same benefits as those provided to all other “similarly situated” non-H-1B employees. Any failure to comply with DOL requirements can result in an employer being liable to pay back wages to an H-1B employee, debarment from the use of the H-1B program and/or other potential civil and/or criminal liabilities. Also, if the employer is a government contractor, the failure to comply may result in the debarment from the government contacts.

A second potential audit area for audit and investigation of an employer concerns employment verification and employer sanction law (referred to as the “Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986” or “IRCA”). As every HR Professional knows, IRCA is an integral aspect of every hire. Under IRCA, every employer is required to properly verify the eligibility of an employee to work in the U.S. on the Form I-9. The I-9 Form is a deceptively simple document. The I-9 Form is only one page in length but it continues to raise issues about proper preparation and retention.

Since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) absorption of the Legacy-INS, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division (“ICE”) has been charged with worksite inspectio