Knock knock. Who’s there? United States Immigration and Citizenship Services. Say what?!

No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke, it’s really happening. In an effort to curb abuse of the immigration system, USCIS created the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) whose job it is to verify information submitted by U.S. employers within the context of certain employment-based work visa petitions. How do they do it? By conducting random and unannounced “site visits” at U.S. office premises where foreign nationals are or will soon be employed, an experience which has proven to rattle even the toughest senior executive…

Tip #1: Keep it real

Before I get into a shpiel about what to do when they show up, it is critical to understand the purpose of a site visit. USCIS is not looking to trip you up here. They simply want to ensure that the information submitted about your company and the foreign national’s employment jibe with the reality “on the ground”. Here’s an example:  If your company submitted an L-1A petition for the CEO who is supposed to be “directing and overseeing all aspects of company operations” at an annual salary of $300K, we would not expect to see that individual making sales calls to potential customers. Catch my drift?

Tip #2: Make a plan 

Do not delude yourself. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to.  You and your staff need to be prepared for the possibility of a site visit by having a procedure in place in advance. Consider the following:

Notify your front desk reception of the possibility of a site visit – this person REALLY needs to be down with the program. Pre-assign a staff member to show the FDNS officer around the office and employee workspace. Maintain records of visa petitions submitted by your company in a safe but accessible place. Designate senior staff that can access and produce petition documents upon request, and answer questions about the company and the terms of the foreign national’s employment. Provide your foreign employee with a copy of the petition letter submitted on his or her behalf for review.

Tip #3: Don’t panic!

I understand that a surprise visit from Uncle Sam can be intimidating, but there is no reason for you and your team to escalate to DEFCON 1 (besides, acting weird and nervous isn’t going to help matters). Although attorney representation within the scope of a site visit is allowed, I might not make it from Tel-Aviv to Palo Alto in time to speak with the FDNS officer. The good news is that you can handle this as long as you stick to the plan (see Tips 1 & 2 above). Think of it as a sort of due diligence process, kind of like what you went through with your last round of investors, just without the Dropbox.

Read more about Administrative Site Visits here: http://www.uscis.gov/about-us/directorates-and-program-offices/fraud-detection-and-national-security/administrative-site-visit-and-verification-program